In Honor of Our ECDC Teachers

May 8 is National Teacher Appreciation Day. As with each special occasion and holiday at ECDC we start with the question of how best to celebrate.

The question is of national importance. In recent weeks we have seen state-wide strikes of teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Across the country hundreds of school districts are underfunded resulting in deteriorating facilities, a lack of resources, and poorly paid teachers. The cover story of the January 9, 2018 issue of the New York Times Magazine focused on the plight of early childhood educators in an article entitled “Why Are Our Most Important Teachers Paid the Least?”

The situation for early childhood teachers is severe, as early childhood programs generally receive no state or federal financial assistance. Schools for children under six years of age – whether for-profit or non-profit – are funded largely in form of tuition payments by parents. Tuition fees prohibit access to early education for a significant percentage of children.  Yet research studies show that the most critical brain development occurs from 0 to 6 and that high-quality early education offers children a good start in social, emotional and cognitive development that provides a life-long foundation.

At Temple Emanuel we take seriously the issues of quality education and teacher compensation. Over the past five years the Congregation has approved expense budgets that included increases in hourly rates along with compensation for additional weekly teacher preparation and meeting time. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh plays a leadership role in setting high standards and in contributing with grant support. ECDC teachers have expressed that these measures make a significant impact in achieving high quality and professionalism. ECDC teachers actively engage in learning and dialogue about relevant topics including child development, educational philosophy, curriculum and behavior. We greatly appreciate Temple Emanuel for supporting these improvements and are proud of our teachers for approaching their roles with unwavering dedication.

Let us recognize that:

1) Temple Emanuel has championed improvements in teacher compensation, and

2) Early Childhood Education remains one of the most under compensated professions in the United States

Each year Temple Emanuel devotes a special Simchat Limud – Joy of Learning – Shabbat service in honor of teachers. This year the service will be held at 6:30 pm on May 4. Let us truly celebrate teachers on May 4 and throughout the year by advocating for local and national measures that improve teacher compensation.

A Holiday Every Day

Tu B’Shevat was on January 31, 2018, but at ECDC, Tu B’Shevat is….well, every day!

How exactly is that possible? By planting seeds, eating fruits, and taking nature walks! By appreciating what trees give us – shade, beauty, paper and wood! By learning facts about trees and interpreting trees with pencil or paint. By respecting our environment and being guardians of the earth, Shomrei Adamah. And by singing songs about trees…day-in and day-out!


At ECDC it is our intention to interweave Jewish values into what we do – not only on holidays – but every day. This is our challenge and purpose. But even if we can achieve our goal for Tu B’Shevat, can we also celebrate other holidays every day?

With the help of Rabbi Locketz, ECDC Educators are reflecting on these questions. Currently we are studying Purim. Admittedly Tu B’Shevat makes it easy for us – Purim does not.  How would it be possible to celebrate Purim every day? Certainly we are not baking hamantaschen and shaking groggers at the name of Haman on a daily basis. However, as we study the sources, we learn the underlying precepts:

In the Book of Esther, we read that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking,” as well as for “sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor” (Esther 9:22). In addition to reading the M’gillah (Book of Esther), celebrants dress in costumes, have festive parties, perform “Purim-spiels,” silly theatrical adaptations of the story of the M’gillah, send baskets of food (mishloach manot) to friends, and give gifts to the poor (matanot l’evyonim).

These are known as the four mitzvot of Purim:

  • Reading (and listening to) the M’gillah (Book of Esther)
  • Feasting and merry making
  • Giving baskets of food to friends (Mishloach Manot)
  • Giving gifts to the needy (Matanot L’Evyonim)

Suddenly it becomes clear that we can celebrate Purim at ECDC every day – by reading and listening; facing each day with good cheer; by giving to friends, by thinking of others who have greater needs.

Daily interweaving of Jewish values is a foundational tenet of the Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (JECEI), a program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. We are grateful to Rabbi Locketz and the Pittsburgh JECEI consultants for their partnership on this journey. Rather than beginning and ending celebrations strictly by the calendar, we are in search of the values that apply on a daily basis. As we next prepare for Passover, we will continue to ask “how do the lessons of the holiday apply to us every day?”

Early Childhood Seminar in Italy!

