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.