Religious Spirituality Made Visible Through Nature

Some faith-based schools have found their Nature Explore Classroom to be an excellent environment for exploring religious values and traditions. In the Nursery School at Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts, teachers and children make Jewish spirituality visible through projects in the outdoor classroom, and indoors. Although the projects are based on Jewish traditions, the values they teach are universal. In this post, we’ll learn how children celebrate Tu B’Shevat or “Birthday of the Trees.”

Johanna Perlin, Director of the school writes, “The three Jewish values (Mitzvot) that we focus on over the year (and especially during the celebration of Tu B’Shevat) are Shomrei Adahma, or keepers of the earth; Bal Tashcheet, or do not destroy (referring to nature); and T’zaar Ba’alai Chayim, showing kindness to animals.  These values are explored in projects throughout the year, following nature’s timetable.

Tu B’Shevat falls on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shevat. This holiday lands in January in Newton, which is not the month of plant rebirth as it is in Israel.  Last year, as snow covered the outdoor classroom, the children engaged in a creative interpretation of plant renewal.

Months before Tu B’Shevat, on Sukkot, the Jewish holiday marked by feasting to celebrate the harvest, children harvested seeds from flowering plants they had grown. The seeds were dried for later use. Then in January, on Tu B’Shevat, the children returned to their seeds.

Older children harvested scrap paper from recycling bins throughout the Temple.  New paper was made from these scraps: new paper with a purpose. Embedded in this hand-made paper were the seeds from the children’s Sukkot harvest.

These renewed sheets of paper became Mother’s Day gifts. Planted at home, the seed-infused pages gave birth to home gardens.

At Sukkot and Tu B’Shevat children are exploring the universal value of caring for nature. Their projects are related activities that evolve over the year. From the original plantings, to harvesting the seeds, to waiting to embed them in paper newly made from the recycling, to gifting the seeded paper, (which is then used to start a garden), the cycle of plant life, and kindness towards others is celebrated. And all are drawn from the same spiritual river of Judaic tradition.

Johanna, her teachers, and her students make learning and spirituality visible in their projects involving their outdoor classroom. Students and teachers, together participate in discovering, witnessing and celebrating nature’s universal gifts to us all.