Laughter floated through the warm, summery breeze as carnival music and the wafting smells of kosher hot dogs, funnel cake, and cotton candy beckoned the school-aged kids arriving off the bus from the JCC. These kids, enrolled in the JCC’s afterschool childcare program, Kaleidoscope, were coming to join their friends in the Jewish community at the Columbus Torah Academy’s annual Spring Fling, held from 4-9 pm on May 7.
The bright colors of carnival rides, including a carousel and flying swings, as well as festival games and an archery station, summoned them to the outdoor celebration of the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer. Parents were invited to the party, too, reuniting with their children at pick-up time to enjoy the evening of family-friendly merriment which culminated in a bonfire.
“I’m a working parent, so it’s hard to get them to the type of activities they are able to participate in through Kaleidoscope,” said Danielle Ruben, whose children, Spencer and Brady, are enrolled in Kaleidoscope. Offering events like the Spring Fling exemplifies how the program creatively merges family-centered programming with providing parents convenience and flexibility that works around their schedules.
Kaleidoscope provides hands-on experiences in a stimulating learning environment with unique daily activities, including drama, cooking, Tae Kwon Do, pottery, and hip-hop dance classes. The program is tailored to each child’s needs, offering homework assistance and wholesome kosher snacks. In addition to all the activities, transportation is simplified with bussing to the JCC on College Avenue from Berwick Alternative Elementary School, all three Bexley elementary schools, Columbus Jewish Day School, and Columbus Torah Academy. School’s Out Days and Winter and Spring or Passover Break Camps are also offered.
The Spring Fling was the first time many of the children participated in the Lag B’Omer festivities, as five JCC staff members took 40 Kaleidoscope kids to join the fun. In the first year of coordinating between the JCC and CTA for the annual event, Kaleidoscope participants each received free ride wristbands, drink and meal tickets.
The field trip to the Spring Fling is one of many exciting ways the JCC keeps Jewish students engaged with the Jewish community when the school day ends and the Kaleidoscope afterschool childcare program begins.
For instance, last year, the children assembled Passover care packages made up of PJ Library books, Kiddush cups they decorated, and chocolate, which they sent their new friends at the JCC in Zaporizhia, Ukraine. More recently, Kaleidoscope held a Kid-a-thon, embracing the Jewish tradition of tzedekah, or charitable giving.
The Kid-a-thon doubles as a fundraiser and a fun activity for the kids, where parents and JCC members pledge donations matching the level of kids’ participation in a marathon of activities held in the gym, such as jump roping and basketball. The funds raised go to events for the kids throughout the year, including trips to COSI and the Ohio Wildlife Center. This gives the kids a sense of responsibility, allowing them to recognize their value to the JCC and the community as a whole.
Marikate Leavens, a Kaleidoscope parent and volunteer, organized the Kid-a-thon. “The event is fun and exciting for the kids. They seem proud to be raising money for their own program and work really hard during the event,” she said.
All this is done in an environment that feels like home.
“There is a real sense of family,” said Kaley Rosenthal, Kaleidoscope coordinator. Many of the kids have grown up at the JCC, since starting out as infants in the Early Childhood program, Rosenthal explained. “We really get to know each kid and their family, so it’s more than just babysitting; it’s much more personal,” Rosenthal emphasized how the JCC’s tight-knit community is what makes Kaleidoscope unlike any other afterschool program out there.
Leavens elaborated on why she and her family chose Kaleidoscope. “We like the Center’s philosophy of child care. We liked that Jewish ethics and culture are a part of the program. We feel comfortable because the staff members know all the kids well and because they try to help the kids grow and learn about themselves and the others around them while they are involved in the program,” she said.
Another parent, Susan Yoakum, feels similarly about the program, adding, “It has really impacted my daughter in a lot of different ways. One way is her understanding of different cultures and religions.” Beyond being a fun and safe environment where kids make friends and learn new skills, Kaleidoscope is a transformative experience in which the kids develop a greater understanding of themselves and of Jewish culture. “It has opened my daughter’s eyes to the possibilities of different religions and cultures out there. Also, she has been able to have friends who are outside of her classroom; friends who are at other schools, different ages, male and female,” said Yoakum.
To learn more about Kaleidoscope or enroll your child for Fall 2015, contact Kaley Rosenthal at email@example.com or call 614-559-6253.