By Carol Glassman
This is a success story. From the moment one enters the Chabad Naples Preschool of the Arts, there is no mystery about why it was chosen as the 2012 Champion of Child Care. Far from being a glorified babysitting service, it is truly a mini-institution of learning.
Only one year ago, the preschool was a dream for four children: today, over 60 children attend the only eco-healthy child care facility in this area. In reality, it is the dream-come-true of Ettie Zaklos, Preschool Director, wife of Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, whose capable hands-on ideas and management have brought it to fruition. She is a member of the CECE (Chabad Early Childhood Education) Network, holds a Directors Credential from the Florida Department of Children and Families, and has a CDA in Early Childhood.
The school is immaculately clean, recycles, and uses only environmentally healthy products and no pesticides, making it a safe place for children with allergies. A close look at the facility and its programs is very revealing.
Located on the campus of the Chabad Center on Mandarin Road in Naples, the four main classrooms are state-of-the-art, set up to accommodate groups of children according to age, from approximately two to five years old.
During the summer program, for the 12 youngest children (18 months to 2 1/2 years) there are three instructors who, following an action song, are handing out the morning snacks, emphasizing manners, a blessing for the food, and cleaning up after oneself. At 10 o’clock the children line up and head to My Gym, one of the many creative activities brought to the children each week, such as a petting zoo, water slide, performing arts, or an art teacher. My Gym is perpetual motion for the active kids, running from group exercises to individual tumbling as each child is helped by the qualified instructors with forward and backward somersaults.
In another classroom, the children are following pictures in a book and learning about charity, and “this is what we do … to help the poor with food and clothes”. There is a Tzedakah (charity) box on the desk for coins and as the Rebbetzen Ettie Zaklos emphasizes being nice to each another, one little girl reaches for the hand of the boy next to her.
Outside in the contained courtyard, kids have changed into bathing suits and are engaging in many enthusiastic activities such as riding cars and bikes around a track, swinging on a jungle gym, and enjoying being hosed down in a plastic pool. Instructors are tirelessly helping change clothes, bringing towels, and making sure everyone is having fun.
There is a large sunshade over one area which provides yet another aspect of safety in the secure, locked playground.
It is evident throughout the school, how every aspect of a child’s development is being met — intellectually, socially, morally, and emotionally. There is an air of busyness, not just for the sake of keeping busy, but in order to explore, discover, learn and achieve. Every activity, however simple and enjoyable it may seem, is meaningful.
The children are given a choice of coming for half a day, from 9 AM until 12, or they may stay a full day until 3 PM.They are given the option to nap on cots or may just have a rest time. Fresh meals are prepared in-house daily, and are always healthy with fruit and vegetables in addition to the entrée which may be chicken, pizza, or barbecue. Throughout the facility there is information posted for the parents, informing them of each day’s activities as well as the weekly menus.
There is always an air of awareness among the instructors who obviously know the children very well and act as kind, warm parents, encouraging them to take the next step and respond to challenges. There seems to be a healthy balance of individual activity with group participation.
Chabad also runs a summer day camp, Camp Gan Israel (http://www.cginaples. com/) from June 25 – July 20 and consists of a different program daily, with field trips for 60 children ages 6 to 13.