Surviving the First Day at School in Israel
Hebrew:היום הראשון בבית הספר
September 1st is the start of the new academic year in Israel. After a long and relaxing summer holiday, it's time for our children to go back to, or start school for the very first time. Waving goodbye to your little ones as they step into the big wide world is difficult for any parent, but there are extra layers of anxiety when you are a new oleh and are experiencing Israel's education system for the very first time; will your children cope with the language? Will they make friends easily? Will they understand everything their teacher says? Remember though, even if you are anxious, your child needs to feel relaxed and secure. Starting school is a major milestone - it's a life changing day and they will remember it forever.
Kindergarten & School
If you have arranged for your child attend a private kindergarten (Hebrew - gan prati), you have already met the teacher (the ganan (m) or ganenet (f)) and discussed your child's specific needs with him/her. At this meeting, the ganenet probably explained the daily routine to you; meals, nap-time, discipline etc. If your child is going to a regular municipal kindergarten - a gan ironi, for the first time, you may have a lot of unanswered questions and anxieties.
Working parents might want to take a vacation day on September 1st. Mostly, the first day is only an hour or two and parents need to take than into consideration. For the youngest age group, both at a municipal or private gan, parents should be allowed to stay for a short while.
As of the beginning of the 2012/2013 academic year in Israel, municipal kindergarten fees were lifted and municipal kindergartens in Israel are now free but you are expected to pay extra for things like outings, heating and insurance.
Expect to pay upward of 2,000 shekels/month for fees in a private kindergarten or crèche.
A municipal gan in Israel (starting from age 3) can have up to 40 children in a class. A qualified and accredited ganenet or ganan and one assistant, who is mostly responsible for keeping the gan and the children, clean and tidy, are present.
In a private gan there are fewer children. The ratio of children to ganenet is around 10:1. Giving your little angel more individual attention is the best reason to choose a private gan, if you can afford it.
The School Day
The 'school day', in a municipal kindergarten usually begins at 7:30.a.m and ends at 1:30.p.m. On Fridays - Erev Shabbat, the gan may close a little earlier. Your local municipality or regional council may run a 'tzaharon' - an afternoon program that your child can attend for a fee.
A private gan may open as early as 7:00.a.m and may close as late as 5:00.p.m during the week. Friday's are also early closing days.
Parents are expected to fetch their children on-time at the end of the day. If you cannot fetch your child you must inform the ganenet and tell her who will be fetching your child instead. The ganenet will not release a child to an unauthorized person.
School Snacks & Lunch
In a municipal kindergarten parents need to provide food and snacks for their child. Mid morning snack time is usually between 10 - 10:30 a.m. It is an long-standing Israeli custom to send a child to school with a chocolate spread sandwich. Many Israeli children go to gan with a juice bottle - Israel's favorite is "petel" a concentrated, sweetened berry syrup diluted with water. Instead of these empty calorie foods, try provide nourishing food instead; maybe a fruit or vegetable muffin, carrot sticks and other cut up vegetables. You can safely assume there is no refrigeration facility in the municipal kindergarten. Some foods that perish quickly in the summer heat; yogurts, cottage cheese, hummous and fresh fruit juice.
A private gan should be providing well balanced, nourishing meals: breakfast, lunch and a mid-afternoon snack for your child. Discuss the menu with the ganenet and any special dietary issues or allergies your child may have.
Make sure your toddler has a full change of underwear and clothing in his/her backpack. If your child is attending a religious school, make sure they are dressed appropriately.
You will be required to provide diapers if necessary however a municipal gan will require that your child be potty-trained.
In the gan
- Your preschooler will be allocated a drawer or pigeon hole for their personal items and their work.
- Each child will be given a hook to hang their jacket and back-pack.
- Your child's day will consist of circle-time, arts and crafts and other stimulating activities, outside free play-time (weather permitting), rest-time and of course, meal-time.
Your child's birthday will be celebrated in the gan. You are expected to attend and provide a birthday cake, snacks and drinks for everyone. It is also customary for parents to provide a party favor for all the classmates. These favors could be a small packet of sweets, a small inexpensive toy or even something as simple as an ice-cream. For one shekel each, the Dollar Shops have huge selections of party favors.
If you are having a party for your school-aged child at home, it is customry to invite the entire class. Don't feel pressurized to do this though.
