Monday, October 31, 2016

Mad Science Monday: Noah's Ark Science Fun

It's Mad Science Monday! We've had so many holidays fall out on a Monday over the last month that it's actually been quite a while since we've done any science activities around here. Parsahs Noach is the perfect Torah portion for science experiments! The story of Noah's Ark introduces a variety of sciencetifc themes--weather/the water cycle, rain, clouds, rainbows/color-mixing, and buoyancy just to name a handful. We will definitely be doing some color mixing and exploration of rainbows around here this week. I'm also hoping to include this fun experiment with shaving cream to show how clouds make rain later in the week.  For today's science lesson, we set up one of my favorite science observations on the water cycle and did a classic and always beloved experiment I call Noah's Ark Sink or Float:

Cloud in a Bag Science Observation
On this super sunny morning, we already have cloud formation!

This activity is not one of those I classify under the "experiment" title specifically since although it may work very quickly (as it did on our sunny but cold window this morning) it is best observed over the course of several days. It is an easy one to do at home and equally easy to do with a group and send home. With very young scientists (like my own), most of the set up and prep might be done by an adult. Older junior scientists might take a more hands-on approach.

You will need:

  • a quart size ziplock bag
  • permanent markers (optional)
  • water
  • blue food color or liquid water color (optional)
  • tape
  • a window with sun exposure!
To set up your Cloud in a Bag: If you'd like to draw clouds, the sun and a body of water on your bag prior to adding your water source, you can use permanent markers to begin. Fill the bottom of the bag (about 1/4 of the way full so it won't be too heavy to hang) with water. Even little hands can help with this step! You can add blue food dye or liquid water color to make it easy to see. Tightly seal the bag. You may even want to tape over the top. Affix to a sunny window with tape and observe over the course of a few days, making sure to check it at different times of day or on days with different temperature and weather conditions.

What's Happening Here? At the beginning of the observation, all of the water is all at the bottom of the bag. Throughout the day, the heat of the sun warms up the water and creates condensation--just like a cloud! When the cloud gets too full to hold any more water, precipitation occurs, like rain, and the droplets of water return to the source of water at the bottom of the bag (as it does to our lakes, rivers, seas and oceans). This is the water cycle in action! 

Noah's Ark Sink or Float?

This experiment can be done with a variety of materials and through the lens of many themes. You can test objects from nature, around the house, toys, and compare/contrast how different materials sink or float in water. Younger junior scientists will love playing in the water, putting things in and taking them out. Older junior scientists will begin to understand that certain types of materials (like metal) are more dense and sink in water while other types (like wood) are more buoyant and float in water. You can talk about how this relates to the types of materials that would be useful in building the teivah (ark). Children may enjoy selecting their own test subjects as well. Older junior scientists may also benefit from a prediction stage of the experiment in which they guess (and chart) what they think will happen with each test material. For an added level of challenge, choose some objects like cups or containers that can hold water inside and observe the difference between when they are empty (and float) versus when they fill with water (and sink). This can demonstrate the importance of structural integrity in boats! Older children can also be challenged to create their own teivah to test using materials of their choice or materials you set out. I've seen some amazing preschool-aged engineers create fabulous watercraft out of wooden craft sticks, cardboard, foam trays, and Legos. 

Here are our test subjects ready to go! We are about to find out what Noach might need in order to build his teivah. What should he use to build this boat? What should he make sure to bring inside with him so it doesn't sink to the bottom of the flood when the rains begin?

I prepared our chart ahead of time and introduced the test subjects to my junior scientists!

He had a lot of fun putting things in and out of the water. (I used blue food coloring to make it easier to see, but you certainly do not need this to perform the experiment.) In addition to allowing for a lot of play and exploration of materials, I also introduced each item one at a time to really observe how it responds in water. We talked about the words "sink" and "float" and what they mean and look like. Something "sinks" when it goes to the bottom of the water. Something "floats" when it stays on top. Science activities are a great way to introduce vocabulary to young children!

