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Woman hopes to help preschool children flourish at her center based on Jewish values

Chana Greene wants the preschool children under her care to “flourish” as they learn about being kind to others, problem solving and other skills to prepare them for school and to be contributing

The Gan Preschool
Chana Greene explores a water table with a student in the outdoor classroom on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at The Gan Preschool in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Chana Greene wants the preschool children under her care to “flourish” as they learn about being kind to others, problem solving and other skills to prepare them for school and to be contributing members of society.

Greene opened the doors of the lower level of her southwest Rochester home in October 2020 as a family child care center called The Gan.

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She and two educators now care for six children from the ages of 15 months to 4 years old. Her license was recently expanded, the number of students is increasing to 10 this fall.

As an experienced early child care educator as well as the wife of a rabbi at Rochester’s Chabad of Southern Minnesota, Greene uses a mix of educational philosophies as well as the values of Judaism. She is also the education director at the Chabad.

On a recent warm summer day, Greene discussed her vision for The Gan as the children played and splashed around with water toys in the backyard.

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What inspired you to create The Gan?

“When we moved to Rochester, I had always had in the back of my mind to open up a child care center.

I spoke to a lot of parents and got a feel for what was needed in our community. My husband and I run a nonprofit, the Chabad, which services the local and visiting Jewish community. The Jewish culture places a lot of value on education. It was kind of organic that opening a center was our next step.

I taught in a Reggio-inspired preschool in Connecticut. So when we opened The Gan, I was very intentional that I wanted it to be child-focused.”

The Gan Preschool
The indoor classroom is seen on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at The Gan Preschool in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Could you explain what Gan means, and why you choose that as the name of your center?

“Gan is the Hebrew word for garden. It's kind of the philosophy that the time from birth to 5 years old is the time for planting the roots of a child's foundation. That's my philosophy of early education.

Everything that a child absorbs. Everything that a child hears. Everything that a child is exposed to during this time is the foundation of their learning for their life and their school years.

The learning that takes place, both in skills and social emotional, and you know, how to, you know, be a contributing member of society and all these different things is the roots and foundation for their life. So for me, that's why I look at it as we're planting the seeds for our students to be successful and have the skills and tools to succeed educationally, socially and really in all aspects of their learning and their life.”

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Learning skills to be successful in life sounds heavy for young children. However, the kids seem to be enjoying themselves and having fun. How does play fit into your approach?

“I always say that children learn through play. If you put an adult in a job that they hate, will they complete the tasks? Maybe. If they're given an incentive. If they are in a career, or a job or something that they love? That's an adult's version of play. They are going to be successful at it, because they want to be doing it. So really, all humans learn through play.

It’s the same way with children. People say, ‘I want my children to be learning’ and ‘I want my children to know the ABCs.’ Children are learning through play. That is how children learn. Let's not steal a child's childhood. Give them that. Children learn by playing through interacting, through learning how to focus, through learning how to ask questions, learning how to problem solve, learning how to communicate.

The Gan Preschool
Children play with teachers Jodi Hass, right, and Jenica Holmberg in the outdoor classroom on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at The Gan Preschool in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

We're giving them the tools to be able to do that successfully. It's less about the worksheets, and the charts and the behavior. That's not what the early childhood years are about. The early childhood years are about teachers observing children and taking notice of what children learn in their play, and creating a classroom environment that's provoking for them to ask questions, build skills, concentrate, problem solve, and communicate and build their social emotional development. That's where the learning takes place.”

You mentioned that one of the other core philosophies is Jewish values. What does that mean on a day-to-day basis?

“A big part of our philosophy and curriculum is teaching children values, how to be a contributing member to society and to give them a sense of that responsibility. All of that really stems from Judaism. There's a word in Judaism called a mitzvah, which means a good deed.

Throughout our day, and throughout our entire school year, we are noticing and talking about different mitzvahs that the children are doing. That means helping a friend, sharing with someone, giving to charity. Every single day, the children give a penny into a charity box.

We are teaching them that they are valuable. They have something to give to help to make the world a better place. And all of that stems from the Jewish value of a mitzvah of a good deed.”

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Do families who aren’t Jewish send their children to The Gan?

“We have children from all backgrounds. I am very transparent that our program is a Jewish-based program. The values and the culture is based on the foundation of Judaism. Around holiday time, we're going to be celebrating Hanukkah, Passover and the High Holidays.

Especially in this day and age, people like their children to be exposed to different cultures. Like I think that's something that is nice, especially in a place like Minnesota, where we're not exposed to other cultures much.”

Do you include outdoor play for the children throughout the year?

“Yes. We put a very high value on being immersed in nature and breathing outside, even if it's for five minutes a day during the winter. I believe there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.

We also bring in a lot of natural elements inside of the classroom. A big part of our curriculum is ‘loose parts,’ which is open-ended play with materials like tree bark or wood chips that are found in nature.

We've been so conditioned to believe that every single piece of material has a specific use, but children don't have that belief. So when you give children something, you'll be amazed and surprised about what they do with these materials.”

The Gan Preschool
Children play in the outdoor classroom on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at The Gan Preschool in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

You described the future growth of The Gan as very intentional. So what is the next step in your plan?

“The next step is starting to look at what it would take to become a licensed day care center. Because based on what we've been doing for the past 12 months and the phone calls and emails from parents, we know that the need is here. We wish that we were able to take every single child into our program and we want to take the steps in order to get there. So that's kind of our next step.

For me, it's so empowering to hear from community members who say, ‘We love what you're doing. What can we do to help you get to the next step?’’

Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to news@postbulletin.com .

Related Topics: PEOPLEASKED AND ANSWERED
Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard Around Rochester," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. The opinions of my employer do not necessarily reflect my opinions. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.
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