Monday, December 10, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Painting with Dreidels and Chanukah Candles

By the 8th Day of Chanukah, we're wondering if that latke smell is ever going to fade away. We're almost tired of chocolate gelt and donuts. We are all probably a little tired of late nights and fully scheduled days. It's been so much fun (and we're just a little wistful to be at the end), but it's time to start packing it all away for next year. Before you do, try your hand at painting in some unlikely ways with some unlikely paint brushes! And if you were overeager to restore your home to its pre-Chanukah state and already did pack it up and away, save this post in the vault for next year. These two activities are sure to please!

A teacher-turned-play-at-home-mom I know inspired this first activity when I saw her post pictures of her children and their friends painting with Chanukah candles. What a brilliant idea! I knew I wanted to try it out with the boys and they both loved it. Dabbing, dotting, doodling lines with the wick end and the bottom of the candle all made unique and colorful designs. I simply set out a collection of Chanukah candle brushes and a paint try with washable tempera paints and let them have at it and explore. This is process art at its best!

Another tried and true favorite of mine has always been dreidel spin art. In this blast from the past, a younger version of S is perfecting his pincer grasp and working toward spinning a dreidel for the first time. Now he's a pro at spinning dreidels on and off the paper, but even tiny little hands can enjoy printing with the flat sides of the dreidel dipped in colorful paints. I highly recommend washable paint in this activity and either a plastic or disposable tray or even a shoe box for working in. There may be splatters! The results are so colorful and fun. You can hang and display them as is, cut them down for use in a collage or upcycle them into greeting cards and gift wrap for the season. I like to offer at least a couple of colors that go well together, but you can go hog wild if you wish!

It's been a great holiday and I hope you enjoyed some (or all) of our 8 Great Chanukah Activities this year. We'll be back soon with some Winter themed fun and in the weeks to come an exciting transformation to our dramatic play area as well.

Until then...

Happy Last Day of Chanukah & Happy Playing!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Day 7 Oil, Water & Light, Oh My!

Oil, water and light, oh my! Oil and water may not mix, but these two activities are a perfect Chanukah pairing for kids of all ages. We had an afternoon last week of Chanukah Creation Stations (you'll get a peek at two of our other stations in tomorrow's final Chanukah activity post). These are activities that use many similar components and can definitely be carried out together in a rotation or done individually, one at a time. They are fun and accessible for kids of all ages. They might be a little messy, so feel free to take necessary precautions with covering your work space and clothing. But by the 7th day of Chanukah, your house is probably already drenched in oil, glitter and maybe also the scent of latkes (maybe forever)!

We've done sensory play with oil and water before both contained in a sensory bottle and even in our sensory table. But this year I had the idea to include the element of light, another important component of Chanukah by using our light panel. A shallow clear bin makes the perfect container to set on top of a light table for messy sensory play. I set out a condiment bottle of vegetable oil, a couple of jugs of water with red and blue food coloring and some glitter, and a selection of pipettes, test tubes and funnels for pouring, squirting, slurping, transferring, pouring and exploring. S spent so much time with this activity and was absolutely enthralled. He kept gleefully stating the he was doing science and art!

At the very end, it was great fun to pour all of the oil and water in the basin together and explore the way they move in resistance, swirl, bubble, sparkle and shine! 

Meanwhile, Y was busy exploring watercolor paints and oil painted on watercolor paper. The way the oil resists the watercolors is truly beautiful no matter how old the artist is! He loved painting. S also enjoyed the brush and then had the idea to use pipettes as well. We used an ice cube tray for the watercolor paints (liquid watercolor diluted with water) and vegetable oil. I loved using a heavy duty, high quality watercolor paper for this as it stood up well to wet, oily painting. Even S, who got a little overzealous with the pipettes at first, didn't have any leaking through (and had a lot of fun using the pipettes to suck back up the big puddles). We hung the finished paintings on display but they can be used in collage or to create beautiful holiday greeting or thank you cards.

Well, the menorah is filling up and the days of Chanukah are dwindling to an end. Join us tomorrow for one last great Chanukah activity. Until then...