When Julie Silverman and I embarked in October for an early childhood seminar in Reggio Emilia, Italy, our bags were packed, not only with layers of clothing for various weather conditions, but with a list of questions from our ECDC teachers. Today I’d like to respond to those questions. First I’d like to offer gratitude for the generous support of the Dr. Solomon and Sarah Goldberg Memorial Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. What a gift it was for our Pittsburgh educators to receive support to visit Reggio Emilia, perhaps the only city in the world that specializes in the field of Early Childhood Education.  Though it would take special research to study the history of Reggio, it was obvious that over the decades their educators, citizens and civic leaders have made countless thoughtful choices that have supported the growth of extraordinary schools.  As students of Reggio, we experienced the intentionality that was apparent in every aspect of our visit. As educators in Jewish schools, we were reminded of the meaning of kavanah – the Jewish concept of focus and concentration in words and action – in this case on behalf of the welfare of children.

There are 23 infant-toddler centers and 21 preschools under the umbrella of the municipality of Reggio Emilia. Most of the schools have three classrooms with 26 children per classroom. Each classroom has two teachers with a possible third teacher if there is a child with special needs, which Reggio educators refer to as special rights. Each school also had a fully staffed kitchen which serves the nutritional needs of the school, including hot lunches and an amazing array of food choices for visitors and events. It is always startling for Americans to see how children set the tables in the dining room with real porcelain plates and glasses.

Our adventure begins on a water taxi in Venice!

Reggio schools are made beautiful by an array of natural materials, interesting use of spaces, irregular classroom layouts and exceptional art work. The classrooms are arranged with a wide range of materials, including duplos, wooden train tracks, cars, plastic animals of all sizes, and lots of loose materials – small and large. Materials are pre-arranged on much of the surfaces. In the center of one table, for example, was a collection of pomegranates, grapes, leaves and oranges.  Baby food jars of paint with corresponding colors and sheets of paper were set along the perimeter of the table.  All of the materials, especially the art materials, were of high quality. Surfaces in the classroom are of multiple heights.  Outdoor areas were large and grassy with few pieces of equipment, possibly one slide. The outdoor areas had lots of large loose materials, including logs and rocks.

Pittsburgh group of 12 in the famous piazza of Reggio Emilia

While visiting one preschool starting at 9:00 am, children were in small and fluid groups. They were drawing, building, engaging in imaginative play with plastic figures and natural materials, and playing outside. The multi-shaped building was designed as a school and each classroom has direct access to the outdoors. Children may go in and out independently. One teacher explained that they can allow the children to be independent because they know them so well based on staying with the same group over the years. For me, one highlight was watching a group of three at an easel. Two girls were drawing at each side while a third child, a boy, sat on a chair and posed for his portrait. One of the girls traced the boy’s face with her finger to get a feel of the shape, while the boy was smiling beatifically, obviously enjoying the contact and attention.  It was a joy to watch the drawings emerge on the paper and the delighted expressions of the children as they compared results.


Learning to think critically is central at Reggio schools. Experience with even the youngest children has taught the educators that children have questions about the world and can learn to view things from multiple viewpoints. Investigations are the vehicles for such learning. The learning is not linear and does not consist of a fixed sequence of steps.   Words and phrases used by the Reggio educators to conjure the learning process were: spiraling; ping ponging back and forth; multidimensional; involving multiple viewpoints and using at least two materials or mediums to represent the learning.

Our trip to Italy opened new vistas!


I am struck with how far we have come at Temple Emanuel ECDC in our own investigation of the Reggio approach.  We are fully engaged in dialogue, in seeking and listening to multiple points of view.  This is the path of intentionality – of kavanah – of focusing thought conscientiously on what is best for our children.  I am so very grateful to participate in this investigation with our school community.



Packing My Bags for Reggio Emilia, Italy

As the November 2017 Temple Emanuel Bulletin goes to print, I am packing for a trip to Reggio Emilia in Italy. I am traveling with a group of 63 Educators from Jewish early childhood centers in Pittsburgh, DC, Chicago, Boston and Israel. The group includes one of our wonderful teachers, Julie Silverman, and two of our wonderful Pittsburgh JECEI Consultants, Judy Abrams and Barbara Moser.* During the 10-day trip, we will have the opportunity to visit several of the schools in Reggio Emilia and will attend many seminars and discussion groups. It is my privilege and obligation to share this journey with the Temple community.


