This article is written by Esther Boylan Wolfson, M.A.
Esther Boylan Wolfson received an M.A. in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is currently working as an educational consultant for Partners with Parents Educational Consulting Services. She has lived in Israel for 18 years.
For young children who are new Olim, Gan (preschool) is an important experience that can help set them on the right path in their new homeland. The following is a list of frequently asked questions about Israeli Ganim, including basic information about what to expect and registration for the first year. As you tackle the Gan experience, remember to expect surprises and don’t worry: young children are flexible, and soon they will know Hebrew better than you do!
What should I expect to find in my child’s new Gan?
Two people staff all early childhood programs, a certified early childhood teacher (the Ganenet), and her assistant (the Sayaat). The Sayaat is not required to have any formal training, however, in most Ganim, the Sayaat fills the role of assistant teacher and is integral in implementing the educational program. While the different roles of the staff members are clear (only the Sayaat washes the floor and cleans the bathrooms), the Ganenet and Sayaat function as a team. An important area to consider in judging a “good Gan” is observing the interaction between the Ganenet and Sayaat. I find that the warmth and friendship between the two staff members has a lot to do with establishing the Gan as a place where the children are happy and well adjusted.
Teacher – Student Ratio:
Okay, this is the hard one. In a city-run pre-school class there are up to 35 children in each pre-school, who are taught and cared for by two staff members. Occasionally a Gan is not full. But, unless you live in a small town or Yishuv, you can safely assume there will be 30 children in your child’s Gan.
I think that for parents coming from North America, adjusting to the large teacher-student ratio is the hardest transition. Most children are coming from pre-school programs with no more than 20 children in one classroom. The thought of 35 children in one class sounds overwhelming. While I certainly agree that a lower ratio would be far preferable, it is actually amazing how well run Israeli Ganim are and how happy 35 children in one room can be. I am constantly amazed by the fact that my daughter’s Gan is sometimes quieter than my own home.
The classroom is usually one large room, which is divided into topic areas, referred to as pinot (פינות). Literally translated this means corners, but figuratively it means that the materials in each corner are grouped by a topic.
Almost every Gan has a:
- Pinat bubot (פינת הבובות) – a play-house corner
- Pinat mischakim (פינת משחקים) – area for didactic games with educational goals
- Pinat kubiyot (פינת קוביות)– an area with building blocks and other types of building materials
- Pinat yetzirah (פינת יצירה)– arts and crafts area
- Sifriyah (ספריה)- library
In every Gan a large area is left open for the Ricuz (ריכוז) , or meeting time, which takes place at least twice a day. (Yes, it’s amazing but 35 pre-schoolers all sit in one circle and more or less quietly listen to stories, sing songs and participate in group activities.) All Ganim also have an outdoor play area, which is called the Chatzer (חצר).
The educational program is broken up into specific topics, referred to as the Noseh (נושא). At the beginning of the school year, the topic is always getting to know your friends. This lasts until the Gannenet begins to discuss Rosh HaShana. After the chagim, the Gannenet chooses a different topic every two or three weeks. When the Gannenet finishes a Noseh, she usually sends out an overview of what was covered, including art projects, songs and books. A good way to help your child feel involved is to read these books and sing these songs at home. Topics include food, clothing, nature and family, as well as a discussion of each holiday.
You need to provide your child with a healthy snack each day, which is referred to as Aruchat Eser (ארוחת עשר) because it is served at approximately ten o’clock. Generally children are expected to bring a sandwich with a fruit and/or a vegetable. Your child should also have a bottle of water that he can drink from independently. Check with your child’s Ganenet before sending different types of foods. It is hard on the Gan staff if one child has special treats and others do not. Keep in mind that two people are helping 35 children. They do not have time to help a child open up yogurts or plastic containers and eat carefully with silverware. In the years I was working as a Ganenet, I heard many complaints from Ganenot about “crazy” American parents that send “weird” things for their children to eat.
back to top
What are Gan hours?
