Rita and Adam J. Weiner and Family Outdoor Classroom

An Outdoor Space for All Seasons

The Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center’s outdoor classroom is a unique learning environment that instills a true sense of wonder in our students about the world in which we live. The classroom has transformed our urban school setting into a peaceful oasis that provides a myriad of educational opportunities for our students in science, math, art, music, language arts, and much more. For example:

  • In the Grow area, our organic sensory garden enables children to understand where food comes from and allows them to experience textures and smells by planting, harvesting, and using various herbs. The food products we harvest are used to make delicious treats.
  • The Discover area has a digging pit with a "mud kitchen” where the children can mix delightful concoctions using found objects, such as leaves, acorns and crabapples, as well as search for hidden treasures, such as earthworms. Exploring small insects helps to foster the important value of caring for all living things. Treasure hunts give the children a chance to discover objects, make close comparisons, and notice differences in items found in nature, such as bark, leaves, pinecones, rocks, feathers, etc. Mathematical thinking is encouraged as the children sort, sequence and categorize these items according to different characteristics.
  • The ever popular hand pump encourages children to engage in water play. Using various materials like pipes and gutters students experiment with the effects of gravity. 
  • In the Construct area, children create large structures using heavy blocks, sticks, tree cookies, and large pipes to learn about math, engineering, balance, and depth perception. As they navigate the imaginary pirate ships, grocery stores, and rockets created, they not only have dramatic play opportunities, but they gain design and engineering skills and learn cooperation necessary to complete each project. 
  • In the Groove section, children use their imaginations to create music on a large marimba and other instruments and are encouraged to develop music, art, dance and the reenactment of stories inspired by nature on a beautiful stage constructed for this purpose.

Our children are encouraged to thoughtfully explore their natural surroundings, and through active, hands-on learning, students begin to develop an awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things. Nature affords our students a multitude of opportunities—whether building an ice igloo or following small animal prints in the snow to seeing the first buds on the trees in the spring or learning to identify different bird songs. It is so powerful to witness children (ages 1.9 to 6 years of age) designing, planning, creating, observing, engineering and learning through nature, and we believe that spending time outdoors year-round is critical, as it brings a sense of wonder and joy to children and helps to foster imagination, creativity, and powers of observation as well as promoting a positive environmental ethic. 

We are so fortunate to have this wonderful outdoor classroom, where our young students learn about the natural world and have the capacity to explore and grow in so many ways. Not only does our Outdoor Classroom provide infinite learning opportunities for our students, but enormous joy and pleasure as well!  

Each season provides ample play and learning opportunities. Next time you're looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors, try one of these seasonal activities.


  • Bring animal figurines or other toys out on a sunny day. Place the animal on the sidewalk or a paved driveway and trace it's shadow with chalk. 
  • Surprised by a spring shower? See what happens when drawing with chalk on a wet sidewalk. 
  • When the sun comes out, look for reflections in the puddles, and draw what you see! 


  • Go on a treasure hunt in your neighborhood and find interesting items from nature. Bring them home and create a beautiful mobile or collage.
  • On a hot and sunny day bring a bucket of water and thick paint brushes outside. Have your child “paint the house” with water and watch what happens to the wet surface when hit by the sun. 
  • When at the beach collect and explore the different shells that you see. Research to identify the small animals who inhabited these shells when you get home.   


  • What a wonderful time to gather the fallen leaves with child sized rakes.  Children not only enjoy raking but jumping, rolling and frolicking in a pile of leaves.
  • Gather some of those fallen leaves and research with your child in order to identify which trees they came from.
  • Bring leaves inside and use crayons to rub their designs through paper.
  • Gather sticks and make an outdoor maze which cars and small toys can “race” through. 


  • Bring water color paints outside and give children brushes to paint on the snow.
  • Fill spray bottles with food coloring and water, and children can make beautiful designs in the snow.
  • Fill a bowl with bubble soap, bring it outside and have your child blow, observing how the bubbles freeze in cold weather.
  • Search for animals prints in freshly fallen snow, photograph them and do research with your child to identify the source. 