For those of you who have not heard of Reggio Emilia, I’d like to start with a bit of history. When the Fascists were defeated and World War II ended, a group of parents in Reggio Emilia, a region of northern Italy, built a school out of the rubble of the war. They wanted a better life for their children. Their efforts and dreams laid a unique foundation for a new approach to education. Rather than building a school based on a preconceived model, this school was built on a set of hopes and values. Over the next decades, over 20 early childhood centers were built in Reggio Emilia. The set of values was increasingly tested and articulated. Many thousands of Educators have visited Reggio Emilia over the past three decades. In more recent years the Reggio Emilia approach to early education has taken a stronghold in Jewish programs across the country. This helps to explain why I have the great fortune to participate in 2017 Reggio Seminar: Exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach through a Jewish Perspective,


The schools of Reggio Emilia do not follow a method or specific curriculum. Rather, the approach is built on a set of values centered on the belief that children, teachers and parents are competent and that each has a right to participate in a collaborative learning experience. Though vicariously, the Educators of Temple Emanuel are likewise participating in this journey. Here are some of their questions that we are “bringing” to Italy:


  • How did Reggio Emilia evolve into a philosophical approach with a world-wide impact?
  • What is the daily classroom schedule?
  • How much time do the children spend indoors/outdoors?
  • How do the children express themselves musically? With instruments? With singing?
  • What toys or materials do they use in the classrooms?
  • What are the playgrounds like?
  • What types of documentation are used?
  • Are parents actively present in the classroom?
  • How do the parents make time for school participation?
  • How does project work get started and how is it sustained?
  • How do the teachers ensure that children are ready for first grade?


I would like to acknowledge immense gratitude to The Dr. Solomon and Sarah Goldberg Memorial Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, for making possible participation in the 2017 Reggio Seminar: Exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach through a Jewish Perspective.


*The Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (JECEI) is a program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The Martha Klein Lottman Family Fund also supports the Pittsburgh JECEI program at Temple Emanuel.

How Do We Celebrate Purim at ECDC?

This year at ECDC we celebrated Purim in many traditional ways. We made crowns, graggers and hamentashen. We held our annual carnival where we had a different game in each room.

making a crown purim carnival gamechoc chip hamantashen


Weeks before the hamentashen, costumes and three-corner hats, ECDC Educators talked with Rabbi Locketz to think about the best ways to celebrate Purim with young children. We learned that the story of Purim comes from the Book of Esther in the Megillah and that there is no hard evidence that the events actually took place. Though the story includes wickedness and hatred, it has a happy ending – and Purim has evolved as a happy holiday enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Masa and Shelly in costume


The story of Purim, as edited for young children:

  • Once upon a time in the lovely town of Shushan, there lived nice Uncle Mordecai and his niece Esther. (Uncle Mordecai and Esther were Jewish.)
  • King Ahasuerus was the king of Shushan. He chose Esther as his wife, because she was kind and smart.
  • Haman worked in the palace, and he was NOT a nice man. He made people bow down to him.
  • Uncle Mordecai would not bow down to Haman. The Jewish people would not bow down to Haman.
  • Haman wanted to send away the people who would not bow down to him.
  • The Jewish people were sad, because they wanted to live in the lovely town of Shushan.
  • Mordecai asked Esther to help her people. Queen Esther had to be very brave.
  • Queen Esther told her husband, King Ahasuerus: I am Jewish and Haman wants to send the Jewish people away.
  • The king was angry and asked his guards to send Haman away instead.
  • Uncle Mordecai came to work in the palace and the people lived happily in the lovely town of Shushan.


The children embrace the characters of the story. They love the Purim songs that inspire twirling to the name of Queen Esther and booing to the name of Haman. Intuitively they rejoice in the goodness of Esther and deplore the nastiness of Haman. Though the story is told in a lighthearted manner, they learn about Esther’s bravery and the importance of doing the right thing.

Ben and Ojas two Mayaschef (2) chef (1)

This year I noticed the delight of the children as they pranced in their costumes – turtles, carrots, batmen, chefs, police officers and yes many princesses. I took special delight to hear one of our older children announce: I am not Jewish, but I love Purim!


Investigating Clay

Investigating Clay – A Special Kind of Play

Often when we think of children playing, we imagine that they are happily occupied and maybe interacting with friends. But play can be so much more. Play becomes a learning opportunity when one experience builds upon another.  This happens most readily when a teacher (parent or loving adult) facilitates. “Clay Play” at ECDC is an excellent example.

clay one

We are indebted to Michelle Dreyfuss, our fabulous Art Teacher, and to Barbara Moser for introducing clay at ECDC. Ms. Moser is one of our wonderful consultants of the Federation’s Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Initiative. She is also the Art Studio Specialist at the Cyert Center of Carnegie Mellon University.  As Mrs. Dreyfuss explains:

Clay is such a wonderful sensory material for kids to explore; it is smooth and cool to the touch. It can be cut and stacked and molded. Add some water and it becomes a whole new experience. Add wire or string and the children discover something new. As the children become increasingly comfortable with the clay, we see stories and unique creations develop.