Happy Chanukah and Happy Playing!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Day 6 Chanukah Sand Table and Writing Trays

 In the dead cold of winter, you might not be thinking much about the summer days of sandy beaches. Or maybe you are! All the more reason to invite the warmth of the beach into your home, or at least your sensory play experiences for some Chanukah themed fun. Today's post is a two-fer. You get one great sensory bin and one great table time activity for early and pre-writers! Who could ask for anything more? Ok, maybe a beachfront vacation in a tropical climate, since you asked...

Sand feels so good running through your fingers. Pouring, scooping, drawing lines, burying and digging, smoothing and raking... Yes, it's messy. Yes, you will be exfoliating your bare feet or hearing the grit underneath your slippers for days to come (add in some glitter, and you'll be finding it for life). What better way to preserve the beautiful memories of childhood play? (No sarcasm there, I promise...)

In our first activity, Chanukah I-Spy 8 Sand Table, I combined sand, glitter and a collection of assorted Chanukah themed loose parts along with some early math skills for my little guys to explore and play. I created my own poster of clues to hang above the sensory table depicting pictures of each of the objects that were hidden in the sensory bin. My super sleuths would need to dig in and discover

  • 8 Chanukah candles
  •  8 dreidels 
  • 8 sufganiyot (donuts--I used erasers from Oriental Trading Company, but you can use pony beads, pipe cleaners rolled into a ring shape, craft foam, clay or printed/laminated pictures of donuts), 
  • 8 latkes (I used small wooden circles, you can substitute in craft foam, cardboard, laminated pictures, etc.)
  • 8 oil jugs (I found these little golden goblets in the party favor section of Dollar Tree)
  • 8 gelt coins (I used  plastic coins, you can use real ones if you prefer)

I thought initially to also add brushes, magnifying glasses and perhaps some collanders and dishes for sifting and scooping. And then, after burying all the treasure, I decided to wait. Often, introducing less at the beginning of a sensory play experience leads to more. Sure enough, the boys explored first with their hands and then came up with their own add ins from around the house. They are pretty good about asking first before taking something to use in the sensory table and I try to say yes as often as I can. After counting and sorting, S moved on to making a menorah in the sand by arranging and filling the oil jugs with sand an candles. Both boys later got into scooping sand and loose parts with a couple of plastic ice cream scoops into a plastic pitcher and making "Chanukah smoothies." Lots of counting happened as they added ingredients. Donut, dreidel and latke smoothie anyone? Sometimes our sensory tables get a little stale after a few days, but this one has kept everyone busy and engaged all week long!

Sand trays are a popular tool used in classrooms for early and pre-writers. Sand is a fabulous medium for practicing strokes, shapes and letters. Just as easily and quickly as they appear in the sand, the tray can be gently shook or smoothed over and used again. In this simple set up, children are invited to explore and practice the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, nun, gimmel, hey and shin (pey if you are in Israel). A Chanukah candle is provided as the "pen," a set of laminated letters for a visual and a dreidel to spin. Whichever letter it lands on was the letter to be practiced. Want to throw in a mathematical component, too? Provide a chart to document how many times the dreidel lands on each letter. S had a great time spinning, writing and erasing. Then he wanted to practice the letter shin on paper with a pen! Y had a great time using the candle to draw lines and swirls in the sand...and then dumping a bit of sand on the table!

We'll be back tomorrow with your next dose of Chanukah fun! Until then...

Happy Chanukah & Happy Playing!

Friday, December 7, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Day 5 Chanukah Playdough Invitation

 Playdough: fun for Chanukah and all year round! In fact, playdough is a favorite activity in this house by both of its shortest members. And if there's one thing that S loves pretending about with playdough more than anything else, it's making and lighting menorahs! He does this all throughout the year, frequently asking for candles or straws if we happen to be out of available candles. I know the familiar Chanukah song is all about making a dreidel out of clay, but making menorahs out of clay has definitely won over in this house! (Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, I know...)

