Temple Sholom Schools Weave Environmentalism into Curriculums

During the winter break, families at the Temple Sholom Selma Maisel Nursery School were asked to put aside cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, empty plastic bottles, yogurt containers, and other recyclable materials for a large project in the making.

Little did they know these materials were going to provide the foundation for the launch of a green-friendly makerspace  – a dedicated classroom to complement the school’s STEAM Lab – as a way to foster upcycling, ingenuity, imagination and creativity.

The initiative got underway just before Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the “New Year of the trees” and is closely associated with the environmental movement.

“We drew inspiration to create the room from our teachers who have been using recycled materials in their classrooms for years,” said Director of Schools David Cohen. “Teachers who embrace an emergent curriculum understand that the use of open-ended materials, such as recycled items, promotes deeper investigations and group learning.”

The new space has already seen a wide variety of activities, ranging from the hands-on sorting of recyclables by the children, to the assembly of a rocket ship from start to finish to enhance a unit on outer space.

“When a child is offered an art experience where a specific outcome is expected, the child simply creates a craft,” said Deidre Flood, Nursery School Assistant Director. “When offered an array of items that are open-ended, the child will wonder ‘What can this become?’ or ‘What can we create with these things?’ They not only are building their imaginations, but also gaining confidence and developing a deep love for learning.”

In 2018, members of the school’s Parent Association constructed an 8’ x 8’ raised vegetable and herb garden to offer another sensory-rich space to promote student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking. Nursery school children have the opportunity to maintain the garden, which serves as starting point for topics such as climate, worm composting, propagating plants, and gardening in cold weather.

In addition to the recycling efforts of the Selma Maisel Nursery School, the 7th grade religious school students at the Temple Sholom Learning Center are in the initial phases of developing a green initiative for the Temple Sholom community as part of their Social Action Sundays program.  Their plans include an assessment of Temple Sholom’s current practices and ways to become more eco-friendly.

“Temple Sholom is very committed to protecting the environment,” said Eileen Robin, Executive Director. “Giving items a second life, rather than placing them in the trash, fits within our communal goal to reduce, reuse and recycle. We are very excited to be able to extend these efforts into both schools’ curriculums.”