Wednesday, July 12 plenary

“Responses of early childhood educators”

A panel of Early Childhood educators and researchers discussing specific preschool and nursery-based approaches to nurturing children’s spirituality and religious identity, as well as the principles and frameworks that others might consider when selecting appropriate ways of being responsible for young children’s religious and spiritual well-being.

Japjit Kaur Pnaiser

Japjit Kaur Pnaiser is an Early Years Educator in a faith-based nursery setting situated in the Midlands, UK which is part of a larger group of educational institutes providing education for 0-18 years of age. The foundation of education is primarily based on teaching moral values to build the identity of future citizens. Their research looked at “The influence of Kirtan on the early years foundation of spirituality” emphasizing the importance of traditional music, Kirtan, as a core method of teaching and children learning lessons around self, relationality, and faith practices. More specifically their interest in spirituality expressed through Sikh faith practices and Kirtan whilst developing the role of the educator especially in early years education are all areas of great interest to them.

Rabbi Michael Shire

Rabbi Michael Shire grew up in the UK in the Liberal Jewish Movement and studied for a BA Hons in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He subsequently enrolled at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York for a Master’s in Religious Education and then a PhD in Jewish Education at HUC-JIR and University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Concurrently he served as Director of Education at Temple Beth Hillel, a large Reform Temple in the San Fernando Valley. He returned to the UK to become Director of the newly established Centre for Jewish Education and studied for rabbinic ordination at Leo Baeck College in London. Working as a Jewish educational leader, he served a number of part-time and High Holy Day pulpits in Britain and Ireland and he is currently the High Holy Day rabbi for the Oxford Jewish Centre in the UK. In 2005 he became the fulltime Sabbatical replacement for the senior rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, VA, one of the largest Reform synagogues in the United States.

In 2011 Rabbi Shire and his family relocated back to the United States to take up the position of Dean of the School of Jewish Education and Chief Academic Officer at Hebrew College in Boston. In 2022 Rabbi Shire will assume the position of Professor of Jewish Education at Hebrew College as he takes on the part-time spiritual leadership of Central Reform Temple. He continues as the founder director of Torah Godly Play, a Torah pedagogy based on his research on the spiritual life of children and as a trustee of The Pursuit of History which sponsors History Camp Boston and other programs for history lovers.

Rabbi Shire is married to Rabbi Marcia Plumb, Senior rabbi of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline. They have two adult children, Anya is a senior at Brandeis University majoring in Studio Art and Psychology and Micah is a 2nd year Chemical Engineering student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Jennifer Mata McMahon

Jennifer Mata McMahon is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education and Director of the Sherman Center for Early Learning in Urban Communities at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Her inquiry lines are children’s spirituality and bilingual education. She is the co-author of Ambiente en Acción (Environment in Action) (Unimet, 2006), author of Spiritual Experiences in Early Childhood Education (Routledge, 2015), coeditor of Spirituality: An Interdisciplinary View (Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2016), and co-editor of The Bloomsbury Handbook of Culture and Identity from Early Childhood to Early Adulthood: Perceptions and Implications (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021). As well as the author and co-author of several book chapters and journal articles on children’s spirituality. Her most recent book Children’s Spirituality in Early Childhood Education: Theory to Practice is coming soon (Routledge, 2023).

Moderated by Rode Molla

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