Nurturing Tomorrow: Upholding the Rights of the Child through Early Childhood Education

In the intricate tapestry of human rights, the rights of the child stand as an indispensable thread, weaving together the fabric of a just and equitable society. Among these rights, the significance of early childhood education shines brightly as a cornerstone, laying the groundwork for a flourishing future. Following WWII, the citizens of Reggio Emilia, Italy, recognized the intrinsic value of early childhood education in fostering the holistic development of children while championing their inherent rights, and ultimately contributing to a more moral and just society.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) enshrines the fundamental rights of every child, emphasizing their entitlement to protection, provision, and participation. Central to these rights is the principle that every child deserves the opportunity to thrive, irrespective of their background or circumstances. Early childhood, encompassing the formative years from birth to eight, constitutes a pivotal stage wherein these rights must be safeguarded and nurtured. While the 54 articles detailed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child consist of what may be deemed undeniable human rights, including “You have the right to be protected from kidnapping” (Article 11) and “You have the right to play and rest” (Article 31), the United States is the only UN member to not have ratified it.

Early childhood education transcends mere academic instruction; it is a holistic journey encompassing cognitive, emotional, social, and physical domains. Through purposeful interactions and enriched environments, children embark on a voyage of discovery, curiosity, and self-realization. Within the ECLC, key components such as a constructivist approach, play-based learning, supportive relationships, and inclusive practices foster a fertile ground for exploration, creativity, and resilience.

Cognitive Development:

Early childhood education lays the foundation for cognitive abilities, nurturing skills such as language acquisition, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Engaging experiences stimulate neural connections, cultivating a lifelong thirst for knowledge and inquiry.

Emotional Well-being:

By nurturing emotional intelligence and empathy, early childhood education equips children with essential tools for understanding and managing their emotions. A nurturing environment fosters resilience and self-confidence, empowering children to navigate life’s challenges with courage and compassion.

Social Competence:

Interactions with peers and caregivers within the early childhood setting promote the development of social skills, including cooperation, communication, and conflict resolution. These experiences cultivate a sense of belonging and interconnectedness, fostering inclusive communities grounded in respect and understanding.

Physical Health:

Promoting physical activity, healthy habits, and nutrition within early childhood education settings lays the groundwork for lifelong well-being. By prioritizing holistic health, educators instill values of self-care and respect for one’s body, nurturing a generation empowered to lead active and fulfilling lives.

As we champion the rights of the child through early childhood education, we must confront systemic inequities that threaten to undermine these aspirations. Disparities in access, quality, and resources perpetuate cycles of disadvantage, denying countless children the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Addressing these disparities requires concerted efforts at local, national, and global levels, prioritizing equitable policies, investments, and partnerships that dismantle barriers to education and opportunity, advocacy work that the ECLC is actively engaged in.

In the intersection between rights and realities, early childhood education emerges as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards a brighter, more inclusive future. By upholding the rights of the child and investing in their early years, we sow the seeds of progress, compassion, and resilience. Like the citizens of Reggio Emilia, we strive to work towards a world where every child, regardless of circumstance, has the opportunity to flourish and soar.

We look forward to inviting the Pozez community to celebrate NAEYC’s upcoming Week of the Young Child (April 6-12, 2024), during which the ECLC will raise awareness for the importance of early childhood, high quality early learning, and the critical role that early childhood educators and families play in young children’s growth and development.

In honor of Week of the Young Child, we’ve planned a week of special days for our children, families, educators, and fellow community members to participate in!

“Music Monday”: Dance Party! At 11am, the ECLC will drop whatever we’re doing and dance together in celebration of early childhood – all are invited to participate!

“Tasty Tuesday”: We’ll show our appreciation for our family partnerships by offering a coffee bar and refreshments for families in the lobby in the morning.

“Work Together Wednesday”: Educator Potluck! The ECLC staff will work together to put on a delicious spread to be enjoyed together.

“Artsy Thursday”: Chalk the walk! Our ECLC children will be invited to transform the sidewalk into a work of art.

“Family Fridays”: In addition to our in-person Shabbat, we’ll be providing postcards for family and community members to sign and send to policy makers advocating for the importance of early childhood.

The Purim Story… Ultimately, fate is in our hands

Tonight concludes the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the thwarting of a plot to destroy the Jewish community of ancient Persia. You may know that on this holiday, we tell the story of Queen Esther, who strategically hides her Jewish identity from her husband, King Ahausuerus. Eventually, she bravely reveals her status as a Jewish person to convince the king to stop his advisor from implementing his evil plan, thus saving the Jewish community.

Today, as a community, we are still reeling from the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and ensuing war, and the outrageous vitriol and antisemitism that has quickly become mainstream. We are reminded that serious challenges occur in every generation. Importantly, we are also reminded that our fate is ultimately in our own collective hands. We are responsible for one another. We must act with purpose and respond to the needs of our community.

