By Ben Tinsley
PLANO — At the Chabad of Plano Gan Gani Preschool, teachers strive to impart to their young students the overall beauty — rather than the strict rules — of Judaism.
“We talk about God, and about things we learn about the holiday — things that make Judaism an emotional experience,” explained Rivkie Block, director of the Plano preschool.
Mrs. Block said the school works closely with its 21 students — as well as their families. This is the first year the small preschool has a class for each age: 2, 3 and 4 years of age, she said.
“That’s 21 children, which equals 21 families,” Mrs. Block said. “… We know that each child develops at their own pace and the unique personality and strengths of the child should be celebrated and nurtured.”
Gan Gani, incidentally, is Hebrew for “my garden.” At The Chabad of Plano Gan Gani Preschool, the philosophy of the teachers is to help the students grow in confidence and learning.
“The philosophy that we are following is that the teachers take cues from the children,” Mrs. Block said.
She would know. Rivkie Block is the mother of eight children, who range in age from 4 months to 20 years.
Alongside her husband, Rabbi Menachem Block, Mrs. Block has grown Chabad of Plano into a thriving center in Plano — starting and directing the Chabad of Plano Hebrew School program for 15 years, officials said.
In addition, Mrs. Block has worked with children of all ages in camps, day schools and afterschool programs — taking great pride in passing on her knowledge and love of Judaism to her students.
Rabbi Menachem Block, meanwhile, said the school is a wonderful addition to Chabad of Plano’s programming and offers much to the community.
“Before this we never had a preschool, never had these services for younger kids,” the rabbi said. “This is filling the age gap … It’s wonderful to see parents come in to the building every day and call the Chabad their home. They have all really brought a new life to it.”
Parents are equally enthusiastic about the preschool.
Lisa Davies, whose 3-year-old daughter Sophia attends the school, said one of the reasons she loves Gan Gani is the welcoming and nurturing atmosphere.
“We love how they appreciate every child as an individual with strengths and weaknesses — how they work so hard to cultivate each little personality,” Davies said.
She said she had sent Sophia to another daycare closer to her home and the child absolutely hated it — screaming every morning.
“As Sophia got older, it just didn’t seem like they paid attention to the development of the individual child,” Davies said. “It was only based on their age and where they thought they should be in regards to generalized milestones.”
However, since Sophia started attending Gan Gani she loves school and is so excited to get there every day — literally running to get to her classroom, her mother said.
“She is always quick to tell me, ‘I had another great day today’ when I pick her up from school,” Davies said. “Every aspect of the school is filled with love — to help the child grow as both an individual and a member of the Jewish community. We love it, and will be really sad when it is time for her to start another school.”
Amy Gogan, whose 3-year-old son Ari attends the school, tends to agree. Gogan said her son receives individual attention while immersed in creative learning and curriculum in a loving and welcoming environment.
“My son looks forward to school and as a parent, it is a huge security and relief to know you are leaving your child in a loving, caring, and effective learning environment.” Gogan said. “The curriculum is rich and progressive. I would highly recommend Gan Gani to any parent looking for a safe, loving, progressive, and Jewish education.”
The program is said to promote each child’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional growth with games and activities that are skill-based and goal-oriented, officials said.
This program is selective, Rivkie Block acknowledged. Officials have turned some children down.
Balance in a student body is really important, she said.
“If you have the students confined to any one demographic, the parents don’t feel comfortable coming here,” Mrs. Block said “We want to make sure there are families from every walk of life in this community.”
The classroom includes blocks, art, dramatic play, books, manipulative and scientific discovery — which allow the children to have choices and to actively explore and to interact with peers, teachers and environment.
The goal is the children’s emotional, cognitive and physical growth.
But there is more than one form of growth.
“They look to us for support and guidance,” Rivkie Block said. “… For instance, does the child have parents going through divorce? We are here to help them through that.”
Likewise, children from diverse backgrounds have an equal need for support, she said.
Chabad of Plano has been in existence 23 years. Over the years, different programs have been started to meet the needs of the community — for instance, a Hebrew school that catered to 70 children and a Jewish learning institute for adult education serving 80 people.
But the newest program was the preschool.
Ultimately, the philosophy of Plano Gan Gani Preschool is that early childhood education should be a joyous experience without the pressure on young children to perform, officials said.
The most significant of educational experiences, Mrs. Block said, can be very subtle. It can take place at a time when children are preparing to eat.
“It can happen right before snack time when the 2- and 3-year-olds are standing around the table with animal crackers and apples in hand,” Mrs. Block said. “Before these children start eating, they wait for us to make a blessing. This is both a teaching moment and an imprint of child development.”