A Wealth of Words: Building Language, Literacy, Culture and Community in Early Childhood Jewish Education

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Betty Bardige keynote

Betty Bardige keynote

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  • I began my early childhood career at a Jewish preschool. My youngest sister had been born with severe brain damage. At five, she could speak and even read, but was unable to stand or walk. No kindergarten would take her. The only schooling available to her – public or private – was at a program for multihandicapped children with severe cognitive limitations. At the time, our Temple was building a new Sunday School classroom wing, my grandfather chaired the building committee. My mother convinced her father to equip several of the new classrooms for young children, and founded the first inclusive preschool in South Florida. Soon, this preschool included the county’s first Head Start program as well. As a senior in high school, I helped out after school and during vacations, and worked there as my first summer job. But today, I want to talk about language. As the People of the Book, we Jews place a high value on words. We are known for answering questions with questions, commenting on commentaries, and debating with ourselves, our friends and family members, those whose perspectives are different from ours, and even with God. Discussions of the meaning of words and the interpretation of stories are at the very center of the tradition we pass on to our children. We value education, and we offer our children opportunities to taste its sweetness very early in their lives. We also live in a world that is full of distractions – cell phones, iPods, media of all sorts, 24/7 jobs, and a myriad of demands on our time. Those of us who are parents of young children may be challenged to find affordable, high quality child care – especially for our infants and toddlers, and to fit in time for family talk. Those of us who teach young children are pulled in multiple directions as we try – sometimes with too few resources and too little support and compensation, as is, unfortunately, characteristic of our field – to respond to the needs of each child and each family in our care. All of us share the traditions of tsedakah and tikkun olam, which obligate us to seek justice for all of the children in our communities – to reach out when we can, as my mother did, to give every child a fair and promising start. Through our actions and habits in our own homes and classrooms, and our shared activism in our communities and country, we can assure that every child is equipped with a wealth of words, and therefore primed for success.


  • 1. Betty Bardige, Ed.D. Building Language, Literacy, Culture and Community in Early Childhood Jewish Education
  • 2.  
  • 3. Words Play a Central Role in Jewish Culture
    • People of the Book
    • Answer a question with a question
    • Value commentary and discussion
    • Learning is sweet – and begins early
  • 4. The key to school readiness is language development, fostered in caring relationships through frequent, vocabulary-stretching conversations that stimulate and build upon children’s natural curiosity.
  • 5. Jack’s mother …
    • Attends to his feelings
    • uses playful discipline techniques
    • joins him in pretend play
    • expands his play and language
    • engages him in information-rich conversation
    • uses questions to help him tell his story
  • 6. The Widening Gap in Young Children ’ s Vocabularies
    • Source: Hart, B., and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children . Baltimore, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, p. 47.
  • 7. Children developed richer vocabularies when parents …
    • talked A LOT
    • shared more information
    • asked more questions
    • issued relatively fewer commands
    • offered more choices
    • were generally more responsive
    • engaged children in playful conversation
    • used more rare and unusual words
  • 8. Play Makes the Difference!
    • Play Talk
    • Responsive to child
    • Imaginative and often silly
    • Open-ended
    • Encouraging
    • Offers choices
    • Asks and explores questions
    • More complex sentences
    • More adjectives; rhyming
    • Richer vocabulary
    • Engages both partners
    • Past, future, what if
    • Business Talk
    • Adult-initiated
    • Serious
    • Goal oriented
    • Fewer “affirmations”
    • Directive
    • Statements and commands
    • Short and to the point
    • Prose
    • Simplified vocabulary
    • One-sided “conversation”
    • Here and now
  • 9. The Widening Gap in Language Input Addressed to Young Children
    • Source: Hart, B., and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children . Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, p. 198.
  • 10. Children don’t learn to talk by watching TV. To become good communicators, they need the back and forth engagement of meaningful conversation.
  • 11. Jewish Conversation-Rich Classrooms
  • 12. Jill’s center has …
    • lots of . . .
    • Books
    • Large-group “activities”
    • Interest centers
    • Labels
    • Pretend play materials
    • Music
    • Letter-naming activities
    • Quizzing
    • Teaching of simple concepts
    • but little . . .
    • Dialogic reading
    • Small group conversation
    • Integration of reading and writing
    • Personally meaningful print
    • Adult involvement in pretend play
    • Word play
    • Story-telling
    • Genuine questioning
    • Extended exploration & information sharing
  • 13. Effective Programs
    • Early Head Start and Head Start
    • Parent/Child Home Program
    • Parents as Teachers
    • High Quality Child Care
  • 14. The Power of Bilingualism
    • Young bilingual children, learning two languages simultaneously, tend to have the same overall vocabulary (with some words in each language and some in both) as monolingual counterparts
    • Learning a second language – or two first languages – increases cognitive flexibility (seeing the same thing in two different ways)
    • Learning a second language in childhood increases verbal and nonverbal IQ
      • --- Genesee, F., J. Paradis, and M. B. Crago (2004) Dual Language Development and Disorders: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning, Paul H. Brookes Publishing .
  • 15. Positive Caregiving for US Children Ages 1 to 3 Source: NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2000). Characteristics and quality of child care for toddlers and preschoolers. Applied Developmental Science , 4.
  • 16. Cumulative State Investment by Age, Contrasted with Brain Growth
    • Source: Voices for America ’ s Children and the Child and Family Policy Center (2004). Early Learning Left Out: An Examination of Public Investments in Education and Development by Child Age.
  • 17. Iowa Spending by Child Age
    • Source: Voices for America’s Children and the Child and Family Policy Center. (2004). Early Learning Left Out: An Examination of Public Investments in Education and Development by Child Age.
  • 18. A Bilingual Language-Rich Setting
  • 19. The Basic Ingredients
    • Warm relationships
    • Interesting things to talk about
    • Interested people to talk with
  • 20. A Language-Rich Program
  • 21. Books are familiar friends …
  • 22. & springboards for conversation
  • 23. Books and planned activities prompt investigation . . .
  • 24. … extended projects
  • 25. … and pretend play
  • 26. Lots of opportunities to read…
  • 27. … and write
  • 28. explore
  • 29. and share
  • 30. Partnership with Parents
    • Share key messages and explain research
    • Bring family stories and funds of knowledge into the classroom
    • Support home language and bilingualism
    • Encourage parent/child language and literacy activities
    • Build a community that celebrates Jewish culture and supports Jewish identity and values
  • 31. Building Community
    • Sharing celebrations and other events
    • Creating home/school connections and opportunities for families to participate in planning, enriching, and evaluating programs
    • Creating opportunities to appreciate difference and learning joyfully across culture
    • Tikkun olam projects that children can help with or with results they can see
  • 32. Advocacy Organizations
    • NAEYC Children’s Champions www.naeyc.org
    • MomsRising www.momsrising.org
    • ZERO TO THREE Policy Center www.zerotothree.org
    • Voices for America’s Children www.voices.org
  • 33. Spread the Word
    • Words are brain food for toddlers.
    • Support the people who build children’s brains – ensure that they have the resources and education they need.
    • VOTE in the interest of children.
  • 34. So that every child begins school with a wealth of words