We charted our results with some fun rainbow stickers. This allowed my toddler who has yet to master the fine motor control necessary for a tally or check mark to actively participate in recording the results. Older children can write the results and even chart independently in a journal rather than on a poster if you prefer.

The experiment is complete when your junior scientist is soaking wet and eats one of the test subjects!

This is one of those science experiments you can repeat again and again and still enjoy. As children advance in their understanding of the concepts, you can continue to build upon the activity in the ways suggested above. If indoor waterplay is not your cup of tea, you can definitely do this one right in the bathtub (or in warmer weather, outdoors). Happy playing!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

An Updated Peek In Our Playroom

Home decorating and interior design are admittedly not strengths of mine. I've never really had an eye for these types of aesthetics and to this day, I think a centerpiece is something casually placed off-center on the table to cover up a stain on the tablecloth. I've often been told (maybe in a complimentary manner?) that my home resembles a preschool classroom and I guess after spending the better part of the last decade inside of one, that does feel like home to me! 
Even in setting up my classrooms over the year, aesthetics were often not my personal strength. I can look inside classrooms and appreciate what others do and even mimic it in my own, but my main purpose in set-up has always been function and ease of access. Are materials accessible to children to successfully use independently? Can they reach items they need and see things at their level that are visually stimulating and helpful to the learning process? Can I (the slightly taller adult) easily access materials I need very quickly (like towels and writing/art supplies)? Does the room flow in a way that makes sense to spend our day and move through activities? Does the space represent who lives there? In other words, if it is a room devoted to children, is their life, world and work represented or does it look like an office cubicle or dental exam room?
There are a few core tools that are the foundation of what I have learned over the years in terms of functional set up of a play and learning area both in the classroom. 
  • Less is more. When EVERYTHING is out and available, NOTHING gets used. When I have too many toys on the shelf or in an area, my son starts to play with things that are not toys. The same goes for the students I have taught. On the one hand, we think that everything is visible and accessible and this gives ample opportunity to select and use things independently and functionally. What usually ends up happening is focus on one or two things or dumping out of a lot of things. When just a few items are selectively and carefully placed at child level, it draws in the focus and attention that lead to successful independent play and exploration.

  • Toy/material Rotation is an Amazing Reset Button! Even favorite books and toys get stale after a while. You can usually tell when this happens because they lie abandoned in a corner or children will start to use a material in a less functional way (like dumping our ALL of the Legos). When you see boredom strike in a room FULL of things to do, it's time to change it up. I tend not to do massive playroom overhauls because I find it personally disorienting when a room totally changes on me and I feel that children do as well. Some children are more sensitive to changes (small or large) than others. That said, I think small, incremental changes are a useful tool for mitigating rigidity. I personally have some rigidity quirks about change that could use tweaking in this way and I see also how my son now gets very used to something being kept one way in one place and needs support to adapt. Simple and incremental toy and book rotations in our main play and living area have really supported this area of growth for him (and, um, for me). Sometimes that means taking one item out of the scene and swapping it for another. Other times it can mean setting up the same material in a new way or in a new space. (*Some examples will follow in the photos below.)

  • Clean As You Go. This was a little adage my mother taught me as a girl when she was giving me lessons in the kitchen on baking and it's one I struggle to continue learning myself and teaching to my students and my son. My own little guy is remarkable self-motivated to clean up. He may have inherited certain qualities from his hater-of-messes-and-clutter mom. Nonetheless, I do try to initiate cleaning up one item if he is done using it before moving on to a new activity. I am not rigid in this are if something is a work and progress and will be returned to at a later time. One thing that can be very challenging for children in home environments as well as classroom ones is parting with a project they have worked very hard on before they are done. This is particularly applicable to block buildings and Lego structures. Sometimes it is possible to allow a structure to stand, out of the way, and be returned to later for play. Other times when it is not, I utilize cameras and journaling as a way to record what has been accomplished and that is often just the tactic needed to encourage timely transition from the activity and involvement in cleaning up. In the home environment it is inevitable that the house will look lived in and it should! I minimize my own clean-ups to once or twice a day, either at nap and bedtime or just at bedtime.

