From small patches of grass to the development of larger courtyards, Jewish early childhood educators are beginning to reimagine their outdoor spaces and support children in more exploratory play and learning. Educators are being influenced by the breadth of research touting the benefits of time spent outdoors for children in the early years, as well as the forest and nature school movement where children spend most of their time outside as they build dens, examine and draw wildlife, dig in the mud, climb trees and cook meals.
All the senses are heightened outdoors and educators are embracing the motto that “you can’t climb the walls if there aren’t any”.
With an emphasis on child-led learning educators are looking for opportunities to rethink their approach and design of their outdoors spaces. These new learning environments are becoming settings where children can explore and imagine guided by their own interests. The changing of the seasons provide a new canvas and a new way of seeing and connecting with the natural world; and gardens offer opportunities for planting and harvesting activities.
In Jewish early childhood centers, educators are emphasizing Judaism’s strong connections to nature including the traditions, values, and holidays that have agricultural roots throughout our history.
Our work at The Jewish Education Project has focused on strategies to share the different ways educators are adapting this new approach to outdoor learning. Our hope is that we will assist in strengthening the experimentation and documentation of nature-based learning. Supporting the use more natural materials and the development of creative learning environments outdoors are important tenets of our department’s strategy.
One of the ways we also support these ideas and values is by visiting schools that are innovative in their practice and approach. To learn more about these visits, go to our Insights & Journeys section where you’ll find many examples of the variety of ways schools are approaching nature-based learning within a Jewish context.
You may also want to check out The Jewish Education Project's Resource Guide to Nature-Based Learning which pulls together some of the best websites, articles, and educator developed ideas and resources.
Schools that we have visited and learned from since launching our school visits (and can be found in our Insights and Journeys section linked above):
Mid Island YJCC - highlight was designing with different stations in mind
Congregation Kol Ami - highlight was garden experiences for children through a Jewish lens
Chai Center - highlight was bringing a reggio-inspired transformation to the outdoors
North Shore Synagogue - highlight was effective strategies for small spaces
Rosenthal JCC - highlight was the school’s garden and food curriculum approach
- Westchester Reform Temple - highlight was how play takes shape in their new space