You, the members of our community, understand that the J’s responsibility includes our membership but reaches beyond to the entire Northern Virginia Jewish community, and to the broader community. As we further engage people around Jewish values, we will be able to make a bigger impact throughout the region.  Moving forward, you will be seeing the J lean further into social impact, focusing on support for Israel, for democracy, and for repairing the world.

We thank you for your continued partnership in building community. It is your steadfast support of the J that helps us come together to weather challenging times and ensure that our community continues to thrive.

B’yachad (together)

The Day I Started Wearing My Mogen David

Until now, I’ve never worn a Jewish symbol in public. I don’t wear a Kippah, I don’t have a necklace with my name in Hebrew, not even a Star of David jewelry. I never felt like I needed it. Or more broadly, never felt the need the express my Jewish identity physically. Before I came here, I thought a lot about what to wear. What should I do, that will send a clear message about all the different identities I am holding. Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, Israeli, my love for books and mythologies, my taste in music, my heritage. I am always thinking about what first impression people will have of me. None of those involved Jewishness.  

In Israel, the Jewish is the public space. I believed that if you do put on a Jewish symbol, it reflects your level of faith. How strong are your beliefs. And I am not a religious person, quite the opposite. And like me, so are many other Israelis. We feel like Judaism is for religious people, and we have other worlds. But since I joined the Shlichut, I started a journey. Changing the way I view Judaism, changing the place Judaism holds in me.  

And then October happened. And then Antisemitism rose. At first, I felt attacked. My Israeli identity was being attacked; my Jewish identity was attacked. I heard suggestions not to show any Jewish signs, not to provoke, not to stand out. I didn’t follow. I saw many others showing proudly their Jewish and Israeli identity, each one in its own way. I felt more than just Israeli, I felt Jewish. And I wanted to make sure no one was missing that piece. Davka, out of spite. Just because. 

And then a thought came to mind. I felt more complete. Not because I believe there’s a higher power, that’s a different conversation. I felt like I was looking back and seeing 3000 thousand years of history, each one growing through a different challenge. Gam Ze Ya’avor, this too shall pass. From one to another, each one of us is facing our own trauma. And that collective wisdom, of how to act better as a community, to act better as individuals, is making us stronger, more resilient.  

I didn’t believe in phrases like “Am Israel Chai,” now it brings me to tears. I didn’t used to wear a Mogen David, now I wear it wherever I go. Things are changing, or maybe it’s because I am getting closer to 30 and introspective. Who knows. It is a question I will think about for a long time to come. 

 In the meantime, let’s focus on another Jewish holiday where somebody tried to get rid of the Jewish people and didn’t succeed, and celebrate it the only way we know… with food, wine, and company.  And pray that all the hostages, and everybody else, are safe and back in their homes.  

Chag Purim Sameach! 

Building Ramps… Not Stairs

If you told me that when I graduated with a degree in social work, that I would be working in the camp field, specifically at an inclusive camp, I would never have believed you.

Hi! My name is Lauren, and I work as Camp Achva’s Inclusion and Belonging Coordinator. My role has two interrelated sides – firstly, by implementing supports for the mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of every camper, staff member, and family that is a part of the Camp Achva community, and secondly, by intentionally creating a safe environment for everyone to be their most authentic self.

I bring to this work a personal perspective on sticking out, the challenges of finding spaces I belong in, and contributing to causes bigger than myself, because, like so many in our community, I am neurodiverse.

Summer camp was my place to just be…me. To show up, and be welcomed fully for who I am, not what I could or could not do. It was a space for me to move away from a diagnosis and be seen for more than my ability level.

I am so grateful that I am in a role where I get to actively help create that space for another generation of campers & staff. It is through working hand in hand with the families and individuals that I, and the Camp Achva team, serve together to create individual success plans – at Camp Achva we believe in people over programming and connection before content. We live that ideal by adjusting our entire program for the one, to better the whole – which is inspired by a training opportunity our team was a part of that talked about their belief in building a ramp instead of stairs. Everyone can use a ramp, whereas only some can use the stairs. There has been a lot of exciting work from the Camp Achva team as we prepare for our best summer yet!

In a practical example of this work, our team has been discussing the length of our activities and how time affects learning outcomes and skill development. Our team has been discussing whether we should move from 30-minute activities to 35- or 40-minute activities. We are looking to adequately balance the need for an activity time length that holds camper and staff’s attention for duration and the number of activities everyone experiences in a day, with giving enough time to build skills and explicitly engage in conversations about what campers are learning. We see benefits of both and are continuing to weigh the pros and cons of each side.

We are working to improve our lunch programming as well – this is a time our campers and staff have given us feedback about, and so we are examining how to make lunch more like a ramp than the stairs it currently feels like to many. Lunch can be overwhelming! To some of our community, lunch feels loud, unstructured, and socially uncomfortable. To others, they feel perfectly in place, with lunch feeling structured and comforting. Our team is working on providing a structure that meets everyone’s needs with ideas from – camp trivia to weather reports, conversation starters to jokes, riddles, and word puzzles.