On Friday morning the children will celebrate Shabbat in the gan. An Ima Shabbat (the Shabbat mother) and an Aba Shabbat (the Shabbat father) will play a main part in the festivities. Each child should have a turn to be the Ima or Aba.
Holidays & Festivals
Jewish holidays, festivals and customs are taught and celebrated in the municipal gan and parents will be invited to participate in the festivities. These celebrations are generally scheduled for early in the evening or Friday mornings. They are great fun and you will be proud and amazed at what your child has learned during the year.
Ask the ganan or ganenet what religious education your child will receive in a private gan.
End of year Concerts
Private or municipal, there is likely to be an end of year concert. Take lots of pictures and enjoy this special time.
Every year the Department of Education determines vacation days: In a municipal gan or school, take these vacation days into consideration:
Rosh Hashanah - usually a 3 day break
Yom Kippur - 2 days
The entire week of Sukkot
The entire week of Hannukah
Tu B'Shvat - 1 day
Purim - 2 or 3 days
Pesach - usually 2.5 weeks
Yom Haatzmaut - 1 day
Lag B'Omer - 1 day
Shavuot - 3 days
Summer holidays - July and August
If you have enrolled your child in a private gan, vacations days may differ. Mostly private gans are closed for 2 weeks only during the summer, between August 15th and August 31st.
The Parents' Committee: Advice for Mom & Dad
Within a week or two, you will be invited to the first of many PTA meetings. If you are anxious about your level of Hebrew, take a friend who understands Hebrew well so that they can translate for you.
The Dreaded Question!
The dreaded question of the evening: "Mi rotzeh liheyot be vaad?" - Who is volunteering to be on the parents/teachers committee? Usually 3 parents are asked to volunteer. Volunteering for the PTA is a good way for you to get to know and develop a close relationship with the your child's educator but you will have some responsibilities too.
If you volunteer and stand for election, there is a 99.9% chance that you will be elected. Your duties may include accompanying the children on school outings, collecting money from parents for special events or gifts or volunteering for other duties like making latkes for Hannukah!
Your Child's Health
Question: What has legs but walks on a head? יש לו רגליים והוא הולך על הראש
Don't be alarmed - lice infestations are common in kindergartens and in schools in Israel. Even though this is an embarrassing situation, please tell the ganenet if your child has lice so that the all parents can be notified and instructed to treat the lice to prevent further cross infestations.
Fevers: If your child is running a fever, for their own sake and the sake of the others in the class, keep them at home for a day or two. If your child is running a fever at gan, the ganenet will contact you and ask that you come and collect your child. The ganenet is not allowed to administer any medication whatsoever, even paracetamol, without your prior consent.
If you little angel is going to be absent from gan for any reason, contact the ganenet and tell her. With 30 - 40 children to supervise, the ganenet does not have time to call you to find out why your shnookums is absent.
Create a Whatsapp group to keep in touch with other moms, dads and carers. You'll learn some Hebrew and make new friends too!
Worms and other yukky stuff
Check with the ganenet that the sand-pit is kept covered when not in use. How often does the sand get changed? If you happen to notice worms or feces in the sand-box make sure the ganenet is alerted and does something about it. Nag her until she does. This is a health hazard! If the ganenet or the PTA does not act on this, report the matter to the education department at your local municipality or regional council. Wild foliage on the perimeter is hazardous too and makes for a great hiding place for rodents and snakes. A fax, in English, or a phone call to your mayor or head of your regional council will get the matter sorted promptly.
Olim share their experiences
We made Aliyah from the Ukraine. It was customary there to keep children at home with the grandmother until they were ready for school. When we got to Israel, we saw that children went to crèche and kindergarten from an early age. We were concerned about this. Our oldest son Dan stayed home with me, but we sent our daughter Noya to a crèche when she was 2 years old - we wanted her to learn Hebrew so that she would have a good start by the time she was ready for big-school. By the time our third child, Ronnie, came along, I chose to go back to work when he was 6 months old. We arranged for a Metapelet to come every day to look after him. When he was 2 we also sent him to creche.
My husband and I decided that we would not celebrate our children's birthdays with class parties. We understood the social benefits but this was a purely financial decision on our part. It costs many hundreds of shekels to have a class party at home and even more if we arranged a magician or entertainer or had the party at a special venue. So instead, every year we took 1,000 shekels per child (the amount we would have spent on a party) and put that money to a savings account for each of them. When my children come out the army, they will each have a large sum of money saved up for something special. We think it was the right thing to do.
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