Fostering Confidence in Our Children

All children are born with a certain disposition. Some babies from early on in their development demonstrate the impetus and drive to take risks, to explore, and to reach for items in a manner that is beyond their developmental level. Others are naturally more cautious and show less early confidence.  Although we cannot completely change the inherent nature of a child, there is a great deal parents can do to nurture their children with the goal of instilling self-esteem and confidence so that they are comfortable in their own skin and grow up to have a healthy sense of self-worth. 

Here are a number of ways parents can promote confidence based on tactics we use with the children at school that you can also employ at home:

  • Celebrate the process and effort involved in your child’s accomplishments rather than focusing solely on the finished product. At FJECC, we ask children to tell us what they think about their work and the process used, thus demonstrating that we value their ideas. It is far more important that a child takes pride in his or her own work than receiving praise only for the beauty or excellence of the creation. 
  • Be authentic when giving feedback to your child. When a young child starts to make marks on a page, as an example, calling this art beautiful is not honest or authentic. We praise our students for bold color choices, interesting patterns, and creative ideas. We ask children to talk about and reflect upon their own work, giving credence and validation for their effort because it is equally, if not more important for children to derive pleasure and pride from their own accomplishments. 
  • Fostering independence leads to confidence building. Even our very youngest students open their own lunch boxes, dress themselves for outdoor play according to their ability and select activities based upon their interests and of their own choosing. Allow your child to do things on their own. Eating with a beginner utensil, even if quite messy; putting on a piece or two of clothing, even if it takes longer than with your help – all lead to good feelings. Encouraging autonomy in children transmits the message, “I know you can do it!” 
  • Help your child learn how to successfully handle separating from you. Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development and it is natural to feel ambivalent when a child is experiencing a difficult goodbye. Even if there are tears upon separation, letting children know that they will be fine and the people you have chosen to care for them are there to keep them safe and happy is an important lesson that ultimately fosters self-confidence. Demonstrating trust in their care givers and teachers gives children the message that they will be well cared for. At FJECC, we validate a child’s emotions and feelings by acknowledging that it may be a little difficult to say good-bye to mom, dad or care-giver. We reassure the child that we will take good care of him. The underlying message conveyed is that we believe in their ability to handle the situation and that they will be okay.

I am often asked by parents, “How do I instill confidence in my child?” The suggestions above are but a few that may prove to be helpful. In the next section, I will touch upon another facet to consider. 

Encouraging Risk Taking and Independence as a Way of Instilling Confidence

  • Allow your child to take some risks. There is not one of us who learned how to walk, ride a bicycle, or play on a climbing structure without a fall resulting in some scrapes and bruises. Of course we want to prevent serious harm, but the typical injuries children experience while exploring are important learning lessons. When a child takes a tumble here at school, we first comfort them and then say, “You will be okay! You can do it!” Letting your child know that she will be fine demonstrates that you have confidence in her ability. Hovering and preventing them from exploring and experimenting brings about caution and fear. Fearful children tend to hold back and are afraid to try new things.
  • You don’t have to entertain your children. Children ought to have a period of time when they can play independently. One’s age and stage of development will obviously dictate the appropriate amount of constructive alone time. When children have the opportunity to work and play independently without an adult by their side, important lessons are gained about one’s ability and self worth.
  • Empower your child to make decisions for himself whenever possible and honor those decisions. At FJECC, we treat each child as a “can-do” kid. They decide which materials are placed in our frequently changing dramatic play area and what topics of study they are interested in learning about. We empower our students to take control of situations whenever possible, treating them as knowing and capable individuals so they learn to believe in themselves. On the other hand, when the chance to make independent decisions is not offered, children learn that they cannot be trusted, fostering dependence.  Empowerment rests upon the parents’ encouragement in enabling their child to try, to take risks, to decide for themselves; all leading to trust in one’s abilities and judgment!   

While risk-taking is important, we are NOT advocating that children be free to do as they please. Risk-taking should be allowed within defined parameters. It is still critical to set expectations/rules and be consistent. At FJECC, we make classroom expectations clear at the beginning of the school year. Young children thrive when they know the routines and what their school day will look like. We prepare our students for changes that will take place in advance whenever possible. It is important that children know what to expect and that they can depend upon you to follow through. It may feel easier to let something slide “just this once,” but respecting and following the rules you have established gives children a sense of comfort. Be assured that children need and benefit from the guidelines their adults establish for them, which help them feel well taken care of and secure.

