By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Children like learning from play and the Chicago Jewish Day School has plenty to offer with its state-of-the-art “playscape” that opened recently at its campus in Irving Park.

The playscape, which incorporates a basketball court and playground, “is full of opportunity for play,” said Judy Finkelstein-Taff, head of the 220-student campus. “What I love about this playground is that it belongs to the students and they play so actively there.”

Half a block long, the Dr. Carol Fuchs Kaufman Playground and Perlow Family Sports Court, is part of the recent move and retrofitting since the school opened at the new site in April.

Finkelstein-Taff said not only does the playscape have large motor activities for the children, “it also brings out their creativity and collaboration. There’s so many skills involved as well as the appreciation of nature.”

Chicago Jewish Day School recently opened the playground at 3730 N. California Ave. to the surrounding family-friendly community for “Playdate at the Playscape.”

With the opening of the playscape, the first phase of retrofitting the 2.6-acre property is complete. Phase Two begins with the erection of a bridge that connects two main buildings. The second building will house the middle school and some specialty areas and lunch room. Phase Two should be complete in 18 months and enable the school to accommodate up to 350 students.

The playground includes garden beds, an outdoor stage, climbing zone, saucer swings, rain garden, messy materials play area, a pergola, state-of-the-art basketball court and more. The playground encourages collaborative, imaginative play with tree limbs, loose items, and other natural materials for students to use their creativity during recess.

There are art areas where students can fingerpaint among other tactile art activities and a board where students can use mallets to create different sounds.

There is a building table for construction projects and a stage where students can perform at recess.

“We learned a lot along the way that there were new ways to look at outdoor education and outdoor play and that playing in a more natural environment benefitted students,” said Finkelstein-Taff, whose staff worked with playground consultants. “We were very lucky that we had this rather large piece of property which is unusual in the City of Chicago.”

The designer GRG Playscapes states in their mission that “unscripted outdoor play builds generations of healthy risk-taking, compassionate and amazingly well-rounded human beings.”

There are distinctly Jewish features built into the playscape.

The tree stump and boulder area can be used as an outdoor classroom or a place to daven.

There are four planting beds, donated by Joe and Michele Wein, to be used by children for growing plants as part of a science class. They may plant parsley for Passover or giant pumpkins for Sukkot.

In the Spring and Fall, water comes out of the rocks like the Banias in Israel.

A well was created in the boulder area where Biblical stories can be recreated.

An apple tree was planted with the hope it will yield apples for Rosh Hashanah.

The pergola is an overhang and entrance to the playground. It is 50 feet long and will be turned into a sukkah next year.

The playscape is designed for a range of school-aged children, said Cortney Stark Cope, Director of Admissions. “As a parent going out there, you see four-year-olds going down the slide and playing in forts and huts using their imagination. A 13-year-old is playing a different way, creating structures and inventions.”

“I love all the different places,” said her daughter, Lilly Cope, 12. “I like how there are places where you can be more active and places you can sit if you don’t feel up to playing.”

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