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Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s Iris Family Center for Early Childhood Education Receives National Certification as Nature Explore Classroom

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The WonderSpace is a "hands-on" learning experience for preschoolers at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel.
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Preschoolers at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Isreal learn to plant in the WonderSpace.
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  Preschoolers at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Isreal enjoy a lesson in the WonderSpace.  
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Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s Iris Family Center for Early Childhood Education, located at 432 Scotland Road, South Orange, NJ, has earned national certification as a Nature Explore Classroom from Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation.  TSTI is one of only four certified outdoor classrooms in New Jersey, one of which is McGuire Air Force Base.  For more information on TSTI, please visit natureexplore.org/certified/IrisFamilyCenter.cfm.

TSTI joins a growing network of organizations and institutions that have created effective nature-based outdoor learning environments for children.  This network allows for idea-sharing, peer support and continuous development.

Nature Explore Classrooms are part of the Nature Explore program, a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature. Certified Nature Explore Classrooms help fill the void by integrating research-based outdoor learning opportunities into children’s daily lives.

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“Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s Iris Family Center for Early Childhood Education has shown tremendous leadership in growing the next generation of environmental stewards,” said Susie Wirth, Nature Explore Outreach Director. “Their commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to educators throughout the country.”  The Outdoor Classroom is one element of a greening initiative that took place at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, which has been recognized as the first Reform Synagogue to become a GreenFaith Sanctuary.

Iris Family Center’s Director, Carol Paster says, “This Outdoor Classroom, lovingly named, ‘The WonderSpace’, began with literal ‘seed’ money from an anonymous donor for the purpose of creating a place for young children to plant and learn while surrounded by their natural world.”  In the incredible WonderSpace, students play with organic materials in an effort to reduce nature deficit disorder by balancing screen time with green time.  They are allowed to run, dig, climb, create art, build with a variety of mediums and relax in a natural setting.  The music teacher brings her guitar to the WonderSpace and Sabina Soloway, the nature educator, has been busy planting herbs with the children.

The classrooms, which are being developed across the country, offer interactive elements such as musical instruments made of natural materials, garden or pathway areas and natural materials for building and creating art. Children who learn and grow in Certified Nature Explore Classrooms enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress and improve skills in many areas of development.

Outdoor classrooms that are designed according to standards and principles described in Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s Learning With Nature Idea Book are eligible to become certified Nature Explore Classrooms. A new guidebook, At Home With Nature: Creating Nature Explore Playscapes for Families, helps parents bring the same research-based approach to learning in nature to their own children at home.

The first Nature Explore Classroom is located in the Tree Adventure attraction at Arbor Day Farm, the Arbor Day Foundation’s interactive conservation venue in Nebraska City, Nebraska. More information on the program can be found at natureexplore.org, on Facebook or on the Nature Explore community blog.

About the Arbor Day Foundation:  The Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit conservation and education organization of one million members, with the mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.  More information on the Foundation and its programs can be found at arborday.org, or by visiting us on Facebook,Twitter or our blog.

About Dimensions Educational Research Foundation:  The mission of the non-profit Dimensions Educational Research Foundation is to inspire children, families and educators to connect more deeply with the world around them by providing innovative, research-based programs and resources.

About Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel: Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a Reform congregation that welcomes all who wish to participate in and celebrate Jewish traditions and rituals. It is recognized for its education, programs, worship services, community events, and groups dedicated to a wide array of religious, social, and educational interests.  The temple draws members from many towns including South Orange, Maplewood, Short Hills, Millburn, Livingston and West Orange.  For more info about TSTI, visit TSTI.org.

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