  • Who lives here anyway?! My classrooms and my home proudly represent their inhabitants. In my classroom that meant that while it was a room for the children, my world was also represented. Children's toys and books lined the shelves within their reach. Artwork and photos were displayed within their view. Photos of my family and objects that brought me joy (as well as materials I needed access to) lined shelves within my reach. Our living room at home is much the same. We live in a relatively small space. We have tall bookshelves overflowing with our seforim (Jewish texts), cookbooks, literature, and resources pertinent to both my husband's and my own career and personal interests. Shelves on the bottom now mostly contain toys and materials relevant to our toddler's interests. We have framed artwork, paintings and photos of famous rebbes and meaningful depictions of Jewish life and prayer. We also have paper airplanes, mitzvah notes and arts and crafts projects hanging alongside. We have hooks where we hang our hats, coats, bags and accessories. Lower down on the wall, we have hooks where my son hangs his coats and bags that he can independently access. It's not perfect, it's always evolving and my husband definitely does not have a man cave here. In fact, I don't think any "adult space" actually exists in our home right now, but we like it that way. Every room in our home is part and parcel to creating and recreating our family structure in every moment of every day.

  • Use what you have! There are so many amazing ideas out there on Pinterest, blogs, books, Facebook groups and I'm always gleaning great ideas from fellow parents and educators. I'd have a shopping list 10 feet long each week if I bought every new material required for these activities (and a debt list just as long to accompany it). I tweak projects and activities and use what we have in alternate ways. I also shop with this intent in mind. If I am purchasing a toy or supply, I want it to have either many functions of use down the line or a decent shelf life to be able to use it more than once.

  • Revisit and reassess: if/when it stops working, try something different. In spite of best intentions, clutter does build up. When things stop being functional or easily accessible, I make changes. I have an inherited quality of holding on to things I think might be useful for using or teaching with later on down the line. I can part with old clothes and other material things but just try to pry that empty toilet paper tube or brown paper bag out of my hand, I dare you! Sometimes it gets to be too much though. I have a rule when that happens that if I don't have a purpose for it in mind, it goes out the door. I aim to purchase and/or save only items that will have many lives and uses in their time. Nonetheless, you can't take it all with you and sometimes you need to do a massive purge to donate, throw away or otherwise part with things that don't have a purpose anymore. The same goes for all of those artwork creations. We make a point to display things as my son creates them. Certain things I do save in my files for future use (we right now have Thanksgiving decorations up that we made together last year) or reference. Other things I capture in photograph for the memory and part with after they have been given adequate air and wall time. 
And with that in mind, here's a little updated peek into our playroom: 

I call this our Nature Observation Station. I keep it stocked throughout the year with finds from nature walks or other relevant seasonal items. I provide and swap out tools to go along with it such as magnifying glasses, containers, tweezers, etc. The bin on the right is a small sensory bin of dried corn kernels with two dishes and a spoon for transferring (one of my son's favorite activities)!

One way I display artwork and seasonal decorations. I've used and created several different garlands (this is actually a couple of Autumn leaf garlands from our Dollar Tree that I bought for our play sukkah). Clothes pins or paperclips can be used to hang and display artwork without damaging artwork or the wall with tacks/tape. We also display certain items directly on walls as well as with magnets on our refrigerator and front door. This is visually at adult level and our living room has limited wall space in child view. We do display artwork at child level in my son's bedroom.
This shelf is usually devoted to building toys and manipulatives. This week it has a theme related focus: building a teivah (ark) for the story of Noach (Noah).

When we explore new themes in our homeschooling, I incorporate theme related toys or combinations of toys. Here is a little Noah's Ark activity I set up for learning about that parsha this coming week.

I swap out seasonal and theme related books as we learn about different topics. If my son has certain favorites, I aim to leave at least a couple on the shelf even if we complete a theme. I often set out a small basket as well of theme related materials or toys that can accompany a book or be used for story telling.