I am excited to continue these discussions and many others I get to be a part of through my work as the Inclusion & Belonging Coordinator of Camp Achva. I am so grateful for the work that I do. In this past year working with Camp Achva and for the Pozez JCC, I have learned that inclusion is not a choice, it is a lifestyle. I am working to make all the spaces that I am a part of inclusive.

While written in a different context, a quote that I have come to appreciate, rely on, and sums up my inclusion and belonging work is from Ijeoma Oluo: “every time you go through something, and it’s easy for you, look around and say ‘Who is this not easy for? And what can I do to dismantle that system?’”

Free summer camp makes memories for children with cancer and their siblings

For many children battling cancer, hearing “no” is a norm. No soccer or dance or playground fun with others — activities that can harm an already fragile body. But for six weeks every summer, at a camp designed to run on “yes,” children get to have fun in a safe environment, made just for them.

Horizon Day Camp is the only free day camp for 3 ½ to 16 year olds with pediatric cancer and their siblings. The camp opened in 2022, borne of a partnership between Pozez JCC and Sunrise Association Day Camps, which has been running camps and other programs for children with cancer since 2006.

“For our JCC, this is a major social impact program that fills a gap and a need for families in the D.C. metro area,” said Jessica Adams, senior director of development.

Because campers are undergoing treatment, they attend as often as they can, whenever they can. Every day of camp is created to stand alone, ensuring children never feel as if they missed something.

Camp Director Joellen Kriss-Broubalow said Horizon Day Camp is where “every kid can be a kid.” Many of her campers, siblings included, have been forced to grow up too soon. Camp is an opportunity for them to be their own person, outside of the bubble that cancer so often silos them into. 

“We are a camp for kids with cancer, but we are not a cancer camp,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “Cancer is something these kids have, not who they are. We take all of the necessary steps to make sure cancer is not at the center of everything we do.”

And camp starts on the bus, a free service that brings children to and from Pozez JCC. Then comes the best part of camp: activities. Soft sports balls and other adaptive equipment help children fully participate. Some play soccer or take swim lessons. Others make friendship bracelets or do science experiments. 

Specially trained counselors like Bradley Olsen, 18, are there every step of the way. A cancer survivor himself, Olsen pulls from his own experiences to offer hope, compassion and of course, joy.

“Seeing them share laughter, form bonds and create lasting memories is so special,” Olsen said. “Being able to witness these moments and provide a safe, supportive space for them to simply be themselves is truly a gift.”

Alana Cole, another 18-year-old counselor, said, “It’s easy to say that I teach the kids, but in truth, they teach me. The most meaningful part of my work is seeing all of them smile and have fun.”

This June, staff are expecting to welcome their largest group of campers. Horizon Day Camp, which started with 44 children and grew to accomodate nearly 100, already has 48 registrants for this summer. Roughly 20 of them are returning campers.

The driving force: parents know their little ones are in good hands. There is on-site medical support, which includes a team of nurses supervised by a pediatric oncologist. 

With peace of mind, parents can take quiet moments for themselves. Last summer, while their children were at camp, one couple took a vacation day and went to the movies. Another said they finally had time to clean their house, which had been in disarray since their child started cancer treatment.

“I can feel the relief from our parents,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “Everything is being taken care of. Kids are so excited to come to camp every day, and parents haven’t seen their kids this excited in a long time.”

One of those parents is Emily McGilton, whose daughter Brianna has neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells. For Brianna, rounds of treatment disrupted her year, pulling her from school and friends. 

Horizon Day Camp was a bright spot.

Brianna, 4, would come home and excitedly recap her days swimming and crafting. Knowing her daughter was having fun, and finding some normalcy in abnormal times, McGilton began to worry less.

“Horizon Day Camp encouraged me to let go a little bit and allow others to help me care for my child,” McGilton said. “I slowly adjusted with the help of her encouraging staff and her big smiles every day at drop off and pick up. She can’t wait to go back.” 

Even though camp is six-weeks long, engagement is year round. Horizon on Wheels brings the magic of camp to children undergoing treatment in hospitals. There are also family fun days, which have included adaptive sports and exclusive museum visits to keep up relationships with camp families. 

The next happening: Horizon Walk. This annual fundraising event, scheduled for April 14, features a 1-mile walk around National Harbor. Attendees include camp families and other members of the community, drawing a crowd of close to 250. 

“When they see you, they knock you over with these huge hugs because they’re so excited to be around camp people again,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “That’s how you know what you’re doing really matters.”

For Kriss-Broubalow, who is a teacher during the school year, camp fills her soul during the summer and all year round.

“Teachers are seed planters. We usually don’t get to see the flowers,” Kriss-Broubalow said. “But at camp, you get to see the flowers. It’s magic.”

You can participate in our annual Horizon Walk by completing this registration form.