The pre-school assistant (Sayaat) usually opens a municipal Gan between 7:15 and 7:45. The teacher (Gannenet) arrives at 8:00 AM. From Sunday to Friday, nursery and pre-kindergarten end at 1:20 PM. Gan Hova (Kindergarten) ends at 2:00 PM. On Friday, Gan ends at 12:40 PM. In some municipalities, such as Beit Shemesh, Gan Hova is a full day. If this is the case, kindergarten children have the following schedule: Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday until 3:30 PM, Tuesday until 1:00 PM and Friday until noon.
In some areas, there are Ganim that have an after-school program until 4:00, called a Tzaharon (צהרון) as a service to working mothers. These programs are usually not connected to the regular Gan program and different workers come in the afternoons. Participation in a Tzaharon involves an additional tuition fee.
back to top
What is the Gan calendar?
Gan follows the same calendar as schools. School begins on September 1st and ends on June 31st. This is regardless of the day of the week. If September 1st is on a Friday, Gan (and school) will begin on Friday. There is a usually a three-day gradual introduction to Gan for three and four-year-olds. On the first day, expect to pick your child up at 10, and on the second day at 11. The full day usually begins on the 3rd day. Kindergarten is a full day from day one.
back to top
Does the municipality provide transportation?
No. Parents must bring their children to Gan and arrange to have them picked up at the end of the Gan day. If your child attends a Gan for children with special needs then he will receive transportation to and from Gan.
back to top
What age children are eligible to attend the public municipal Ganim?
The pre-school system in Israel is divided into 3 categories:
Trom-Trom Chova: Pre-school for three-year olds
Trom-Chova: Pre-school for four-year olds
Gan Chova: Kindergarten for five-year olds
In the United States, children enter “school” when they go to Kindergarten. Here, Kindergarten is part of the pre-school system. In Israel, when people talk about Gan, they include Kindergarten. When they say “going to school” they are referring to first grade.
Placement into each of these pre-school programs is based on the child’s date of birth. Registration for school and Gan in Israel is determined by the child’s Gregorian birthday. Entrance to each school year is from January 1st until December 31st. Children that are turning three by January 1st, begin the Trom-Trom Chova program in September, when they are only a little more than two and a half.
While the formal registration process is determined by your child’s birthday, the actual age division in the Gan varies by city and sometimes within cities, by the Gan. In some cities, the three and four-year-old programs are mixed in one Gan, while in others they are usually separate. Kindergarten is a separate program, but often children that are in the last six months of the four-year-old registration period are placed in Kindergarten and then repeat Kindergarten the next year. Once you choose the specific city you are moving to, ask your neighbors how the Gan is set up in terms of age requirements. You may need this information to help determine what Gan you wish your child to attend.
back to top
How do I register my child for Gan?
While the requirements for Gan registration vary slightly in different cities, in almost all locations, you need to present the following items:
- A copy of the sefach (enclosed paper) from both parents’ Teudot Zehut (identity cards) showing the name of the child you are registering and your address within the city where you wish to register the child. If you do not yet live in the city you are registering in, you can you present a copy of a rental contract or a home purchase contract showing the date of entrance at the start of the upcoming school year.
- A one-time payment for additional programs provided by the municipality. This payment includes cultural activities (Sal Tarbut), enrichment activities (Tochnit Haashara Hinuchit) and an accident insurance fee. The fee varies by each municipality and ranges from 300 to 700 NIS. If you live in the area prior to registration, the form will be sent to you by mail. If you move to the area later on, you need to pick the form up from the education department (Agaf Chinuch) in the municipality office. The form must be paid prior to registration at any post office or at your bank. You must keep the receipt to present proof of payment when you go to register.
- You may need to take all of the above items (copy of both parent’s nisfach from their Teudat Zehut, additional fees form, and bank order form if necessary) to the education department in the municipality and request to register your child for Gan.
- In some cities, you can complete the registration process via the Internet and then bring the forms to the office and hand them in, without waiting on line. This is only possible once you have made Aliyah and have a Teudat Zehut that reflects your residence in the town so you will appear on the municipality’s computer.
back to top
When is Gan registration?