In a small space, all space is used! We have a deep freezer in our living room because many of the kosher foods we buy are not locally accessible and we need to order and purchase in bulk. It would probably be an eyesore to many, but we love its magnetic surface and child height level for play and learning. It's a great place to display and use letter magnets, shape magnets, or, in this case, seasonal magnets. I've heard you can use refrigerator surfaces as well for dry erase markers but I'm still a little afraid to encourage drawing on some walls/surfaces without simultaneously encouraging it on other ones!

This is our revamped dramatic play area. We recently parted with a falling apart wooden kitchen set we inherited on its initial course to the dumpster from a neighbor. We squeezed another good year plus of life out of it before hauling it the rest of the way. My son LOVES playing "kitchen" but for some reason, hardly ever used the majority of his own kitchen toys that were stored in the old kitchen's large cabinets. This one, purchased secondhand at a thrift store, has much smaller cabinets so I emptied a set of plastic drawers holding a bunch of junk I needed to throw away from my own closet and used it for his play food, dishes and household items. Like magic, he's suddenly playing with and accessing all of this toys and he spends hours here over the course of each day!

We love these block style shelving units here. They hold a minimal amount of toys/materials and that limited space helps me to maintain my "less is more" philosophy. The top row is used for art and sensory materials my son can independently access (I drape a large scarf over the top shelf during Shabbos or times I don't want him to access these materials). We use the bottom rows for other toys and materials and these are items I swap out or move every couple of weeks or so as he gets bored or stops playing with them.

As we learn about Parshas Noach, the story of Noah and the Ark, I am also teaching about colors and the rainbow. These toys and materials are all things we had already at home--some were even out on shelves in our playroom or in my son's room. Moving them to this area and displaying them in a new way has infused them with new life. Suddenly he's going back and forth all day to that shelf and taking out the puzzles or materials to use with me or independently. Toy rotations are useful to a point but sometimes display method is everything!

Thanks for visiting and happy playing!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Funday Friday: Bereishit (Creation) Theme Weekly Round-up

Over the last several weeks, especially with the onslaught of holidays here, I've found our Fridays are best spent in a more low-key manner. Rather than following a typical homeschooling routine of activities, I usually set out some Shabbat themed favorites on the table before my son wakes up. We listen to music, we finish up any projects left over from the week before and we get in the mood and prepare for Shabbos. I also designate these days as Field Trip Fridays. We get out plenty during the week, whether to playdates, story times, parks or errands. I save longer trips like museum visits for Friday mornings. It adds a special flavor to the day as we get ready to welcome Shabbos into our home and also ensures that my son has plenty of running and playing time before busy household preparations set in. (Then I don't feel quite as guilty if we pop on a favorite video for him so we can cook and clean!)

We are wrapping up our weekly theme of learning about Parshas Bereishis, the story of Creation. I really do love this theme as it promotes so many methods of exploring, learning and playing. Jewish philosophy teaches us that the purpose of world--of all of the elements and creatures that G-d created and continues to create in each moment--is for us. Our purpose here is to infuse G-dliness into the world through mitzvot, through connecting with our Creator and performing positive deeds. This is a lofty idea we can bring down to even young children through involving them in acts of kindness each day. This was an element I also tried to include in our learning this week. Here's a round-up of some of our favorite activities from this week's theme.

Happy Friday & Shabbat Shalom!

 There are a lot of great arts & crafts projects to help teach and represent the days of Creation. We loved working on these over the last 2 weeks and seeing them displayed in our dining room.
Now all that's left is Yom Shabbat!

We took learning about the creation of birds and fish to the next level. We made a trip to our local pet store to look at fish and birds and to purchase some bird seed to make a treat for the birds outside as the weather gets cooler.

We didn't want our pet fish to feel left out of the activity either, so my son helped feed them as well!

We used a few pine cones we had collected for our nature observation station, some peanut butter and a plastic spoon and "shmeared" the peanut butter over the pine cones. 

Next we rolled them in the birdseed...

