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.

What is Israel like?

Israelmasada 4 best

After returning from Israel I ran into Jill and Sophie Hicks at the grocery store. Jill was PTA Coordinator during my first year at ECDC and her daughter Sophie was in the Fours. Now as a young girl entering second grade, Sophie asked “What is Israel like?” I thought the question showed remarkable curiosity. Based on my twelve-day experience, I will attempt to answer Sophie’s question for those of you who share her curiosity and have not yet been to Israel.


Israel is sandy and brown with some areas of lush green. The arid terrain of Israel is in immediate and stark contrast to what we know in rainy Pennsylvania. As a bus traveler, I was fascinated by the ever-changing desert topography.


The vegetation in Israel is almost completely different from what we know. During an evening stroll in Karmiel, I saw fig, date, olive, pomegranate and Etrog trees. At first I wondered about the intense aroma, but then noticed the huge bushes of rosemary growing everywhere.

pomegranate 2IS etrog 2



I now understand that Israel really needs more trees. Over the past century, Israeli settlers have made good use of the short rainy season in winter, to store water for cultivating the sandy soil. In earlier years, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) utilized contributions to plant pine trees. Now the funds are used for indigenous varieties. I visited Neot Kedumim Park (and highly recommend it), one of the many sites supported by JNF funds.

Neot Kedumim best

Israel is a contrast of very old and very new. In Jerusalem, we walked through tunnels along the Western Wall of the Old City, which were originally built by King Herod in 19 BCE and remain from the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. I had never before walked through a 2000 year old building, yet what astounded me more was the newness of Israel. One hundred years ago there were only sand dunes where Tel Aviv , a metropolitan area of 3.5 million, stands today.

Jersusalem view 4- best Jerusalem view 5 best Jerusalem view - bestTel Aviv 4 - bestTel Aviv


The Mediterranean Sea is blue and breathtaking. Flying into Ben Gurion Airport, I had a chance to spot the coast of Tel Aviv with its white beach and blue waters. Ten days later I was thrilled to actually be in the Mediterranean Sea and to discover that the water temperature is just right (for someone who hates cold water).


The people of Israel speak Hebrew – and English. Almost all signs and labels are in Hebrew only, but it is very comfortable to be an English language speaker. The people of Israel respond to English in a friendly forthcoming way.


The preschools of Israel are public. The Israeli Ministry of Education funds education for children starting at age three. Early Childhood Educators get paid on the same scale as Primary and Secondary Teachers.


Preschool classrooms are large. There are up to 35 children in a classroom with one Teacher and Two Assistants. The children sit in chairs for their meeting times and there is almost no wiggling! There are fewer toys in the classroom. The children play with common household objects and even make lemonade from real lemons.

TA school 13- best TA school 7 favorite








The outdoor play areas are spacious and sandy. There is no shortage of digging area for Israeli preschoolers, where sand play and gardening are integral parts of every playground. Other than a sliding board, I saw almost no climbing equipment. Surprisingly, the junkyard playground is a well-established and kibbutz-born tradition in Israel. Families donate everything from old microwaves, cushions and car seats. Children create their own small worlds with the “junk” with seemingly no restrictions from teachers.

TA school 28 - sand- best TA school 32 sand


Shabbat candle-lighting is conducted in the hotel lobby. How wonderful to be in Jerusalem on a Friday evening where candles are available for communal lighting at sundown and where hotel patrons share Shabbat wine, bread and song at long tables.


Israel is hot in the summer. While swimming in the Mediterranean Sea is refreshing, floating in the Dead Sea is most definitely not. However, it was a memorable experience and one that I would not forego next time.

IS Dead Sea 1


Attending a Bar Mitzvah on Masada provides an instant connection to the ancient history and future of the Jewish people. Our CWB group was fortunate to receive an invitation to a Bar Mitzvah complete with Klezmer musicians. And only in Israel could our videographer stand in as the tenth member of a minyan.

