The location: North Shore Synagogue in Syosset
The setting: A small space wedged between four walls connected to the synagogue and the school.
The players: Barbara Flack, NS Director, Tara and Allison, Educators.
The atmosphere: Loud, wet and jubilant!
Walking through the glass doors leading into the alleyway outdoor classroom I’m completely overtaken by the high level of energy and enthusiasm. In the small space are 14 or so children sitting, squatting, reaching, doing, pondering and peering. Not only were the children fully engaged but so too were Barbara and the other educators as they happily let the children be, well children.
As I snapped pictures and heard secondhand stories of the teachable moments that happen in their outdoor classroom each day – even in winter when painting the snow is a favorite activity – I had the chance to ask Barbara and Tara about the evolution of their classroom, and what they were eager to share with me from this past year. Considering North Shore Synagogue holds the distinction of being one of the first Synagogue-based preschool settings to create an intentional outdoor classroom, I thought it would be interesting to learn, what now? Below is just some of what I witnessed during my tour, and at the end of the photos read a few snippets and observations from my conversation with Barbara, Tara and Allison:
SOME FEATURES INCORPORATED INTO THE SPACE:
- Rain barrel bungeed to the fence gives children free access to water play
- Old colorful rain boots with pansies planted inside decorate the space
- Low planting boxes with herbs and flowers
- A year old grape vine to help make Shabbat celebrations more experiential
- Tin pans mounted onto the fence for a music area
- Wood blocks, tree rounds, shovels and buckets
- A raised wooden staging area with a pole for a curtain
When Barbara and I walk around the corner towards the east wall of the school she excitedly shows me the 7 brand new raised beds that have just been built. Appreciative of the dedication and support that she receives from the Parent Association, who made the new beds possible, Barbara describes the different vegetables that will be planted this Wednesday: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, string beans, broccoli.
IDEAS GENERATED AS WE TALKED:
- Finding ways to document the learning that takes places in the outdoor classroom including involving parents who might be interested in be an “observer reporter”. Take pictures and post to FB or be added to a weekly reflection.
- Adding climbing bean archways between the beds, over the doorways (but not blocking them for safety reasons)
- Adding another sound feature near the water, maybe something inspired by Japanese gardens where children can stream water and create different sounds
Barbara Flack is the Director of the Nursery School at North Shore Synagogue. For more information on her outdoor classroom, she can be reached at email@example.com