And hung them on a bush out front! If we're lucky (and quiet enough), we may get to observe some feathered friends enjoying the fruits of our labor! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Think Outside the Box Thursday: Mitzvah Notes and Marble Jars

We've been doing some toy rotation and reorganizing here. Most people Spring Clean in the spring; I prefer the Autumn! I've often expressed the value I see in doing regular toy rotations and swap outs at home and in classrooms. Changing even how an item is stored can add new life to a typical activity or plaything. For instance, we had inherited a toy kitchen set from a neighbor a while ago that was falling apart. We figured it had a little life left in it and it managed to last for another year or so here. My son loved playing in his kitchen area and it had great storage for his kitchen and dramatic play toys, but aside from literally collapsing into itself, even though he could reach and open all of the cabinets, he often played with only the toys on top and got frustrated that he couldn't find things when they were put away in bins on the shelves. When we found a smaller and more durable plastic kitchen set on sale at a thrift store, we decided to make a switch. The new set is just as perfect for playing in but lacked the same storage. I emptied an old set of plastic drawers I had in our closet and used that for his toys and he spent hours over the course of the day yesterday opening the drawers and playing with his kitchen set!
Meanwhile, my husband lugged the remains of the old wooden one out to the dump but noticed a few old mitzvah notes hanging on the back of it that we had written for our son last fall. This morning, I found them hanging on our living room wall and initially thought it was silly he saved then from over a year ago. Then, I smiled when I realized just how much value there is in these little pieces of paper even a year later. One year ago, my son spoke only a few words and couldn't even walk yet! Nonetheless, at least once a week my husband and I made a point to write down something he did to make us proud and hung it on display for all to see. Mitzvah literally translates to commandment and refers specifically to any of the 613 commandments mentioned in the Torah. More loosely translated in the Jewish world, we think of mitzvot as good deeds and acts of kindness. Mitzvah notes have been around for generations of Jewish schools and homes. A couple of lovely articles recently cropped up about the benefits of recording even the smallest childhood and parenting victories on these little pieces of paper. You can check them out here and here. As a teacher, I loved the ability to know a little more about what my students were working on at home so that I could best support it at school; it was a valuable communication tool. As a parent, even before my son could understand the most basic idea of this concept, seeing those little notes helped me remember on even the longest and hardest days of parenting how proud I am of my growing little boy. Those early mitzvah notes (and even the ones we record today) are more for us than for him!
I do, however, believe that children--even young ones--benefit as well from this type of positive reinforcement. There is a lot of discussion in parenting, teaching, and therapeutic forums these days on the power and use of praise. When and how is it appropriate to praise children. Do we over-praise? Do we under-acknowledge? The mitzvah note, I feel, captures the most important aspect of building healthy self-esteem regardless of where you stand on the praise issue: it shows that we noticed. Noticing the act goes beyond judging it or holding it to a standard. Noticing says that regardless of how we measure an act or what our standard is, you are seen, you are known and you are understood. And so we keep a tray accessible of paper or sticky notes or whatever we are using and we try to remember as often as we can to record those moments we noticed. We make a point to read them at dinner table and to hang them on the wall. We record instances of fulfilling Torah mitzvot and of helpful and positive behaviors.
In addition to the Mitzvah Note, earlier this summer we instituted the Mitzvah Marble Jar. As my son entered toddlerhood just before his second birthday, I felt the weight of parental expectations and frustrations impacting my relationship with growing boy and subsequently his behavior. So much of our day was spent correcting, saying 'no,' redirecting, distracting and calming tantrums. I sensed his growing frustration just as much as my own. I tried calm down bottles and breathing exercises and children's books about strong emotions (and I think I needed some of this more than he did!), and although these tools were (and are) helpful, we all needed to reframe our mindset. So much of what we noticed was focused on correcting unwanted behaviors and so little focused on the many positive actions my son was still doing all day. I used an old glass jar and bought a couple of bags of pom poms for the "marbles" and we made our Mitzvah Jar. Both my husband and I use it with our son (who now will even occasionally point out to us when he has done something marble worthy) and we make a point to bring him over to put in his marble and celebrate the moment. We make a big deal of it; we sing songs about it and dance and get excited. When it's full, we've had little Marble Parties in which we dance around the filled jar, empty it back out and celebrate with a small reward.
The keys to success of both the mitzvah note and marble jar concepts are that they visually track the accumulation of positive actions thereby inspiring and yielding more of the same. There is a popular Yiddish saying that in English translates to think good and it will be good. When we feel good about ourselves, we do good. Especially in regard to tools like a marble jar, we are mindful only to add marbles and never to take away. An unwanted behavior never results in removing a marble from the jar--you cannot undo a good deed that already happened by making a less helpful choice later on! With regard to the reward upon filling, we have done a few things. We have purchased a small toy or trinket for our son or taken him (with guidelines) to pick something out himself. The reward system can include picking something from a treasure chest or stash at home, earning a toy a child has their eye on or even a special family outing or meal together.
We definitely still have and always will have our parenting challenges. We are two strong-willed adults with an equally strong-willed growing boy on our hands and I don't think I'd want it any other way. He is a little guy with BIG ideas! Expressing and honing in our own ability to notice the positive helps our son to do the same. May we all merit to see a lot of good!
Keeping a tray of blank mitzvah notes ready to go helps remind us to keep track of those little treasures throughout the day!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Themed Play and Learning: Days of Creation

