A Small Courtyard Inspires Big Engagement at North Shore Synagogue


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

  • North Shore Synagogue, Syosset, NY
  • Nature-based Learning
  • Barbara Flack, School Director
  • Site Visit, October 2015, Update 2016
Barbara Flack

Barabara Flack has been a Director of Early Childhood Education since 1984. She had previously worked as a teacher and director on the South Shore for 12 years before starting at North Shore Synagogue in 1998. An experienced teacher and an unusually hands-on director, Barbara feels "privileged to work with children every day. I love to see the joy and wonder in children's eyes." Barbara and her highly qualified staff attend Early Childhood Professional Conferences twice a year. These workshops and seminars help keep the classroom environment exciting, productive and challenging. Through Barbara’s leadership and vision, she initiated one of the first outdoor classrooms in a Jewish school.  Her school has become a model and inspiration for many other early childhood sites.


Tara Giarraputo

Tara Giarraputo is a New York State-certified Elementary Teacher. She has her Masters degree in Environmental Education. Tara is in her 12th year as a Pre-K Teacher at North Shore Synagogue Nursery School. She specializes in creating and developing Outdoor Classrooms for educational facilities on Long Island. Tara develops programs on environmental education for local schools, summer programs and early childhood centers.



Description of School Change/Innovation:

Barbara Flack, Early Childhood Director, and educator Tara Giarraputa, put their heads together in 2009 to create a vision to incorporate an outdoor classroom on their school property and to transform a small courtyard flanked by tall brick walls into that alternative space for the children. Because they were one of the first adapters of this innovation, it’s quite an achievement considering they had very little examples to turn to. But over the years, the space has become a staple of the school with classroom teachers bringing their classes out to use the grounds often. As the nature coordinator, Tara supports their efforts and shows them creative ways to use the space and support learning that can link back to the classroom. For Tara, a lot of this effort is steeped in observing what the children gravitate towards and get excited about all while underscoring the impact it’s having on the children’s learning and capabilities.

Barbara and Tara got their inspiration for incorporating nature into their school at the same time when they separately attended professional learning days in 2009. Once they shared their personal experiences with each other there was no holding them back from turning their individual inspirations into a shared vision and into a reality for the children and educators at North Shore Synagogue Preschool. Today their small creative space stands tall among outdoor classrooms and continues to model a strong partnership between space, children, educator, and the natural world. North Shore's Outdoor Classroom promotes experiential learning through play, supports individual learning styles, and cultivates a lifelong respect for our environment.

NorthShore children outside

Participant Quote:

“It was a very calm experience out there. It was comforting to see that the teachers didn’t have to intervene with how to use the materials or control use of the small parts.”

- Judy Ross, 3’s Teacher, Temple Beth Shalom, Roslyn

More about North Shore Synagogue’s Innovation:

NorthShore children gardening

From Tara Giarraputo, Nature Coordinator

“Connecting through nature is an important philosophy that we all share at North Shore Synagogue Nursery School. Exposure to natural surroundings at a young age has a positive impact on a child’s physical, cognitive, social and mental health. Research shows that children benefit from time that is spent outdoors. Experts in the field of education have found when children are outdoors, they never ask about toys, they eat better, sleep better and have fewer behavior problems and they are never bored. Furthermore, research has confirmed that children need hands-on learning environments that support individual learning styles. Our Outdoor Classroom allows children to engage in learning that provides all these necessary lifelong skills including experiential learning through play. Play encourages autonomous thinking, problem solving, and language development. Play stimulates the imagination, promotes creativity, and teaches conflict resolution.

“Our Outdoor Classroom also encourages sensory play and sensory awareness, which is an essential approach of learning in young children. Children’s needs are being met as they explore our outdoor space. In addition, connecting children to nature creates lifelong advocates for our environment. Early experiences in nature will foster and promote the way future generations will care about our earth. As you stroll through our Outdoor Classroom you can participate in open play areas, a building area, nature art area, music area, sensory and vegetable gardens, an easel area, dirt digging area, a theatrical stage, grape vines for harvesting for Shabbat and a rain barrel for water play. Furthermore, the Outdoor Classroom provides an abundance of learning opportunities for Jewish holidays, traditions and celebrations.”

Site Visit Artifacts:

  • Video - Director Barbara Flack and Nature Coordinator Tara Giarraputa share how enthusiastic parents were to help once they heard how the project would impact the children, the school and the community.

Forward Thinking/Guided Questions:

  1. Barbara Flack and Tara Giarraputa worked very collaboratively and inspired each other through the planning and implementation stages of their courtyard outdoor classroom. Who in your school or on your parent board is ready to become your collaborator?

Additional Resources:

North Shore Synagogue has been a long time partner with The Jewish Education Project supporting community events and inviting us to visit and document their progress over the years. See below for a few previous posts written before our “official” journey visit to the school.

Site Update:

At the end of the 2015 school year, Barbara Flack retired as the Early Childhood Director leaving the leadership of the school in the hands of long time educator Elizabeth Kessler. And that same year, after over 10 years, Tara Giarraputa left her role as lead teacher and nature specialist to pursue other career opportunities after.



  • Early Childhood
  • Family Engagement
  • Educator Training