Ali Grabell does not speak Hebrew, but she and her son, 6-month-old Evan, look forward each week to a 45-minute session immersing themselves in the language through songs, dance and play.
“He loves this class so much,” said Grabell of Ima Ve-Ani (Mommy and Me), which is offered each week to children from birth to age 2 and their mothers or other caregivers. The class is a joint project of the Agency for Jewish Learning and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and is held at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.
Each Monday at 10 a.m., after Grabell drops off her older daughter at the JCC’s Early Childhood Development Center downstairs, she and Evan make their way to Ima Ve-Ani, which is led by Tal Perel, director of Hebrew studies at the AJL.
“This class is perfect for us,” Grabell said. “It’s something we can do, just me and him. I don’t speak Hebrew but I thought it was interesting and exciting that he’ll experience a foreign language so early on.”
Several studies have shown that children benefit from exposure to a foreign language at an early age — making acquisition of that language later in life easier — and that phonetic learning from live rather than pre-recorded speech facilitates phonetic learning.
“The whole point is to expose the kids to the language, the structure and to let them hear different accents and vocabulary,” said Perel, who was born and raised in Israel and whose infant daughter, Michal, participates in the class. “Every week we have a different theme, and we do a lot of sensory stuff. It’s the same as a Mommy and Me class, but it’s all in Hebrew.”
The seven babies in the class are all in, as they giggle to such tunes as a Hebrew rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus,” and watch attentively as Perel points to their eyes, nose and ears, teaching them the Hebrew words for each facial feature.
The class, which was launched this past October, hosts a guest lecturer once each month. On Dec. 15, parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa will lecture on the topic “Get the behavior you want … without being the parent you hate.”
Ima Ve-Ani is also sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Steel Tree, My Baby and Me, and the PJ Library.
Each class is $5, with the first session free. For more information, contact Perel at 412-521-1101, ext. 3202.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.