The children were introduced gradually to the material and to some of the tools that can be used. They have learned to use wooden dowels for pounding and flattening clay; wire for cutting clay; and water for changing the consistency. They have also enjoyed the use of various materials to print textures into the clay.

On one of the early visits to the Art Studio, Mrs. Dreyfuss showed the children how to roll the clay into balls – big, small and tiny. On a subsequent visit she showed them how to make coils, which can be used to form a bowl! The children examined some actual clay bowls and learned that clay, in contrast to playdoh, actually comes from the earth.

The children are also learning to properly care for clay. At the end of each visit, they each form clay into a cube and use a dowel to make a small dent, which is then filled with water to keep the clay moist while being stored.

As the months have gone by, the children are building structures that are more complex and detailed. In many cases, they have put multiple pieces together to make intricate sculptures. We are so thrilled to see how long they remain engaged with the clay – attentive often up to 40 minutes.

Investigating a material – any material – whether paint, wood, paper or clay, can be a multi-layered process, where discoveries build upon each other. How different from the image of “just child’s play”.

bowls from coils 3 bowl from coils bowl from coils 2Benjamin's snake Ellie with coil

What is a Chanukah Menorah?

What is a Chanukah Menorah?

It is a nine-branched candle-holder lit during the eight-day holiday of Chanukah.

On each night of Chanukah another candle is lit. The ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper” or “servant”), is for a candle used to light all other candles. The shamash is usually taller than the main eight candles.

The Chanukah menorah is also known as chanukiah or hanukkiah.


Chanukah is the Festival of Lights

The celebration reminds us of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 167 BC.  Though there was only a small amount of oil to burn for light, it lasted for eight whole days. That is why the Chanukah menorah holds eight candles.

 At Temple Emanuel ECDC we made Chanukah Menorahs with a wide variety of materials…

Twigs              Play dough            Egg cartons            Beads           Legos            and more….

twig-menorah lego-menorah egg-carton-menorahs

group-menorah-2 menorah-making-3 playdough-menorah-making-2menorah menorah7

As you can see, menorah making is a social activity that involves math, fine motor, language and imagination.

Our Kindergarten Enrichment classes even incorporated circuitry!


Happy Chanukah!

Thank you to our ECDC Teachers who contributed to this post!

How Good and Pleasant It Is…..

Thanksgiving with Friends and Family

The Thanksgiving Festival is a wonderful tradition at ECDC involving food, song, friends and family. Our events this year were joyous with spirited participation of children and adults alike.

For the second year our children made delicious pumpkin cookies with Mrs. Freed.

And as has become our custom, Mrs. Ricci, our Music Teacher, joined us to lead song. Our play list included many old favorites.

  • It’s a Beautiful Day
  • I Looked Out My Window
  • Pumpkin Dinner
  • Grey Squirrel
  • Turkey Tango
  • Hinei Ma Tov

Hinei Ma Tov is a new song for us at ECDC. The Hebrew song has a beautiful melody which is enjoyed by young and old. The lyrics reflect the spirit of friendship and joy in our school community.

Hineh ma tov uma na’im
Shevet achim gam yachad.Hineh ma tov uma na’im
Shevet achim gam yachad.Chorus
Hineh ma tov
Shevet achim gam yachad.

How good and pleasant it is
For brothers & sisters to sit together.

How good and pleasant it is
For brothers & sisters to sit together.

How good it is
For brothers & sisters to sit together.

Due to a “day-off” in the Mt. Lebanon schools, many older brothers and sisters (many of whom are graduates of ECDC) were able to come to the Thanksgiving Festival this year. Though we did not anticipate it, the presence of many siblings added to the joy of being together. Smiling faces inspired me to take family and friend photos during the celebrations. (Note: Photos are posted with the permission of parents.)

ashlyn-and-sisters blassey-children-two charlie-and-will courtney-and-evelyn

daniel-and-evan elizabeth-and-ben ezra-and-lily franki-madeleine-and-samantha

isaac-and-emma jackson-and-jules keller-and-fiona lauren-and-jordan

leo-and-nila-two maeve-with-mom-and-baby-brother megan-with-mom-and-mason mia-luca-and-cameron

mrs-dearing-and-langley nonny-and-shiven porter-brenna-and-hadley randi-and-tannerrowans-with-elizabeth sloane-and-sibs trant-family will-and-henry

My snapshots captured such a small percentage of our families. I invite you to send or bring photos to add to our Thanksgiving board in the school corridor.