When it comes to creating a Chanukah playdough invitation you can go simple or you can go grand. You can make your own playdough or you can use store bought. We had an unopened 4 pack of playdough from the dollar store that I think S bought with his Chanukah gelt last year! And with so many parties and celebrations happening and a kitchen busily devoted now to latke frying and baking, I didn't have the time or energy to make a batch of homemade. The boys are just as happy with either option and the bonus of the store bought stuff is access to multiple colors at once. (Anyone else cringing at the inevitable shade of preschool playdough brown?)

For this Chanukah Playdough Invitation I included cookie cutters in Chanukah shapes (I found these at a Home Goods last year for $2), rolling pins, plastic knives and toy spatulas. I also included a selection of Chanukah candles, plastic dreidels and plastic coins for gelt. The plastic dreidels and coins both make amazing prints in the dough. If you have Chanukah themed or aleph bet letter rubber stamps, these work in the same way. If you don't have candles or don't want to use them with playdough, S loves straws or pipe cleaners or craft sticks just as much. And the best thing about this activity that it's inclusive and enjoyable to multiple age groups. S and Y both had a blast and even a friend from S's preschool class had fun playing with us that afternoon.

An early glimpse into S's love of playdough menorahs....

a simple dish of plastic dreidels and playdough are more than enough to make for a lot of fun and exploration as dreidel shaped prints appear in the dough leaving behind the image of the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hay or shin
It's simple. It's sweet. It's a little messy and a lot of fun--just as Chanukah should be. We'll be back tomorrow evening, after Shabbat for our next great activity and until then...

Happy Chanukah and Happy Playing!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Day 4 Chanukah Loose Parts Tinker Lab

Every year, Chanukah brings forth an abundance of projects and artwork. We proudly display new creations each year and even some old favorites. If you teach preschool, it's a holiday heavy in teacher handiwork. And did I mention the Mod Podge? I think that aroma is second only to the smell of stale latke oil in eliciting memories of Chanukahs' past... S loves making projects in school and feels proud when he brings them home, but I also know that this style of artwork is not necessarily his favorite. As an early childhood educator and a mom, it's not necessarily my favorite either (though I do share in S's pride over his learning and schoolwork). I tend to hang up and display those one color doodles just as proudly as the craft kit posters and greeting cards because they come with a story personal and unique to S, a creation completely his own.

Earlier last week, I set out my Chanukah Counting Soup game for the boys to play. Y is still rather young to follow recipe cards, but loves practicing with the giant tweezers and working on transferring ingredients from the tray into the pot and mixing his "soup" with the ladel. S lasted with the game for a few minutes and even created some of his own recipes, but on this day he really wanted to use the little ingredients throughout the house in play. He wanted to make a donut smoothie in his kitchen set. He wanted to roll dreidels down his car ramp. He wanted to hide a selection of ingredients inside the popcorn machine in our Skating Rink Concession Stand and scoop them into popcorn bags for a special surprise treat. To be quite honest, I felt a little less enthusiastic about this spin on my activity because I now had the task of locating all those little pieces and returning them to the game set! And I also saw a need the boys had to work and play with little objects in their little hands. Loose Parts Play is such a vital ingredient in our home play repertoire and I had neglected it for some time around here.

As if she somehow has ESP, a friend of mine who is a fellow early childhood educator and talented artist sent me a message that night with gorgeous photos and video footage of a pop up Chanukah Loose Parts Atelier she set up in her preschool. It was set up with a variety of loose parts, recycled materials and craft supplies for the children to use as at their whim inspired by images and ideas of Chanukah. I was drooling. I was plotting and planning. I was ready to set up our own, smaller scale Chanukah Loose Parts Tinker Lab:

You can use whatever you have on hand to set up your loose parts tinker tray. We included Chanukah candles, assorted wooden dreidels, blue and white craft sticks, blue and gold beaded necklaces (party favors), glass gems, assorted glass mosaic tiles and a colorful selection of buttons, beads and baubles.

