It’s Not Just Another Playground. It’s a Real Outdoor Classroom!
Written by by Jackie Baker-Schupbach and Trudi Krames, Jacob Duman Early Childhood Center Teacher and Director
We began our journey with CEELI – Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative, in October 2016. CEELI Community of Practice is a groundbreaking initiative in North America by virtue of its scope and outcome measures. CEELI in the Chicago Jewish community, with support from the Crown Family Philanthropies and Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), is deepening its commitment to expand Jewish engagement in its early childhood centers. Tasked with coming up with a project that would directly impact our center, we began with a vision for a concept that would enhance and enrich our already breathtaking campus, vast with wide open spaces just waiting for exploration. We brainstormed ideas with our center’s educators and created a project that would continue strengthening our sense of community, bring Jewish values to life through the eyes of our youngest learners, and involve the visions of our educators. Pulling all of this together from January – July 2017 is how our Outdoor Stations Experience was conceived and ultimately realized.
What is the Outdoor Stations Experience? Set overlooking the serene, natural wetlands on our 40-acre Lake County JCC campus, it’s not just another playground, it’s a real outdoor classroom without walls. Each month will feature different activities: incorporating apples and shofarot in September; fall fruits and vegetables in October; and painting on the chalkboards with turkey feathers in November. The Language and Literacy station, created to teach phonemic awareness, will provide children with multiple sensory experiences while also strengthening their fine motor skills. The children will retain and have a better understanding of what the word hollow means when exploring with a shofar and pouring water through in the Water-Ways station. Weighing apples in the Balance and Scale station will give them opportunities to imitate what they may see their parents doing in the produce section of the supermarket.
The stations provide real world experiences to our youngest learners, giving them a unique opportunity to explore nature and the outdoors, while encouraging imagination and creativity and developing problem solving skills.
What a very rewarding experience to see this vision come to life; figuratively and physically. We had the fortunate and unique opportunity to participate in every stage of development. It is our hope that every child who passes through our early childhood program finds joy and happiness exploring our Outdoor Stations Experience.
Special thanks goes to the CEELI team including Susan Zukrow, the teachers at the Jacob Duman Early Childhood Center including Yochi Eilian and Anna Volchek, and the facilities team of Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. This was a TRUE team effort. See you outside!