Laughter and joy filled a conference room over the summer as directors of Chicago's Jewish early childhood programs brought the story of Jonah and the whale to life. Leading this exploration was recent Chicago transplant and artist-educator Jonathan Shmidt Chapman.
"I felt closer to the angst and hardship that Jonah experienced because I was being Jonah," said Cherene Radis, Director of Moriah Early Childhood Center. "It forced me to deeply connect with his character."
This is no accident. "Theater techniques transport us," expresses Shmidt Chapman, "
as if we were there."
Shmidt Chapman, winner of the Covenant Foundation's inaugural Jewish Family Education Fellowship and founder and co-creator of The K'ilu Company, skillfully draws from storytelling, theater, puppetry, and play to make Jewish stories and traditions accessible and dynamic for all young learners and their families.
Local early childhood directors experienced just a taste of an exciting and innovative learning opportunity for early childhood educators launching this school year. JUF's Jewish Early Childhood Collaborative is forming its own artist-educator fellowship for early childhood teachers, a troupe led by Shmidt Chapman. Fellows will develop and debut a range of theatrical and artistic techniques to enliven Jewish stories and rituals with young children.
Immersive theater and imaginative play are powerful tools to activate Jewish discovery in developmentally appropriate ways. Decades of research have shown that imaginative play allows young children to develop social skills, explore a range of social roles, enhance emotional intelligence, and improve flexible and creative thinking.
"Jonathan showed us how to bring these stories to life for our students in a way that is truly relevant and developmentally appropriate." said Shuli Medow, Community Liaison at the Bernard Horwich JCC. "I'm excited to share his ideas with my teaching team!"
Ilana Dvorin Friedman, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst for Early Childhood at JUF.