At our center, a great deal of effort is expended toward fostering independence; be it in validating children’s thinking, decision making or problem solving. We help children to assert themselves in appropriate and acceptable ways. When an alteration takes place, we encourage children to let their peers know through discussion that the behavior is not okay. A myriad of opportunities are presented for our students to gain mastery in many areas of development at their own pace. When our students offer suggestions, we act upon them providing that safety is not an issue. By respecting a child’s thinking and choices whenever possible, individual dignity, self worth and confidence is fostered.

Here’s to raising happy, confident children! 


Please enjoy these photos taken at school and home of our students being bold, brave and independent. 

STEM in Early Childhood Education

The Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel, Boston (FJECC) was selected to be a pilot program for “Engineering is Elementary” early childhood initiative developed by the Museum of Science, Boston (MOS). One of our teachers, Jess Jarvis, participated in an initial focus group last summer was selected to test the program in her classroom. As a result of this experience, her preschool students engaged with the curriculum, while being observed and interviewed by MOS educators over several weeks this past fall. A great deal of experimentation, learning and discovery took place around the topic of engineering. 

This was not the first time the FJECC benefited from the resources of the Museum of Science. A few years ago the staff of the Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center participated in a day of learning at the Museum, participating in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning. We, at this center, integrate cutting edge and innovative curriculum which results in a child’s creative and investigative learning. STEM activities are integrated through a play based approach into all aspects of our curriculum.

A short video featuring some of our FJECC students can be viewed here. Enjoy!

Read more about the Early Childhood engineering process here

Integrating Loose Parts into our Curriculum

Learning with loose parts is an exciting concept based on the premise that if you give children a wide variety of open-ended and interesting materials, they will be able to construct, invent, create, and devise abundant ways to utilize these objects. Our loose parts curriculum was developed to stimulate and foster a child’s creative imagination and critical thinking. 

Why are loose parts so engaging? Because loose parts offer children multiple opportunities rather than single outcomes. Unlike a puzzle or game, there is no right or wrong way to play with these materials. Children are active players with loose parts. The variability and creative possibilities these materials offer for the students are endless.

Some reasons why we love loose parts:

  • Loose parts involve materials made up of different kinds of textures, colors, and shapes. They are inexpensive, colorful, and can be found everywhere:  around the home, in dollar stores and recycling centers!
  • Loose parts encourage children to experiment, manipulate, arrange and rearrange the objects resulting in a myriad of imaginative creations. Children are free to explore and experiment in whatever way that makes sense to them.
  • Loose parts can be utilized to explore more complex relationships among the materials such as balance, sound, weight, patterns, etc.
  • In playing with and manipulating loose parts, all areas of development are involved. Children are involved socially, in problem solving, using their fine and gross motor skills, as well as math, science, language and literary skills to name a few of the many areas involved. 

Using their creative imaginations, children here at our school use feathers, rocks, shells, yarn, twigs, tiles, clothespins, and a myriad of other loose parts and found objects to invent, discover and devise new ways to manipulate the items. The tree cookies (large rustic wooden discs), which were introduced last year in our Outdoor Classroom as well as indoors in classes, have been made into towers, stepping stones, wheels for vehicles, turrets for castles, and much more. This kind of play encourages children to consider many possible uses and meanings for the objects with which they are engaged. 

At FJECC, it is my goal to continue integrating what are considered to be the Best Practices in Education for Young Children into our curriculum. In just the short time in which we have presented some loose parts to our students this school year, it has been amazing to see the different approaches each child takes in manipulating the wonderful “stuff” we have gathered. 

We as a staff continue to be inspired by all that we learn, and in turn inspire our students by exciting and novel approaches in early education.

Curious to learn more? These books are excellent resources for families to learn more about how to integrate open-ended materials into play at home: 

Celebrating Tu B'Shevat with Children


What is TU B'SHEVAT?

Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, occurs this year on Saturday, February 11th. Tu B'Shevat literally means the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat and is a holiday that focuses on nature, ecology, and the land of Israel. It marks the beginning of spring in Israel and is meant to commemorate a connection to the land of Israel.  

How do we celebrate TU B'SHEVAT?

Two customs, in particular, have been preserved in the celebration of Tu B'Shevat.

