As we are gearing up for Tu B’shevat (the birthday of the trees and one of my personal favorite holidays!), I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the way this holiday intersects with my philosophy about early childhood education. I know this sounds like a big leap, but I promise I’ll get there!
I began by thinking about all of the tree symbolism that exists in Judaism. After all, we call the Torah the “tree of life” (trees must be a pretty big deal if they’re a metaphor for the Torah, right?). Knowing that that trees are significant, I dug deeper into the rituals surrounding them that often come up during Tu B’shevat. I read about the tradition of planting trees and the links between Tu B’shevat and environmentalism. These traditions and ideas have always been my main associations with Tu B’shevat, so imagine my surprise when I read about the Torah’s commandment which tells us that we can only eat fruit from a tree after the tree’s third birthday. I became fascinated with this idea, as I spend most of my day (or at least try to) with people who are just about 3 years old.
Thinking of a preschooler as a tree suddenly became the most powerful metaphor. We nurture trees, giving them water and shade, trimming their branches – basically grooming them to grow up and give back to us, just as we gave to them. The same can be said for preschoolers. Letting them grow and nurturing them in their early years will allow us to build a brighter future. Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of a quality preschool experience, often citing higher earnings, high school graduation rates, and likelihood to hold a job.
As the pressures of today’s high stakes educational system creep their way into the early years of education, I will continue to remind myself that children are like trees – they need nurturing and support before we can expect them to reciprocate. If we ask too much of our youngest citizens, never letting them flourish, we will never see them develop to their full potential. At the TCEE, we take this to heart, using our play based learning philosophy to cultivate creativity and imagination. We hope that when our preschoolers grow up they will come back to where their education started and share their talents, successes, and joy so we may see the fruits of our labor.