An iconic public service announcement broadcast in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s let television audiences know that it was “never too late to learn to read.” When watching groups of pre-k and kindergarten children in WIZO day care centers holding their Pajama Library books, it becomes clear that it is might never be too early. Even if they're too young to actually read the books, nothing prevents these children from listening to the stories contained within, learning valuable lessons, partaking in topical discussions and even creating arts & crafts projects on related themes. The Pajama Library, a reading initiative begun in the US and adapted for Israel, is one of WIZO Early Age Division's newest and most successful collaborations.
Pajama Library, "Sifriyat Pijama" in Hebrew, is a modified version of a project founded by Harold Grinspoon, a Jewish-American philanthropist, in the United States and then imported to Israel in 2009. In its Israeli, Jewish incarnation, the reading readiness program aims to instill a life-long love of reading in young Israelis through books of high literary quality, carefully chosen to encourage discussion on values and Jewish heritage.
During the school year, participating WIZO daycare center children are introduced to eight high-quality children’s books in a specially published Pajama Library/WIZO edition. The books are delivered to preschool classes, where teachers and daycare workers initiate activities thematically based on the books and their stories, reinforcing the values contained within and creating a joy of reading in their young charges. After initially delving into the book in class, each child is given a copy of the same book to take home. At home, parents are meant to take advantage of each book's suggested activities for families and continue discussion and games related to the books. The Pajama Library offers Israeli children and their families an opportunity to create or enhance a tradition of reading bedtime stories together and enjoying meaningful conversations on Jewish topics. The classroom/living room continuity and symbiosis of the Pajama Library scheme and its content is one of the aspects which make it so unique, allowing children to gain the most possible from material because it is presented in both settings.
Pajama Library reached WIZO's radar as a potential collaborative project after it was launched in 2009 to address both literacy and Jewish values in early education. The program operates in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Education, reaching and gifting books to approximately 250,000 children in over 7,000 pre-schools throughout Israel, serving more than 80% of all preschool children in government schools. Many of the recipients of Pajama Library books are part of underprivileged families, who might otherwise not be financially able to build a library of books for their children.
WIZO's pilot program, at the beginning of its collaboration with the Pajama Library, provided books for some 700 kindergarten class children in its institutions. Due to the popularity and success of the program, it was soon expanded to include 5,700 WIZO pre-k children as well. WIZO teachers, and administrators were briefed on the goals of the program by the Pajama Library’s own educational coordinators. Now, in 2016, all of the kindergarten classes in WIZO daycare centers will start to take part in the program, thanks to a generous donation from WIZO’s American federations.
The first specially-published book to be distributed as part of WIZO’s expanded collaboration with the Pajama Project was "Et Ze" (roughly translated from the Hebrew as "I want that!").
*All images: Moshe Shay/Pajama Library