1) Hold a Tu B’Shevat Seder (ritual meal) where we:

a) Eat fruit, such as dates, figs, almonds, raisins and bokser, the dried fruit of the carob tree – A tradition based on Deuteronomy 8.8 holds that there are five fruits and two grains associated with Israel, "a land of wheat and barley, vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” Almonds also have a prominent place in the Tu B'Shevat meal because almond trees were believed to be the first of all trees to blossom in Israel; carob was also a popular fruit to be used since it lasts a long time. At FJECC, we hold Tu B’Shevat seders with the children so they can partake of the various fruits associated with the holiday.  

b) Have four cups of wine (or grape juice) – Each cup of wine/juice represents the different seasons in nature. The first cup symbolizes winter, and with each subsequent cup, we add red wine/juice until the final cup is all red, demonstrating the changing seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. These cups can also represent a tree’s growth, from seed to sapling to a tree bearing fruit.

2) Plant something to make our world a better, more beautiful place – Tu B'Shevat is a time to think about our responsibility toward nature and how to protect our environment for future generations. At FJECC, the children will plant seeds to create an indoor garden which can be transplanted into our Outdoor Nature Classroom in the spring. Other members of our community will plant trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund, whose re-forestation projects in Israel have saved much valuable acreage from soil erosion and reclaimed land for agricultural purposes.


1.      Talk about Tu B'Shevat with your children using these questions as a starting point:

  • Why do we need trees?
  • What do we eat that comes from trees?
  • What are some of the things we know which are made out of wood?
  • What is something we can do at Tu B’Shevat to honor the trees?
  • What can we do to make our world a clean, safe place in which to live?

2.      Plant a tree through organizations like the JNF, or plant a seed from the various fruits you typically eat at home to see which will sprout and grow.

3.      Find small ways to take better care of nature and our environment.

4.      Have a Tu B’Shevat seder at home with various fruits, along with white and red grape juice.  


An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston

Sammy Spider's First Tu B'Shevat by Sylvia Rouss

Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand by Arthur Levine

Happy Birthday Tree by Madelyn Rosenberg

Fostering Healthy Development through Play in the Early Years

The changes that have occurred in the last two decades around the societal norms for young children are astounding! Rather than spending time outdoors, playing with friends, and gaining important knowledge though such activities and interactions, a great many children are now often involved in passive—not active—experiences, and the time for free play when they rely upon their imaginations to create fantastical scenarios has greatly diminished. However, play is the vehicle through which a young child learns best, and it’s critical that children have time to play and space to move. 

It can be challenging for parents of young children today to avoid getting caught up in the notion that the earlier one starts exposing a child to academic subjects, the better. The focus on formalized instruction at an early age fails to give children the opportunity to construct important conceptual meaning and understanding for themselves. 

At FJECC, we believe that play is a core activity in a young child’s development, so we look to create a stimulating environment where children are encouraged to explore with our support. 

For example, when children play with blocks in the classroom or wooden “tree cookies” in our Rita and Adam J. Weiner and Family Outdoor Classroom, they learn about concepts such as size, balance, weight and number, not to mention the physical and social skills they are developing. When our students discover nature’s treasures through scavenger hunts or plant herbs and vegetables in our organic garden, they are acquiring lots of knowledge in an active way. Whether climbing on our outdoor structure, dancing to the beat of music or creating rocket ships and castles, important learning is taking place! Creating an obstacle course on the playground, hiding amongst pine branches to practice the art of camouflage or transforming ice into water, all such activities lead to the acquisition of important intellectual concepts through play. 

When children are involved in dramatic play, they often use gadgets and materials found in the environment to represent objects they need for their scenario. As an example, if they are pretending to drive a car they may pick up an aluminum pie-plate found in the kitchen area to represent the steering wheel, or they may pick up a block to use as a telephone in the dramatic play area. These kinds of representational skills practiced by the children help them to conceptualize an understanding of abstract thinking.

The interactions of children in play prepare them for the give and take required in social relationships. It is through play that children learn how to take turns, share and negotiate. The foundation of all cognitive skills is acquired through play. To quote Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” So let us return if at all possible, to a less hurried life for children where they are given lots of opportunity to play, be creative, and use their imaginations. What a blessing it would be for every young child to have this kind of childhood!

