February 21, 2020

The Mary Poppins of Early Childhood Education

Juliet Taylor is a Tel Avivian version of Mary Poppins, complete with the British accent. She swoops in with a confidence that gives listeners the impression she can handle things, and does so with unconditional acceptance and a warm smile. 

As the nursery school education director for CityKids, an English-language education center in the Old North neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Taylor manages a team of teachers, “helping them bring their best for the kids.” 

Largely unregulated in Israel, programs and centers for newborns through children kindergarten age often are regarded as baby-sitting. While there are many government-and/or nongovernment organization-sponsored frameworks, they aren’t free and parents often opt for a mishpachton — a nursery in a private home. Taylor is part of a group of early childhood education professionals on a mission to modernize and professionalize this field.

That group is called Early Childhood Educators in Israel, which began as a Facebook group. The group recently held a two-day conference in Tel Aviv to “change the definition of excellence in early childhood education in Israel,” Taylor said.

“Kids are little human beings,” she explained. “They are whole in that sense and our job as educators is not just to fill them like empty vessels, but to light the fire they already have inside them; to empower them.” She went on to say the current model of early childhood education has not changed much since it was first developed during the Industrial Revolution and that it’s only in the past three or four decades that scientists have started to research and analyze babies and children’s brain development. 

According to Taylor the world — not just Israel — is “at this tipping point. People recognize the importance of early childhood education. It’s more than baby-sitting, more than daycare.” 

“Kids are little human beings. Our job as educators is not just to fill them like empty vessels, but to light the fire they already have inside them; to empower them.”

With years of experience in British public schools before she made aliyah seven years ago, Taylor said she is aware that there are challenges in embracing this viewpoint. “There’s so much bureaucracy and that children have to be put into boxes, that we somehow lose this special window of time in their lives that they can be free to really find out who they are.”

At CityKids Taylor sits with a teacher and addresses each individual child’s unique capabilities, personality and needs. “We’re supporting kids to find their own voice,” she said. “They need to be loved, to be nurtured, to be appreciated and recognized for who they are, for all of their idiosyncrasies.”

Taylor seems like a natural leader, but she said she wouldn’t be leading the charge if she were back in London. “There’s something about Israel that pushes you to push yourself,” she said. “Here we are hard-wired to innovate and look for the changes that need to be made. There’s something about being Israeli that keeps you striving forward, and what better field than early childhood?”