When I set up invitations or provocations with loose parts, I really want the ideas to be the childrens'. I also know that sometimes the sheer abundance of options combined with lack of exposure in day to day life can cause a "blank canvas syndrome" for many young children. To combat this, I encourage adults to also take an opportunity to tinker and create--even alongside the children. Alternatively, you can tinker and create on your own and include photographs or models of art created with the loose parts. You will need to gauge and balance the need to allow for complete child creativity and freedom with the equally important need to feel a sense of structure and guidance. 

For my own two little guys, I decided to set out some photos in the work area. I also offered that I would take photos of any creations they particularly loved and hang those on display as well. This is a great way to help children at play with loose parts to feel more comfortable with the temporary nature of their use in art. A work of art that is dismantled and returned to the tray after the day is done is still quite a novel aspect to many children! By using or offering the use of photography to children, their work can be preserved while still maintaining adherence to the true nature of loose parts play. You will notice that I did not include any paper, glue or tape to this setup. Had either of the boys had an interest in working with the materials in that way, I would have gone with the flow and allowed for it, but they were both quite content with creating and recreating images of Chanukah on their mirror trays. I particularly love the use of mirror trays (from Dollar Tree) in this activity as they reflect the color and the light of the materials. You could also set out paper, wood trays, picture frames or another means of designating space. 

If and when I do include models or examples of my own work to a child's art area, I do make sure to say that this is how I used the materials, but they can be used in many ways and everyone's work will be different and unique to their own imagination and ideas. The boys had so much fun throughout the day returning to our tinker lab to create, design, arrange and rearrange the loose parts in new ways. S often likes to tell stories about what he is creating. Y got particularly attached to wearing at least one of the necklaces!
There is something about little objects in little hands that is ever so inviting. Given a larger space, I'd love to steal, I mean, share more of my friend's ideas and work with larger recycled materials and objects. We will be back with another great Chanukah activity tomorrow and until then...

Happy Chanukah and Happy Playing!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Day 3 Hand-print Menorah Shirts

I am such a sucker for hand-print art, and not a Chanukah has gone by in this house since S was born without a hand-print menorah, or two, or three, or four... But how many posters, signs, cards and laminated menorah drip mats can you really have? (I'll tell you, actually, you can have a lot...) We've hand-printed menorahs onto decorations, in our journals, onto gift-wrap and greeting cards and more. This year, I wanted to do something a little more permanent, fun and functional with the boys, so we made hand-print menorah t-shirts! These [literally] one of a kind keepsakes are so much fun to make and wear. S and Y both wore them on the first day of Chanukah and probably would have tried to create another Chanukah miracle if they could come up with a way to make those shirts last for all 8 days without needing a run through the washing machine...

Here's what you'll need to make your own One of a Kind Hand-Menorah Shirts:

  • 1 white (or other solid color) t-shirt or sweatshirt for each set of hands involved
  • fabric paint in at least two colors--one for the menorah and one for flames. We used glitter puffy fabric paints in blue and gold. S wanted to add green paint as well, so if you have an eager artist, you may want additional colors
  • baby wipes or a wet rag.paper towel are an addition I highly recommend having at the ready for each hand to be wiped down after you print
  • paper plate
  • cardboard to insert inside shirt so the paint doesn't bleed through and stick
  • place mats, recycled newspaper or disposable tablecloth to protect your work surface
  • smock to protect clothing you don't want hand print menorahs on!
With the younger crowd, I recommend doing this project one kid and one hand at a time. Y did it with me while S was in school and S got his turn that afternoon. Squeeze some fabric paint in your designated menorah color onto a paper plate and have your child dip one hand in. You'll want to make sure the hand is fully covered in paint before transferring it onto the fabric for best results. Have your child position his/her hand onto the same side (left side for left hand and right side for right) of the center of the shirt, fingers spread to create the "candles." You may want to assist in positioning and adequately pressing the hand down and then carefully lifting to reveal the exciting results. Wipe the first hand with a wipe or wet towel and then repeat on the other side so the hands meet with thumbs touching for the "shamash" in the center. Wipe the second hand and at this point, we like to wash with soap and water before beginning to add details.

