As the risk of COVID-19 becomes more pervasive in indoor environments, a nontraditional, outdoors educational program, such as the Pearlstone Center’s Farm and Forest School, may be just the right setting for children to learn and thrive in.
With its first session currently running Sept. 2-Oct. 28 at the Pearlstone Center’s 180-acre campus, participating children are taught wilderness, farm and earth skills, and can expect to build shelters, tend fires, plant gardens and play games, said Rabbi Psachyah Lichtenstein, the center’s director of education.
“A growing body of research links our mental and spiritual health directly to our association with nature,” Lichtenstein said.
As such, in order to promote healthy child development, the “Farm & Forest School brings youth into an immersive learning experience anchored in hands-on farm and forest skills, joyful nature connection, spiritual wisdom, and loving community,” Lichtenstein said.
The program is made up of pods of eight to 12 students each, Lichtenstein said. The program currently is taking students ages 7 to 14, though work is being done to allow for pods for 5 and 6 year olds. Each pod will be run by Pearlstone’s full-time educators, Lichtenstein said, and will incorporate COVID-19 safety protocols such as a cleaning and disinfecting schedule, social distancing when possible, and mask wearing when not.
The program currently takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Lichtenstein said. Classes on Sundays and Tuesdays are currently being worked on. The cost to enroll a child in the program is $50 per week, with the current nine-week session costing $450 total.
Following the current session, Pearlstone plans to organize a subsequent five-week long session, Lichtenstein said. He added that Pearlstone hopes to continue running sessions after that as far as May of next year, but that such plans would depend on the state of the pandemic in Maryland.
Lichtenstein emphasized how programs like this fit particularly well into the practice of Jewish tradition.
“At the core of Judaism is the call and responsibility for each one of us to tend and care for the natural world,” Lichtenstein said. “Judaism in its essence is an earth-based spiritual practice.”