Gan registration varies from city to city and takes place during the months of February and March prior to the upcoming school year. If you are not able to register your child during the official registration period then as soon as you have all the items required to complete registration you should go down to the municipality to register. Once you miss the registration period, you unfortunately are no longer guaranteed first rights to the Gan closest to your house. No matter when you register, the city is required to find a placement for your child within the religious framework you request. They are not required to place him into a specific Gan.
back to top
Can I register my child for Gan before I make Aliyah?
In some municipalities, if you have already rented or purchased an apartment in the city you will be living in, then you can register in advance. Usually, you can give someone else permission to complete the registration for you. If you cannot prove that you will be residing in the city during the upcoming school year, you cannot register your child. Please contact the local municipal Aliyah coordinator for information about registering pre-Aliyah.
back to top
Can I choose which Gan I want to register for?
In addition to being divided by age, each Gan is also classified as being either a Religious Gan (Dati) or a non-religious Gan (Mamlachti). In some municipalities there are other options, including Torani (national religious with a stronger stress on religion) and Charedi. When you register your child, you choose which type of Gan you want your child to attend and the city must honor your request.
The city is not, however, obligated to assign your child to the specific Gan that you choose. They only “try” to take your wishes into consideration. In general, the closer you live to the Gan, the more “right” your child has to attend that Gan. You can request a Gan that is farther away than your local Gan, but children that live closer to that Gan will have first rights to be placed there. If there is room after placing children from the immediate area, most cities will place children according to their parents’ requests. When you register after the official registration date, then you have already relinquished your right to be in a specific Gan, even if you live closer to the Gan than other children that registered earlier. Unfortunately, most new Olim fall into this category, as few are able to register their children six months prior to their Aliyah. With that said, in my experience, there is usually a sincere effort to help new Olim and to place them in appropriate Ganim, whenever possible.
back to top
How do I know which Gan to request?
Ask as many people as possible what Gan they recommend. If possible, visit the Ganim. Take into account the following factors:
- Convenience; how far is it from your new home.
- Is this where families in your neighborhood (with children that your child is likely to be friendly with) send their children?
- Age range; will your child be the oldest, youngest, etc.
- Quality of the Ganenet; does she seem like the right kind of match for your child’s educational needs (warmth, strictness, etc.)? Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that a Gan will have the same Ganenet the next year. If you ask people in the neighborhood, you can find out if the same Ganenet usually returns to that Gan year after year.
- Recommendations; while your personal observations are important, speaking to parents whose child has spent an entire year in a Gan will give you a better idea if the Gan is appropriate for your child.
back to top
What can I do if my child does not get into the Gan I request?
If your child is not placed in the Gan that you request, you can appeal for a different placement. Go down to the education department and file an appeal, called an “irur (עירעור).” If you feel for some reason the Gan your child is placed in is totally unacceptable (too far away, has a terrible Gannet, etc…) then politely refuse the placement. Keep in mind that in Israel “no,” often means “maybe.” Even if you are told there is no room in the Gan you want, ask politely which Ganim in your area do have room. Insist on hearing about alternative placements.
Keep in mind that Gan placement is a fluid process. If you are told the Gan you prefer is full, continue to call and ask about openings on a regular basis. In this way, if a place opens up, they will be more likely to give it to your child than to a child’s whose parents have filed an appeal, but do not call regularly to check on possible openings. In my experience, the best approach is not to be angry or demanding. Instead, be polite, appreciative and persistent. Thank every person you speak to for their “help” and explain how “hard” it is for you as a new Oleh and how much you “appreciate” any help they can give you. The more regularly you call, the more likely it will be that the education department staff will “give you what you want.”
back to top
What is the tuition for municipal Ganim?
Parents need to pay a one-time payment to the municipality to cover additional services, which varies by city from 300 NIS to 700 NIS depending on the city.
back to top
Is it better to send my child to a private Gan?
Many parents ask if it is better send a child to a private Gan where he or she can get more individual attention – especially as the child is adjusting to a new environment.