For Y, I added the flames. S added his own. We just squeezed dots of gold glittery fabric paint, but alternatively children can use a finger and dip into a puddle of paint squeezed on a plate to create fingerprint flames. I painted "Happy Chanukah" onto the bottom of each shirt as well and you can do the same if you wish. 

For a creative spin on this project, you could make a hand-print menorah apron for frying latkes and donuts (that's some messy business right there!) or hand towels, tote bags to wrap a gift, a solid color necktie, or even a pillowcase or blanket. These would all make lovely gifts for loving relatives or friends. This is definitely hands-on fun for the whole family! We'll be back with another great activity tomorrow. Until then...

Happy Chanukah and Happy Playing!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

8 Great Chanukah Activities: Day 2 Melt and Pour Beeswax Candles

Happy Second Day of Chanukah! I'll keep today's post short and sweet as honey. This activity is the bee's knees--we're making our own melt and pour beeswax candles! We tried it for the first time late in the summer before Rosh Hashanah and decided then and there that we would do it again over Chanukah. This is an activity that requires some supplies and ingredients you may not already have at home. I'm introducing it early in the holiday in case you want to gift the results, but it's a great one to do on a snowy (or rainy day) or even store in the vault for another year or holiday. I love the idea of candle-making for Chanukah since it is definitely a holiday with a lot of candles involved and even after the menorahs have gone out, these lovely scented keepsakes will bring light and warmth to your home (or to someone else's).

To make your own Melt and Pour Beeswax Candles, you will need:

  • a crock pot and metal bowl that fits inside or a double boiler*
  • beeswax (I use this product from Amazon, but you can often buy pellets or bars at craft supply stores)
  • a designated jar (I like the 4oz ball jars, but you can use recycled baby food jars, a shallow tin, a glass candle holder, etc.)
  • pre-tabbed candle wicks
  • essential oil, scented oil, honey, cinnamon sticks or dried botanicals (optional)
  • hot glue gun (optional)
*A few notes before I begin with instructions on how to melt and pour your candles: I use a small crock pot (the $10 version from Walmart) and a tin bowl I bought secondhand at the thrift store that happens to fit in the crock pot since melted beeswax does not easily come off the vessel it's melted into. Because we keep a strictly kosher kitchen, we use the crock pot and bowl only for non-food projects. (You can also use this setup for melting your own crayons, making your own lotion bars, lip balms, soaps, etc.) Pre-tabbed candle wicks are available online from Amazon or from craft supply stores. The first time we did this, I didn't have them at home and actually just took apart some Shabbos candles we had by pulling the tab from the bottom and using the wicks in our melt and pour candles. I used a hot glue gun to affix the tab of the wick to center of the bottom of each jar before we poured the wax in so that it wouldn't move when we were pouring. And now you're ready to begin!


  1. Melt your beeswax in the Crock pot or double boiler. In a crock pot, this is a slow process, so you will want to allow for a couple of hours over low setting for the wax to melt before you're going to pour your candles. Four bricks of the beeswax above produced two 4oz candles, so you'll want to decide upon your jar size and how much wax to use accordingly.
  2. Pour your melted wax into the jar. An adult should do this part and use a potholder! You may want to cover your work surface if you are concerned about wax dripping. Fill your jar leaving at least an inch of wick exposed. If your wick is particularly long, you may want to trim it at the end.
  3. Add your scent before it hardens! If you are adding one scented oil to all of your candles, you could even add it directly into the pot of melted wax. When we made our Fall candles, we used a cinnamon scented oil and honey drizzled into each jar. You can also individualize your candles each with their own scent while the wax is still melted/soft. This is a part kids can help with. They will love scooping and sprinkling dried lavender buds or breaking cinnamon sticks into each jar or even shaking drops of scented oils into the jar.
  4. Allow candles to harden and enjoy your handmade gift! Once the candles are completely hardened and cooled, children can even decorate and personalize the outside of the jar or tin with permanent markers or stickers.
Adult supervision and support is a definite must with this activity and with any lit candles and use of matches. We'll be back tomorrow with our next activity. Until then...

Happy Chanukah and Happy Playing!