IS bar mitzvah - best


The population of Israel is diverse. I met people whose grandparents or parents were from Poland, Germany, Syria and Yemen. One of our guides shared her story of getting married after the Six-Day War and having her first child during the Yom Kippur War. How moving to learn history through such a personal lens.


What is Israel like? Fabulous, awesome, fascinating, inspiring, complex, contradictory and fun!


It was a blast to travel with my friends and coworkers of Temple Emanuel ECDC and other Pittsburgh Jewish early childhood programs. Thank you to Classrooms without Borders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Zolot Israel Adult Scholarship Fund of Temple Emanuel for making this trip possible.

IS CWBG group at Knesset menorah our group at the western wall


Mediterranean Sea - Judy, Michelle, Julie, Iris

Lego Alphabet

Or “How to Make a Lego Watermelon”

Children love to play with Legos. How can we use this interest for learning? Mrs. Drook found a way when she took a Lego Alphabet book from the shelf and placed it in her classroom “construction zone”.  Sometimes location makes all of the difference.

abc lego book

The children wanted to make their own Lego alphabet. They were not satisfied with the ordinary ideas in the book. “W” is not only for wagon. “W” is for watermelon, and of course we can make a watermelon from Legos. They worked together and soon had a Lego construction for almost every letter. They placed them in order and discovered that they had forgotten “Y”. No problem, “Y” is for yolk and we can make a yolk out of Legos.

lego alphabet

When the children completed the Lego Alphabet, they wanted to do it all over again. Mrs. Drook and Mrs. Zidik supported the idea – a perfect example of collaborative curriculum.

This time the children generated the ideas among one another. Some printed the words themselves, some asked for help.

gorilla monster race car

Just think of the learning that has taken place — printing, sounding out words, and team work!

Now the class is showing interest in other alphabet books. They have discovered that they can read them by themselves and to one another

arya reading Emily reading

It all started when Mrs. Drook placed the ABC Lego book in the construction zone – followed by a great deal of creativity and collaboration.

What is Passover?

seder platesPassover celebrates the freedom to ask questions.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

  • What are the four questions?
  • Why do we set the table in a special way?
  • What is a seder?
  • Why do we eat matzo?

Asking questions is central to Passover and to the learning process.

What is matzo? Mrs. May made matzo with her classes. It tasted good with salt and butter.

seder mrs may makes matzo seder matzo


Mrs. Drook’s and Mrs. Silverman’s classes held seders together.

seder mrs drook asks questions seder mrs silverman asks questions

AM Seder  – “It’s like we have a big family.”

Teacher: Why do we eat matzo?

Christopher: Because it is not fluffy

Ozzy: Because we can’t eat things that rise.

Teacher: Why do we eat bitter herbs?

Louise: Because of sadness

Darcy: It remembers the tears

Brady: Salt water is for the tears of the Jews

Asher: For the hard boiled eggs!

Teacher: Why do we have a special meal?

David: Because it is a holiday

Asher: They didn’t have time to bake the bread. The sun baked it.

Teacher: What are your questions about the seder?

Darcy: Why do we have to eat matzo?

Mrs. Harlan: Why are two classes eating together?

Landon: It’s like we have a big family.

seder Vandus leading seder with Ozzy leader

PM Seder – “Passover would not be a special day without being together.”

Teacher: Why do we eat matzo?

Maddie: Because they didn’t have time to bake bread

Arya: Why do we need to ask questions?

Teacher: Why do we eat bitter herbs?

Emily: To remember the bad part.

Teacher: Why do we eat a special meal.

Maddie: I’m so thirsty!

Hope: We are remembering the people who are part of the story.

Teacher: Why do we celebrate Passover?

Hadley: Freedom from mean Hamen! (actually Pharaoh)

Mrs. Harlan: Why are two classes eating together?

Hadley: So we can celebrate together.

Kaaveri: Passover would not be a special day without being together.

seder landon xseder Darcy thinking