Every decision about pre-school placement is connected to a combination of factors. Registering your child for municipal Ganim is by far the most financially reasonable choice. As an Oleh Chadash, your child is eligible to attend a municipal Gan almost for free. The tuition for private Ganim varies by area but it ranges from 1500-2000 NIS a month for half-day programs. Therefore, for financial reasons, most Oleh parents send their children to the public Ganim. Even if you are able to afford the tuition for a private Gan, you should consider if in your area, the choice is socially advisable. If most children in your area will be attending public Ganim, then you may want your child to be in a public Gan in order to make friends in your area.
With that said, there are certainly valid reasons to consider private options. In a private option you will have a smaller teacher-student ratio and you can choose the teacher you feel is best for your child. The facilities in private Ganim are often better than those at municipal Ganim. There is no registration procedure or specific age requirements and you can register your child before coming on Aliyah and be guaranteed that your child will be enrolled in a “good Gan” for his first year in Israel.
When choosing a private Gan, take into consideration the same areas that are discussed in: How do I know which Gan to request? In addition, ask about the Ganenet’s qualifications and experience as an early childhood teacher and for specifics about the educational philosophy of the Gan and the educational program. (These areas are standardized in municipal Ganim.) Keep in mind that unlike municipal Ganim, private Ganim are run for-profit and are often more open to adapting what they provide to you and your child’s individual needs. Feel free to ask questions and request individual accommodations.
Overall, I would recommend you consider a private Gan more seriously if your child falls into one of the following categories:
- You child is in the lower six-month age range for the age three Ganim. (Therefore he or she can register in two-year old Ganim that are private anyway.)
- You require a full-day childcare option. You feel it would be very difficult for your child to change settings mid-day and there is no full-day municipal Gan option in your area.
- You feel your child may have a specific developmental or emotional difficulty that would make it more difficult to function in a Gan with 35 children. (Important note: If this is the case, then it is essential you seek professional advice on the correct type of educational placement and possible recommended therapies and not just place your child in a private Gan.)
back to top
Is it preferable to send my child to an English speaking program during his first year in Israel? That way he can adjust to his new home, without worrying about a new language.
While every educational decision should be made according to each child’s individual needs, in general my answer to this question is – NO. It is not in a young child’s best interest to delay learning Hebrew for an entire year. Attending an English speaking Gan may make the child’s first year slightly easier, but it will also increase the likelihood that he will be less academically ready to succeed in first grade. While many children enter a Hebrew speaking environment at age four and succeed in first grade without assistance, others do not. Since there is no way to know what your child’s language abilities will be advance, it is not worth the risk. Your child will not receive additional assistance because he starts learning Hebrew later. This is my personal professional opinion based on 15 years of working with young Olim children in Israel. There are, however, other professionals that disagree with my conclusions.
back to top
What Gan programs are available to children with special learning needs?
There are several educational options within the municipal Ganim for children with special needs:
Gan Mishulav: (גן משולב):
The word mishulav means combined. A Gan Mishulav is one class where children with special learning needs and children without special learning needs learn together. This Gan is a total mainstreaming experience. The number of children in the Gan is usually limited to 25 and there are 2 Ganenot, one a regular education teacher and one a special education teacher. In addition, there is also a Sayaat, as in all Ganim. The Gan follows a regular schedule, but the children with special needs are given specific educational assistance by the special education Ganenet. In addition, therapists are assigned to work in the Gan with the children that have special needs. (The type of therapists and the number of hours of therapy they provide depends on the needs of the children in that Gan.) The type of special learning needs incorporated in a Gan mishulav is varied, but generally the children studying in a Gan Mishulav have relatively minor difficulties that do not need the intensive attention provided by a special education Gan.
Unfortunately, not every city has a Gan Meshulav. If this is an educational option you want, check if the city you are moving to has such an option.
Gan Safa (גן שפה):
Gan Safa is program for children that are experiencing a developmental language delay as their primary area of difficulty. While sometimes the children in Ganei safa have secondary (more minor) difficulties in non-language areas, their greatest area of difficulty is language acquisition. Generally each Gan is limited to 12 children (sometimes 15 at the most) with two workers, including a qualified special education teacher. Every Gan Safa has a speech and language therapist working with the Gan, usually twice a week. Ideally the speech and language therapist provides an individual session to each child every week and one group lesson to the entire Gan. In most Ganei Safa, the children also receive the services of an occupational and/or physical therapist once a week.