The Jewish holiday season is officially over as of last night! I love the learning and celebrations that go along with all of the holidays in the month of Tishrei, but I am eager and excited to return to some semblance of routine and organization here. In our house, there is some actual reorganizing happening--some closet de-cluttering, donating of items no longer needed, toy rotation and Spring Autumn Cleaning. These tasks are not always easily accomplished during daylight hours with a busy toddler on the loose, so setting up some well thought out play activities is a must. The end of the High Holidays marks the beginning of a new cycle of reading through the Torah. We begin from the Beginning, Parsha Bereishit, the story of Creation. This is a Torah portion that could be explored over the course of several days or weeks even through art, sensory play, science, math and sorting activities and more. And yet, because of its occurrence right smack dab at the end of the holidays, the week on which it is read often flies by unnoticed in the hustle and bustle to return to the world of full work and school weeks. Many preschools will extend an extra amount of time on teaching this theme and this year at home, I devoted a day to each day of creation between Chol Hamoed (Intermediate Days of Sukkot) and the remainder of this week. It will culminate with the most important day, Shabbat, this Friday! Here's a peek at some of the ways we are exploring the theme (or plan to explore it) through a variety of play-based activities. We are keeping things quite simple and easy going as we move out of the holiday season and back into a regular schedule. When we feel like lingering longer on an activity, we do. When I feel like we missed a lot of what I wanted to cover over the last month, I re-structure my approach. These are the true benefits and joys of homeschooling!

Day 1: Dark & Light

Our local science Museum has great exhibits for exploring light and shadows. Playing with lights and shadows is a great way to explore the first day. Here are some additional ways to play:

  • sort black and white pom poms or other small objects
  • grab some flashlights and put on a shadow puppet show
  • enjoy a black and white cookie, chocolate and vanilla pudding or other dark/light themed snack

