And then, before you know it, your baby is a child. It is at this point that the Jewish mother must grapple with all her guilt and the notion of nursery school and leaving her toddler in someone else’s care. Given that this is such a stressful milestone, some find it easier to hand their little ones over to a Jewish nursery, but all of them recommend visiting first.
When a parent talks about a nursery being a “mum away from mum,” it is the best sort of recommendation you can get and that is how Gilah is described.
Based at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue, the Orthodox nursery was established by Barbara Foreman in 1981 and the intake has grown from 20 to more than 100 children aged two to five.
Headteacher Susan Gray describes Gilah as “community based, rooted firmly in the community, by the community and for the community” – which suggests it is a safe place for your child and the ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating in all 17 aspects of provision is a plus.
The nursery follows the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum, using Learning Journals and taking a thematic approach that reflects the Jewish year, so your toddler gains a head start on the chagim and, for working mothers, there’s the benefit of flexible hours throughout the week and breakfast, lunch (hot food catered by Orly’s) and a supper club for those children staying after 5pm. “We are able to accommodate children at short notice for extended hours, which is helpful to parents for any eventuality from the birth of a new baby to their car breaking down,” says Susan, adding: “The care and education offered by Gilah helps children build on their acquired knowledge by providing interesting and stimulating activities that are right for their age and stage of development.
“Every child deserves the support to enable them to fulfil their potential.”
Rivka Bick noticed a gap in the market for all-day kosher childcare in the ever expanding Borehamwood community and opened Little Bicks in 2009 when the first two children were welcomed. Now Little Bicks, which has a sister nursery Gan Orre in Mill Hill, accommodates 80 children with 35 staff, all of whom subscribe to Rivka’s community ethos.
She explains: “We offer excellent Jewish and secular education for young children and teach them to take pride in their Judaism and enjoyment of the traditions and festivals that we celebrate. We provide a Judaism-based core curriculum, incorporating secular studies into the syllabus and each child in our setting is valued for who they are and is planned for in our everyday routines.” As Rivka enthusiastically describes how each festival is celebrated with craft activities, songs and special events, it’s enough to make you want to be a child again. “The children love to replicate skills developed at nursery at home,” she says. “Parents take great pride in seeing their young children develop a love for being Jewish so confidently.” At Little Bicks they are also likely to develop a love of cooking as there is an on-site chef. “Our hot kosher meals are freshly made and nutritionally beneficial as well as being truly delicious and the staff eat with the children too, which is a testament of the quality,” says a proud Rivka.
Borehamwood mother-of-three Naomi Nathan has experience of both Gilah and Little Bicks. At the former, she found their approach to her shy child’s reticence was helped by her bond with her keyworker. “She even hand-delivered mishloach manot when my child was unwell and missed the Purim celebrations,” says Naomi. “You can’t buy that kind of devotion to the kids and Little Bicks has been really helpful with my youngest child who was hard to settle, but has now integrated perfectly.”
Sophie Rosenfeld, who sent two of her three children to Alonim Kindergarten in Whetstone, had heard enough good things about the nursery from friends and cousins to warrant a visit. “When I did a tour before Harry started, it just felt right, but it was the headteacher Roz Levenson who made the biggest impression. The best thing about both was how much my children grew in confidence while they were there.”
Founded in 1982, Alonim Kindergarten is part of Sha’arei Tsedek (North London Reform Synagogue) and Roz says she is “passionate about what we deliver and I am passionate that all children in our care should receive an early years education that will instil their love of learning as well as their Jewish heritage.” Alonim also offers flexible hours and has four classroom areas offering an enormous range of well-maintained resources where children are placed in the appropriate age groups. “When it comes to settling in, we work with each child and parent to ensure separation is smooth for both,” Roz explains. “We operate a ‘key person’ system where a child initially can foster a close relationship with a member of staff.
This offers a sense of security for the pupil and they feel they can go to someone if they are concerned or upset.” Unable to find a suitable nursery for their son, Keren and Assaf Ben Ezra set up their own childminding business, which eventually turned into Keren Nursery in Hampstead Garden Suburb in 2009 and a second followed in Belsize Park in 2011.
Describing Keren’s Nurseries as a home away from home, manager Tina Bloch says: “Our priority is the children’s emotional welfare. We encourage them to become confident and independent and our staff create a warm, nurturing and caring environment. We are proud to welcome new children and parents into Keren’s family.” Open for a full day and offering flexible hours, Keren’s Nurseries provide three meals a day plus tea and snacks. Stop a parent for more information and they tell you that “the staff are warm, loving and caring”, at which Tina smiles. “When it comes to the time for children to leave us, they do so reluctantly and very often pop back with their parents to visit,” she says. “The staff like the fact that they teach the children and Keren’s is not just a baby-sitting service.”
Crossing the river, Apples and Honey Nursery is the only Jewish nursery in south London.
Owner Judith Ish-Horowicz established the nursery in response to expressions of friends whom, she says, “had no confidence in their Jewish identity when going to the local schools.” The warm, stimulating well-resourced nursery is housed in Wimbledon Synagogue and aims to provide a caring environment in two cheerful rooms, a large playground and a biblical garden that even has its own wormery. Their flexible hours offer wrap-around childcare and extra groups, such as French is Fun and Move to Music for their three-year-olds. “Our nursery takes children of all denominations and has built bridges between the different communities,” says Judith. “Its success has been a major factor in the establishment of Mosaic Jewish Primary School, the first Jewish primary school in South London for more than 70 years.”