Consider the High Holidays through the eyes of a child


By Teri Jedekin – JTown Jewish Education Coordinator at the Center for Jewish Education

As the “seasons, they turn round and round”, it is time for the world’s birthday party, complete with painted ponies on “a carousel of time,” (song by Joni Mitchell). For these fresh eyes, filled with awe and wonder, the world was just created. Everything is novel and new. Think back to your childhood experiences of these special days. What are the sights and smells, the tastes and sounds that linger in your memories? Tapping into this playful, multi-sensory approach is literally a wonderful opportunity – an opportunity to celebrate that sense of wonder that informs early childhood experiences. Here are a few suggestions to get the creative ideas flowing:

Nature Play

“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth…If a child is to keep his/her inborn sense of wonder, he/she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him/her the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” (Rachel Carson).

How can family friendly High Holidays and Sukkot festivities facilitate a reconnection with that wonder and mystery? How about celebrating “the world’s birthday” with an outdoor picnic party? Start with an apple picking orchard adventure or visit a local apiary (bee/honey farm) for a farm to table experience.

Using children’s birthday supplies, show the similarities of the symbols; a round cake (like the round challah we use on Rosh Hashanah), noise makers (like the shofar), birthday cards (like the Shanah Tovah cards we send). Allow your children’s curiosity to yield conversations about caring for and respecting all forms of creation.

A toddler’s moral development is like a tender shoot at this early stage of life. Abstract concepts of sin, repentance and forgiveness are not easy for her to grasp. Consequence, reward and punishment are emerging concrete concepts experienced through engagement with her physical world.

Using natural elements such as rocks, sticks and seeds can nurture the little “menschkins” in your family. Note that all activities require safety supervision. Softer objects such as cones, leaves and stems can serve as alternatives for any items that may be of safety concern.

Kindness Rocks – have fun decorating rocks with craft materials. Children learn to share and show acts of loving kindness by gifting and exchanging these rocks. Because their magical thinking is still so vibrant, let them imbue these rocks with the love and affection they might show their favorite teddy bears.

Weaving Wall – Use yarn to create a web/loom between trees or in a frame. Invite kids to collect natural objects and help them weave these objects into your frame. Encourage them to think of their loved ones and with the weaving of every object, wish each one a happy healthy new year.This activity is a creative way of introducing the concept of prayer and resembles how Jews have placed prayers and messages in the holy Kottel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem for centuries.

Tashlich Alternatives

Tashlich, the symbolic releasing of sins by throwing breadcrumbs into running water is a powerful Rosh Hashana ritual. However, the experience of keeping your little ones from eating stale bread pieces and jumping into rivers might detract from the sacred moment. Moreover, nothing confuses a toddler more than nuance! You have spent the whole year teaching your two year old to stop throwing food on the floor or to the dog; Your three year old is learning that “ littering is a no-no” but on Rosh Hashanah it is ok to throw bread in the river?

Here are some activities that might have a similar intention with easier application:

Teshuva Seeds – scatter seeds in the soil with a “kavannah” (a spiritual intention). Frame the activity with a discussion about saying bye-bye to something that made you sad, mad or scared. Then as you cover the seeds with soil, invite a sharing on comforting thoughts and experiences. Lastly, water in the seeds with wishes for a happy healthy new year.

Blessing Bubbles – Facilitate a similar conversation about letting go of the sad, mad and scared. With each bubble, blow away any sad feelings. Then blow happy blessings to family members, friends, pets, etc.

Baby Pool Tashlich – You might want to introduce Tashlich in a more traditional way. Try tossing pebbles or crumbs into a baby pool. If this is an indoor activity, fill the pool with strips of blue wrapping paper, fabric, yarn etc for a boost of tactile sensory stimulation.

Embodied and Sensory Play

Children learn through engaging with the world around them. Every ramp or flight of stairs; a crack in the sidewalk, a puddle after the rain, yields the greatest potential to explore and learn. If the world is a child’s playground then celebrating the creation of the world should be deliciously delightful in terms of sensory stimulation and physical activity.

I Got The Whole World In My Hands – Play catch with a blow up globe beach ball. And play very very carefully, Don’t let it drop!! Take care of our world.

Symbols Scavenger Hunt – Facilitate a scavenger hunt that incorporates holiday ritual items and traditions. Items may include apples, honey, shofar, round sweet challah, new year cards and even can introduce some of the lesser known “simanim”– symbolic foods some families eat on Rosh Hashana. 

Creation Yoga – This family friendly activity gets everyone active and creative while learning the 7 stages of the creation story. Adapt yoga poses to suit each theme 1) light and dark 2) sky and sea 3) plants and trees 4) sun, stars and moon 5) sea creatures and birds 6) animals and humans 7) resting pose for Shabbat. 

Engage in stimulating sights, smells and textures with these activities:

Light Box Play – Buy or make your own lightbox and explore the creation story or holiday symbols. This is a great way to get creative without the messy paint or crayon nibbling. Try experimenting with fluorescents in the dark for that extra sense of awesomeness. (A note of caution: make sure to consider choking hazards when choosing materials.)

Apples and Honey Messy Fun – Playing with honey might be a little too much of a sticky nightmare but try this recipe for taste safe “honey slime”.

Try this apple pie play dough recipe for a multi-sensory treat.

Jewish Home Play

In an ideal world, we would have limitless time to engage in these creative family friendly activities. But what about those less than ideal times? There are the Yom Tov (holiday) meals to prepare and the sukkah to be built, the table to be set and the house to clean! The great news is that in those frenetic times, you continue to be a source of entertainment and fascination to your little “menschkins”. Set them up with their own mixing bowls, pots and pans. Invite them to make a Rosh Hashana feast with play food or to help you set the table by handing you napkins and toddler safe items. Invest in some toy DIY tools and encourage them to “help build the sukkah” or have them “build”, decorate and host you in their very own pop up sukkah (from Mekor Judaica or Benny’s Educational Toys.)

Whatever you do, remember that these activities are as much for you as they are for your little ones. The theme of this time is about renewal and returning to that special connection with yourself, your loved ones and your Jewish identity. Let that connection with your children help you rediscover that playful wonder, joy and novelty in your traditions.

Shana Tova Umetukah. Have a Sweet New Year.

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