New Project Will Explore How Jewish Early Childhood Education Can be a Gateway for Ongoing Involvement in Jewish Life

April 20, 2017

Jewish Day School teachers holds paper up for elementary student seated at table reaching for a red tray of supplies

CASJE, the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education, today announced the next steps in its long-term research project to explore how Jewish early childhood education (ECE) can serve as a gateway for deeper and more sustained involvement in Jewish life. While broadly conceived, the study will include a focus on ways that ECE institutions can better engage interfaith families and families that are not currently involved in a synagogue or other Jewish institution.

Dr. Tamara Halle, Senior Scholar at Child Trends, a nationally-recognized nonprofit research organization specializing in the study of children, youth, and their families, and Professor Mark I. Rosen of Brandeis University, who has been studying Jewish families with young children since 2003, will co-lead the study, working closely with experienced researchers at Child Trends and in the Boston area.

“The research team has a wealth of experience exploring many facets of early childhood education,” says Dr. Michael Feuer, co-chair of the CASJE Board of Directors and dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University. “From this initiative will come deeper knowledge of Jewish ECE and its role in strengthening Jewish communal engagement.”

CASJE is a community of researchers, practitioners, and philanthropic leaders working to improve the quality of research useful in many areas of Jewish education. In its ECE program, CASJE hopes to identify practices that communities can employ to maintain family involvement in Jewish life as their children grow. The findings from these efforts will be shared broadly.

“We are deeply grateful to CASJE and to the study’s funders for recognizing the importance and potential impact of early childhood education on Jewish families,” said Dr. Halle and Professor Rosen. “This study has the potential to bring important new information to the field that will benefit early childhood professionals as well as Jewish parents.”

The main areas addressed in this project, and the work to be done to explore them, include:

  • Understanding what “Jewish engagement” means to Jewish families with young children and to Jewish early childhood professionals. A literature review and interviews will explore this area.
  • Understanding how exemplary Jewish ECE programs engage parents with young children, and what barriers exist to parental or family engagement. Site visits by researchers in Chicago, Seattle, and Greater Washington, DC will identity these best practices and barriers.
  • Understanding how Jewish engagement changes over time for Jewish families with young children, and whether these patterns differ for families that enroll their children in Jewish compared with secular ECE, and for families that are initially more or less engaged in Jewish life. Researchers will again focus on families in Chicago, Seattle, and Greater Washington, DC to examine changes in engagement over time.

A final report, expected in 2019, will summarize findings about the features of Jewish ECE programs that make the greatest difference to families’ Jewish engagement. Additional reports also will highlight families’ child care preferences and choices, the factors that influence those choices, and what activities families look to engage in after their children graduate from ECE programs.

The ECE research program is funded by a generous grant from The Crown Family.