Gan Tikshoret (גן תקשורת):
Gan Tikshoret is a program geared for children that are diagnosed as having a Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) or other Autism Spectrum Disorders. Children that attend a Gan Tikshoret usually have significant developmental delays that affect all or many areas of functioning. A Gan Tikshoret has a very small teacher-student ratio and receives constant support from a complete team of therapeutic professionals. Often the ratio in the Gan is an adult to every child and rarely are there less than two adults to each child.
Gan Ikuv Hitpatchut (גן עיכוב התפתחות):
Literally translated, this means a Gan for children with developmental delays. This type of Gan is for young children that, because of a variety of difficulties, need a special education program. While there is a genuine effort on behalf of municipalities to put together a group that is appropriate, the criteria for this type of Gan is wide and there are often a large range of difficulties in one classroom. These Ganim have a small student – teacher ratio (generally two to twelve) and therapists provide services within the Gan. The amount and type of therapy depends on the needs of the children in that particular Gan.
The number of special education Ganim in each city depends on the need. Therefore, the larger the city, the more likely it is that there will be a wider range of special education options. If there is no appropriate special education Gan within your municipality, the city or Yishuv is obligated to provide transportation to an appropriate Gan nearby.
Special education Ganim are usually assigned to a non-special needs Gan and the children go to visit the regular Gan on a regular basis. Often there are programs that the two Ganim do together. The amount of interaction varies by child and is geared to individual needs and abilities.
In order to qualify to attend any of the above programs, your child needs to go through a formal process that involves evaluations and a formal meeting (called a vaadat hasaama). Qualification for the above programs takes time and needs to be done in advance if you wish your child to enter the program at the beginning of a school year.
Private Special Education Options:
In addition to city-provided options, if you have a child with special learning needs, you should also determine if there are private-education options that address your child’s needs better than city provided ones. The availability of these options varies by location and by the nature of your child’s difficulties.
General Note of Advice:
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, it is essential that you consult with qualified professionals to determine the nature of his needs before making Aliyah in order to enroll him in an appropriate educational framework. Often, when children of Olim have difficulty in Gan or school, the problem is explained away as being the result of the child being a new Oleh. This can result in years of delay before the child gets assistance geared to their actual difficulty.
An evaluation done in the year after making Aliyah will not accurately reflect a child’s true capabilities, as factors such as the introduction of a second language and the emotional adjustment to a new home, will affect the results. If your child has any areas of weakness, it is best to have an evaluation done shortly before making Aliyah.
For more information about assessing your young child for learning difficulties before making Aliyah or how to enroll your child in a special education program in Israel, you can contact me at: [email protected].
back to top
Is there anything I can do to help my child be prepared for the Israeli Gan experience?
Here are few ideas that can help make the transition easier.
- Once you find out which Gan your child will be placed in, set up play-dates with other children who will be in Gan with him.
- Buy CDs and tapes with Hebrew songs for young children and play them. A good series is “Meah Shirim Rishonim.” If you want to try and sing along, there is also a book that goes along with the CD/tape. In general, don’t worry about having time to sing them together with your child. Just having them on in the background will make the songs familiar.
- Read Hebrew books with your child. Go to your local bookstore or library and ask the clerk or librarian to recommend some basics. Once your child starts Gan, ask your Ganenet to tell you which books they will be reading and take them out of the local library.
- Learn basic Gan vocabulary with your child. A book that I highly recommend is: The First Thousand Words in Hebrew, which can be purchased at Amazon.com. Go through the pages with your child and play a game identifying the Hebrew and English words. (It’s not bad for English vocabulary development either.) For Gan preparation, start with the pages called: Toy Store, the Park, and Beit Hasefer (at school). But actually there are great potentially useful vocabulary words on every page. This activity works with any attractive Hebrew/English children’s dictionary.
While the above suggestions can ease your child’s transition, keep in mind that most young children adapt easier to new experiences and environments than their parents and do not need any formal preparation. The first few days in any new environment are sometimes difficult, but most young children will quickly be running into their new Gan in the morning with a smile on their faces.
back to top