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.

This short video 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!