Sukkot – Plural for Sukkah

Sukkot, a Jewish holiday, is the Hebrew word for “booths” or “huts.”  Sukkot is plural for sukkah.

The plural form of the word is appropriate for our ECDC celebration, as each classroom made its own sukkah — so we made a total of  ten beautiful Sukkot.

sukkah-display-004sukkah-display-005 sukkah-display-006

Sukkot is a festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest. During the harvest, the Jewish people were commanded to dwell in a sukkah. A sukkah should have three sides with an opening for welcoming guests and a roof “open” enough to see the stars. Also in accordance with Jewish law, the sukkah should be beautiful and made with loving care.

Sukkot is a joyous holiday with a tradition of inviting others to share a meal.

Our teachers and children enjoyed several snack-time picnics in the Temple Emanuel sukkah during our beautiful fall weather.

The Kindergarten Enrichment classes took advantage of the open roof by coming equipped with pencils, paper and clipboards, lying on their backs and drawing what they observed above.


After visiting the sukkah, the children made suggestions on what materials to use for their cardboard box versions. One group added a detailed scene of children eating around the table. Yes, it was the children’s idea to use a block for the table and to include two pet lizards.



Several groups planned their own ways to make sure that the stars could be seen. It takes teamwork and negotiation to build a sukkah!

sukkah-display-010 sukkah-display-011 sukkah-display-013

We invited ECDC parents to enjoy our sukkah display.

sukkah-display-023 sukkah-display-024

The holiday of Sukkot gives us an opportunity to share meals with others, to express our thanks for food and to appreciate the beauty of nature.




ECDC Playground Project – Part I

Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Development Center is fortunate to have a spacious playground with excellent structures for climbing. The teachers recognized, however, that we also need spaces for children to explore nature and “to dig in the dirt”.



The periphery of the ECDC playground was landscaped, and therefore had been “off limits” for the children. We gradually began to lift restrictions and saw how happily the children worked and played together while digging. Many studies show that there are cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits of playing with natural materials.



We wanted to build more opportunities for children and asked Gabe Goldman for help. Gabe specializes in Jewish Environmental Experiential Education. We have the good fortune of working with Gabe through the Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (JECEI), a multi- year quality improvement program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

We began to gather ideas for the periphery of the playground, including:

  • Excavation/dirt play area
  • Hiking/tricycle trail
  • Shady area
  • Garden
  • Bird watching area
  • Sound garden
Julia Meisel, Mike Bihary and Gabe Goldman make plans at the Playground Project meeting.


On August 2, 2016, eight parents and teachers attended the first “Playground Project Meeting”. With great enthusiasm, the group decided to start with the dirt play area and set the ambitious goal of completing this step before school began. Two weeks later, Gabe met with Mike Bihary, Chair of the Playground Project and Chris Harlan, husband of ECDC Director and Honorary Carpenter. The team chose a “dirt/sand play” table as the model based on its flexibility that will allow children to be creative.


A group of twelve ECDC parents and community members gathered with Gabe on the 95-degree morning of August 28 for the first ECDC Playground Project Day. The team accomplished so much including digging the area for the “mud kitchen”, weeding, and creating a shady grove.

Jeff May uses hedge clippers to create a shady grove.


Dave Brooks, Daniel Meisel and Chris Harlan stain the mud kitchen.
Charles Donnellan and William Konitsky dig to make room for the mud kitchen.







The Real Test

During the first week of school, the Mud Kitchen proved to be a great success

As we had hoped, the area generated collaboration, socialization and imaginative play.



use-backs-of-children use-backs-only-2 use-feet-and-hands

Thank you to our wonderful team of teachers, parent and community volunteers: Mike Bihary, Chairperson; Gabe Goldman, JECEI Consultant; Pam Goldman; Chris Harlan; Jeff May; Anne May; Ellen Drook; Irene Luchinsky; Michelle Dreyfuss; Kim Mackin; Julia Meisel; Daniel Meisel; William Konitsky; Charles Donnellan; Melissa Maher; David Brooks; Alice Mahler; and Lynn Rubin. 


Would you like to join the team? Stay tuned for more opportunities as we begin Playground Project Part II – a sound garden and a hiking trail.