Looking around the CityKids Nursery School, it's clear that "hover" is not the word of the day.
“We offer quality learning – art, drama, music, English – in small classes, with creative teachers, which are fun but educational," says Elvia Fisher, founder of the English-speaking preschool in Tel Aviv. "We're not big fans of helicopter parenting here, either. We believe that today's child often ends up over-stimulated, a victim of the iPad-iPhone-cable TV culture. We take the view that kids should be transported back to a simpler time, and be allowed to be bored.”
Fisher and her staff believe that getting children in touch with their creativity and emotional sides is just as important as preparing them for Harvard and Oxford. In the roomy play area, complete with seats for parents, babies are crawling around madly, 5-year-olds are grappling with jigsaws and parents are sitting in groups of twos and threes, discussing Fisher's new evening prenatal class. After all, CityKids isn't just for kids; it's also a resource for parents, used at night for yoga, first-aid courses and all kinds of lectures on anything and everything relating to parenting.
"You see, it's usually in moments of boredom that children become creative," said Fisher, who grew up in Connecticut and came to Israel in the mid-1990s. "Rather than using coercion, or rote learning methods, we'll give a child a pen and let them take it from there. Through exploration, we believe that they'll work it out from there ... and not just the word itself but how to draw, play, learn with it.”
This focus on free learning and creativity is bolstered by Fisher's insistence on hiring only the most highly qualified teachers, paying above-average wages and making sure her staff love walking through the door each morning.
“CityKids operates on 'Google principles,'” she tells me. “Happy employees are known to be more productive in the workplace. But I also a feel a moral obligation to treat them well ... it's all good karma!”
When Fisher came to Israel after college, she believed it was the first of many stops on her global adventure. She never dreamed that she'd end up staying, marrying a local guy and establishing what's turned out to be a one-of-a-kind nursery in the heart of Tel Aviv. But, as she says, life is full of surprises.
Fisher did some volunteer work in northern Israel before arriving in Tel Aviv. Once there, she found a job nannying for an Australian-American couple with a young daughter.“Like lots of immigrants, they were desperate that she grow up bilingual,” she recalled. “For them, making sure she spoke perfect English was critical.” And it was then that the cogs in Fisher's business mind started whirring.
“I wondered what I'd do, if I were an American-born parent here," she said. "How would I meet other parents who'd grown up abroad, like me? And then it hit me ... this city needed a space that incorporated play with learning, run by English speakers, for English speakers.”
Two years later, thanks to some savings, a bank loan and a little help from her friends, CityKids was born.
Fisher, however, remains modest. “Of course, I'm proud of what I've built. But honestly, my bottom line isn't whether we're making millions. It's whether the community are getting what they need from the business.”