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Israeli school readiness program spans the globe

Posted By Gilah Kahn Hoffman On June 23, 2003 @ 5:00 pm In | No Comments

Supported by activity packets, home visits, and group meetings, HIPPY parents learn how to prepare their children for success in school and beyond.Meet HIPPY – not an aging anti-war demonstrator, but an Israeli program for Home Instruction of Parents of Preschool Youngsters that has expanded across the globe serving more than 22,000 families.

Through the work of over 250 separate programs, all united under the umbrella of HIPPY International, the organization helps parents help their children and themselves. Launched in Israel in the late 1960s, HIPPY has since spread to the United States, Turkey, Holland, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, El Salvador and France, with Singapore and Zimbabwe next in line.

Ask HIPPY International Director, Dr. Miriam Westheimer, why this Israeli program is so successful, and she replies, “Parents always want the best for their children, it’s a universal phenomenon. And HIPPY makes sense. It’s adapted to each culture and it’s relatively easy to implement. Parents are blamed for everything, so here, at least is a way to help them out.”

The HIPPY program builds on the basic bond between parents and children. Supported by activity packets, home visits, and group meetings, HIPPY parents learn how to prepare their children for success in school and beyond. On alternate weeks, parents attend group meetings with other parents and HIPPY staff. Learning and play mingle throughout HIPPY’s structured curriculum as parents encourage their children to recognize shapes and colors, tell stories, follow directions, solve logical problems, and acquire other school readiness skills.

In several countries, HIPPY serves as a key program among others that together form a system of support and information for vulnerable families with young children. In Israel the program is called HAETGAR (The Challenge) and it is a government-funded national program According to the most recent HIPPY newsletter, HIPPY activities in Israel serve 5,500 families of native-born and immigrant families in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Different organizations within the countries outside of Israel are currently all part of the HIPPY International Network. Being part of the Network means that the programs have a contractual agreement with Hebrew University to operate the program and that the programs are visited and monitored by HIPPY International.

Westheimer believes that the strong emphasis in Israel on education, and in particular the Israeli expertise on children’s early years, as well as a commitment to high-quality programs for young children are among the reasons that the program originated there. She notes that the first European immigrants to Israel were aware that they lacked a strong early childhood grounding and were committed to providing it for their children, adding that Israel has long been known and respected for its programs and services for very young children.

While Westheimer explains that programs from birth to the age of three already existed in the U.S., HIPPY was the first program of its kind focused on parents of children aged three to five. She lists the most significant or defining characteristics of HIPPY as its simple, easy to follow curriculum designed by early childhood experts; its focus on the parents as the child’s first and most important teacher and its special focus on vulnerable families. Westheimer claims that this is what makes HIPPY unique among school readiness programs.

HIPPY would never have seen the light of day without the work of its creator and past director, Professor Avima D. Lombard. She dedicated a lifetime’s work to the development and promotion of this international program that supports parents in what she describes as “their irreplaceable roles as the first and most important teachers of their own children.”

In the early 1960s, when she left Israel to work on her doctorate at UCLA, Lombard was recruited to help create the Head Start program in the US. In an article entitled HIPPY Beginnings, Lombard writes, “That was the time of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and the introduction of Head Start [that] marked a significant change in the educational scene for young children – for the first time the American people acknowledged that little children are to be educated, that they are important enough to address as educable creatures.”

Upon returning to Israel, Lombard was asked by the Ministry of Education to use her experience to create an early childhood education program for Israeli pre-schoolers. Her work with Head Start had confirmed what she had always believed – that parents are a child’s primary educators.

“Head Start had a parent education element, and I used that background and experience to develop the program in Israel. I put the focus on parents,” explains Lombard, now retired and living in the town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem. “A child’s early education comes through the primary educator, the parent. Whatever happens to a young child educationally is filtered through the parent,” she says.

Lombard designed the program based on her recognition of the need that many parents have for explicit instructions to guide them in enhancing their children’s early literacy.

Westheimer explains that, “HIPPY provides parents with the support, information, and tools they need to effectively assume their critical first teacher’s role.”

And according to the HIPPY Web site, “the HIPPY program is about helping parents teach their three-, four- and five-year-olds at home. It’s about spending fifteen minutes a day at the kitchen table with a storybook, a puzzle, or a learning game, and it’s about children who enter kindergarten ready to succeed with parents ready to support them throughout their educational careers.”

Parents in the HIPPY program are trained by paraprofessionals who are also parents from the community, and are supported by other participants and a local program coordinator. Many HIPPY parents become further involved by training as paraprofessionals themselves.

One parent who swears by HIPPY is Pamela Sims of Sylacauga, Alabama, a mother of three. “HIPPY really prepares three-, four- and five-year-olds for school…HIPPY is not only for the children; it is also for the whole family. It empowers the family to be the best that they can be and improve their life situation…HIPPY empowered me to be the best mother and friend that I could be to my children,” she wrote on the organization’s website.

HIPPY International also has just released a new book called Parents Making a Difference which delivers a comprehensive picture of HIPPY, a family support, parent-focused, early childhood literacy program.


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