The Desert Kindergarten Pilot is modeled after and planned according to the “Forest Kindergarten” concept that exists in Mitzpe Ramon.
The project aims to establish a kindergarten that does not require a permanent physical structure (a building, classrooms, etc.), as per the model permitted and acknowledged by the Ministry of Education of the State of Israel. The pilot seeks to adapt the model to the specific needs and the cultural aspects of the Bedouin communities on the Negev Highlands.
According to data provided by the Ministry of Education, there are close to 5,000 children in the age group 3-6 in the unrecognized villages. They are deprived from receiving a pre-school education, in contrast to Israeli law.
Due to the statuary position of the unrecognized villages, the Ministry of Education has not established kindergartens in most of these settlements. The ministry cannot support the establishment of any structures that would serve as kindergartens since no plans can be submitted by or ratified for villages that are not recognized by the State of Israel.
The government’s position and viewpoint are, of course, detrimental to the implementation of the fundamental, legal rights of children to education in these communities, and prevents their future development and integral participation as equal citizens in modern Israeli society.
Since, on the one hand, the government will not build a kindergarten, but on the other hand is required by law to provide an education to its citizens’ children, the establishment of a kindergarten that would not require a permanent structure or building, as per the “Forest Kindergarten” model. In this case, it will be called a “Desert Kindergarten.” It offers a practical solution that can be fully and unequivocally supported the Ministry of Education.
What is the Desert Kindergarten?
The concept of the Desert Kindergarten comes from an existing model that was developed in Europe and is called “Forest Kindergarten.”
In Israel, a similar model of kindergarten called Gan (Kindergarten) Keshet (“Rainbow”), operates in Mitzpe Ramon, on the Negev Highlands, some 80 kilometers south of the Negev’s capital, Be’er Sheva. The Gan Keshet was established 18 years ago by Keshet Association. Today, the kindergarten’s educational program revolves around the immediate environment, as all of its daily activities take place outside, during all four seasons, in particular in a forested area on the outskirts of Mitzpe Ramon, a town that counts some 5,500 inhabitants.
Gan Keshet began operating according to the forest kindergarten model in 2010. Ten years later, in 2020, it is has become a state-supported kindergarten for pre-school children, ages 3-6. The Ministry of Education not only supports but also wholeheartedly subscribes to the model.
Gan Keshet gained fame and recognition by educational experts and by teachers throughout Israel. The Forest Kindergarten model has a positive influence on children’s motoric and mental development, improves their physical wellbeing, teaches them to relate to the natural open space around them, and lets them create games based on their internal world and experiences. With this educational approach and method, in their daily engagement with their natural environment, the children acquire abilities and skills to enjoy and employ their surroundings successfully. As such, they learn how to assess risks and dangers when climbing trees and slopes, when they lift or move stones, and when the weather changes. These experiences build, shape, and increase these kids’ ability to cope with multitasking and day-to-day situations.
Keshet Association believes that the establishment of a chain of Desert Kindergartens, adapted to the needs and in sync with the Bedouin culture, will make an essential change for the better, will make a significantly positive contribution, and will allow Bedouin pre-schoolers access to valuable education.
First stage We endeavor to establish the first pilot of a Desert Kindergarten in the village of Abde, located on the territory of the Negev Highlands Local Council. As explained before, this is the village that is currently in the process of recognition and legalization by the State of Israel.
Abde and several other, unrecognized communities in the immediate vicinity are among the last Bedouin communities in Israel that maintain a traditional Bedouin way of life. These communities’ members wish to preserve their local handicrafts and agricultural methods, including the raising and herding of flocks of goats, sheep, and camels throughout the Negev Highlands.
Second Stage Once the first Desert Kindergarten is up and running, we endeavor to broaden the network in those communities where there are no such educational frameworks in place.
The advantages of the Desert Kindergarten model are:
- A supportive, effective educational framework in situ. Currently, those parents who chose or can afford to place their children in pre-school, need to bus and transport their kids, often to a location many kilometers away.
- The possibility to educate pre-schoolers within their familiar, natural surroundings and environment, thus allowing these children to experience and appreciate their own culture, customs, and traditions. This causes the children to develop a strong sense of belonging and commitment to their community, surroundings, and immediate environment.
- The training and employment of a core group of local, young women as educational assistants to the teaching staff, thus not only contributing to their families’ income but also improving their sense of self-worth and fulfilling a meaningful role in the advancement of their communities at large.
- The Desert Kindergarten has the potential of becoming a focal point that triggers and encourages the community to take an active interest and role in investing more effort in other educational projects.
- The increased involvement of parents in their children’s education by teaching and instructing their ancient, traditional handcrafts, techniques, and methods. As such, they will instill upon their children the appreciation and pride in their traditions and culture.
- The Desert Kindergarten also has the potential to function as a knowledge center for parents where they can get advice and instruction about child care, hygiene, and other issues that arise in the raising of children.
- The early identification of learning disabilities or other problems that may affect the child’s mental, behavioral, and intellectual development, and as such impede its chances to graduate successfully to the next educational framework and institution. In a community where such advisory services are scarce or non-existing, the Desert Kindergarten may play a pivotal role, also in this respect.
- To facilitate a mutually fruitful relationship with Gan Keshet in Mitzpe Ramon, regular meetings and consultations with the members of the teaching staff and meetings between the children of both sides, to advance good neighborship between the Bedouin and Jewish citizens of Israel.
The first Desert Kindergarten was expected to begin operating at the beginning of the school year of 2021-2022. This, however, in light of the Coronavirus crisis and the lack of a steady governmental collation and cabinet, may be overly optimistic.