A Nature Explorium Fosters Outdoor Learning at the Mid Island Y JCC


This Site Visit Journal will help you understand one particular community's approach through the eyes of their educational leaders.

Mid Island Y JCC, Plainview, NY

Nature-based Learning

October 2012; Update 2016

Rhya Jerrold, School Director

Rhya Jerrold

Rhya Jerrold has a B.A. in Philosophy and Sociology, a J.D. from Touro Law School, an M.S.Ed. in Elementary and Early Education, and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy. Before her tenure as the Early Childhood Director, Rhya previously worked as a nursery school teacher, a private elementary school teacher, and a preschool camp coordinator. Her other prior work experience includes a position as a trainer for daycare workers seeking their credentials, and an attorney editor for a publishing company. Rhya’s combined background of formal education teaching, and training of others in the daycare field help provide her with a unique perspective and approach to the various aspects of the JCC program.

MidIsland garden area

Description of School Change/Innovation:

The Early Childhood Center at the Mid-Island Y JCC offers both full and part-day quality education, enrichment classes and parenting workshops. Their state certified staff teach a challenging and engaging curriculum including language development, science, mathematics, art and literature, while providing a loving and nurturing environment for each child. They are committed to providing a positive school atmosphere; one which promotes exploration, hands-on experience and intellectual growth fostering a lifetime of learning. The Mid-Island Y JCC Outdoor Nature Explorium earned the designation of being one of only 100 nationally certified Nature Explore Classrooms when created from the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. This certification places them in a growing network of organizations that have created effective outdoor learning environments for children.

Certified Nature Explore Classrooms are designed to help fill the void by educating young children using research-based principles for integrating nature into their daily learning. Mid-Island Y JCC’s creation of their outdoor learning environment was spearheaded by parent volunteers of the JCC’s Early Childhood Center, as well as Dr. Rhya Jerrold, the ECC Director. In a certified Nature Explore Classroom, children can create visual masterpieces in a natural art area, build and construct with natural materials, enhance gross-motor development by climbing on natural structures, explore the world around them in science and discovery areas, and practice their balance, agility, and creativity in areas designed for music and movement.

MidIsland play area

More about the JCC’s Innovation:

Rhya Jerrold worked hand in hand with volunteers from Home Depot and members of the JCC’s Greening Committee to build the outdoor space. Rhya says the materials that have been brought into the yard are reclaimed, repurposed, donated or selected for their versatility.

Site Update:

The JCC’s Explorium continues to foster nature-based exploration and learning on for the children in the preschool. Different educators on staff have assumed the nature specialist role and have put their own stamp and influence on the school’s program and implementation of the space. In 2013 The Jewish Education Project selected the Explorium to be the location for one of the J-LINC educator organizations facilitating family learning experiences. Teva, a nature-based organization, and a project of Hazon, engaged families in the school for several semesters during the J-LINC initiative. As of 2016 the JCC’s Explorium has earned it’s 5th year certification as a Nature Explore classroom and is still only one of two Jewish preschools in the NY Metro area with this distinction.

Forward Thinking/Guided Questions:

  1. Nature Explore certified classrooms are often structured around several different stations including discovery stations, a stage, vegetable and flower gardens, and loose parts areas. What stations would you like to incorporate in your outdoor space if you are just beginning?

  2. If you have an outdoor space, what changes would you like to make in the year ahead?



  • Early Childhood
  • Family Engagement
  • Educator Training