Helen's Latke Recipe

Potato Pancakes (Latkes)

4-6 large potatoes                
2 eggs                    
1 teaspoon salt                
3 tablespoons flour                
1/2 teaspoon baking powder        
grated onion to taste (optional)        
oil for frying  

vegetable peeler         
spoon and spatula
knife (for adult use)
fork/rotary beater
mixing bowl
frying pan

Wash the potatoes. Your child might ask what the little bumps are, actually referring to the "eyes" of the potato from which new potatoes may be grown (although some are treated to keep sprouting to a minimum). You might want to cut out a piece of the potato with one or more eyes and put it aside to experiment with later. Laying the potatoes on a table, show your child how to hold the potato with one hand and push the peeler away from himself/herself across the top of the potato to remove all the skin. Then, keeping the pieces of potato small enough for your child to hold but big enough to grate without scraping fingers, let him/her grate the potatoes. Drain most of the liquid. Beat the eggs with a fork or rotary beater. Mix all ingredients together, except the oil. Drop mixture by tablespoons into hot oil in the skillet. Fry on both sides until brown. Drain on paper towels. A topping of sour cream, applesauce, powdered sugar or jelly enhances the flavor.

The Importance of Teaching Values For Young Children

Helen Cohen, Director of The Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center (FJECC) at Temple Israel in Boston, and her staff are passionate about teaching their young students the important value of helping others by participating in many acts of kindness both inside and outside of the school.  Because Cohen feels strongly that concrete learning is a powerful tool, the FJECC teachers are committed to integrating a wide variety of mitzvah opportunities (good deeds) throughout their curriculum. Various acts of kindness are emphasized on a daily basis in an effort to teach children the importance of helping others. These deeds, first modeled by the teachers and then applied by the children, are commonly observed in the classroom and include everything from young learners helping a classmate fasten a smock to someone assisting a peer during clean-up time. In addition to reminding children that these small deeds help the classroom community in big ways, teachers also cleverly create ways for these young children to experience firsthand the ways in which their acts of kindness can help the greater Boston community.  This is accomplished through classroom recycling projects, toy collections and food drives.  From the youngest group of toddlers to the soon-to-be graduates, all children learn the important value of helping others through the various charitable works they perform during their pre-school experience.  The teaching of this value is an important and meaningful component of the school’s curriculum.

Students in The Red Room class counted the pennies and other coins they brought to school each Friday for charity and decided to use the money to buy toiletries for people in need. A specific dollar amount was distributed to each family, and parents were encouraged to take their child to purchase the toiletries which were subsequently donated to the Brookline Food Pantry.  The children, along with their parents, sorted and stocked the various items before returning to school.  The pride the children felt in “teaching" their families the importance of participating in this worthy project and their understanding of what a profound impact their acts of kindness would have on the people at the food pantry was reflected through the smiles on their happy faces.  

Another group in the school sponsored a walk-a-thon in which the proceeds went to “Seeds of Peace.” They so enjoyed walking the many laps and stopping at the water station that was set up for them but, most importantly, they loved experiencingthe pride that comes from giving of oneself on behalf of others. 

FJECC parents organized a school-wide initiative to meet and entertain the residents at The Hebrew Senior Life Center in Brookline. The activities in which the students participated ranged from playing Bingo with the residents to beautifying the residential environment by planting bulbs and flowers in window boxes. The morning concluded with a sing-a-long.  All of the students came away with a memorable experience that they will not soon forget.  

Most recently the students in our T-K and kindergarten class spent a great deal of their choice time creating bracelets which were subsequently sold to raise funds for diabetes research in honor of one of their peers who is dealing with this medical issue. The children developed signs which were posted throughout our building to encourage sales for this worthy cause. Not only did our students learn important lessons during this process but their peer who is dealing with diabetes was made to feel so special and proud that all were working to be of assistance to the many children dealing with this condition. 

The FJECC’s dedicated educators hope that by creating a curriculum that focuses on the important value of helping others through small acts of kindness within the classroom, to mitzvah opportunities in the larger community, they can instill in their students the important lesson that helping others is important and good. By routinely exposing our students to the many ways in which they can be of help to others, this behavior will become second nature for them.  Our hope is that the FJECC students will utilize the lessons they have learned for the benefit of others throughout their lives.  This is an important foundation we are establishing for our youngest set!