Day 2: The Heavens/Skies
  • Make a cotton ball cloud themed sensory bin
  • Make a cloud in a bag
  • Explore rainbows through art, science and sensory play
  • Have fun in the "clouds" with some shaving cream sensory fun!
Day 3: Earth, Flowers, Plants & Trees
  • Visit a local park or botanical gardens
  • Plant some flowers or other seeds at home
  • Explore parts of fruits
  • Go on a parts of a plant scavenger hunt. This time of year is especially fruitful for this activity!
  • Set up a soil and parts of a plant sensory bin.
  • If you have some flowers on your move list, do a flower dissection:
Day 4: Moon, Stars and Sun
  • If you happen to live near one, visit a planetarium!
  • In lieu of that, create your own planetarium at home using a large can with holes poked in the lid and a flashlight or glow in the dark stars.
  • Make some "galaxy" playdough. Follow your favorite playdough recipe and dye it dark blue or purple like the night sky. Add glitter for stars and add some glow in the dark stars or star and moon shaped cookie cutters for play.
  • We're catching up on alphabet letters! Here's our letter N night craft: 
Day 5: Fish & Birds
  • My son LOVES walking through pet stores and looking at all the animals. Take a look at some fish and birds together! 
  • If you're feeling super adventurous, get your own pet fish for home and learn together about taking care of them.
  • Go bird watching outside! Make a simple bird-feeder or birdseed treat using a pinecone or toilet paper roll to lure over some feathered guests.
  • Visit a local pond or lake to look for fish or at the habitat where fish might live. If you happen to live near an aquarium, this would be a fabulous family field trip.
  • Go fishing with a homemade fishing game! You can use water-based sensory play, ice and waterbeads (pictured to the left) or make one using felt or foam fish ships, paperclips and a magnetic rod (wooden down with a short string and strong magnet attached).
Day 6: Animals & People
On the last day of Creation, G-d created the animals and Adam & Eve. The purpose of Creation was for us, people, to bring G-dliness into the physical world. Reminding and teaching children that G-d created everything for this special purpose is a beautiful part of teaching this theme.

  • Small world play and dramatic play with toy animals and people is a great way to explore this day together
  • If you can visit a zoo or pet shop to view some interesting animals, a field trip is a great way to expand on this part of the theme.
  • Read and enjoy extension activities on some of your favorite animal-themed books, like Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear.
  • Enjoy a themed snack of animal crackers. Baking a decorating a cake with animal crackers can be a fun way to celebrate the culmination of the six days of Creation just in time for the seventh day, Shabbat.
  • Do a mitzvah together. Visit someone who is sick, make a tzedakah (charity) box and put some coins in right away, bring some Shabbos treats or challah to a neighbor. This is G-d's purpose of Creation, and what better way to honor it as a family!
Day 7: Shabbat
My son loves playing with these Shabbat river rocks each Shabbat!
  • Read a favorite Shabbat story together. Two of our household favorites are Is It Shabbos Yet? by Ellen Emerman and The Shabbat Box by Lesley Simpson. 
  • Make your own Shabbat box--craft and decorate your own candlesticks, challah cover, challah board, besomim box, Kiddush are some more ideas for crafts and Shabbat activities!
  • Bake challah together or play about it with some playdough.
  • Create or revisit some favorite Shabbat rituals. We have some special toys that come out only before and on Shabbat. Each Friday morning, my son decorates his own disposable plastic kiddush cup with stickers to use at our meals that week. Sing some favorite Shabbat songs together, enjoy a festive meal or just enjoy each other's company in the true style of the seventh day!

Materials for All of the Days:

We have a set of this Israeli domino game based of Parsha Bereishis that has been passed down through a few generations of preschool teachers! It's a great hands on tool for learning about the days of Creation.
These seven sectioned serving trays are often available at Dollar Tree and can be used with small toys, objects and/or pictures for a sorting activity. Add a set of tongs for an added fine motor challenge!

We also had fun making our own hands on learning material. We use it as we sing songs about the days of Creation. Older children could use it for sorting activities.

Despite my love of sensory bottles, I've yet to make a set for Bereishit, but here's a peek at another preschool teacher's amazing creation!

Exploring the Days of Creation through Art:
There are a lot of great ideas out there for arts & crafts projects for Parsha Bereishit. Over the years of teaching I have made books, murals, posters/pictures and more. Many incorporate teaching the numerals/numbers 1-7 as well. This year we are working on a paper plate craft version to use as a visual display. Here's what we've done so far.

Happy theme based playing and creating!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sukkot and Simchat Torah Theme: Part 2

We are on the homestretch of holiday season here. Sukkot and Simchat Torah are my very favorite holidays of the year. Even so, around this time each year I am equally excited about getting back to some semblance of routine and structure once the holidays end!
Couldn't get my hands on a copy of this book, but check out the end of this post for some books we have been loving this season!

In between holiday days, which come with their own fun of going to shul, spending time as a family and visiting with friends, we've been learning about, reading about and crafting about Sukkot and the upcoming holiday that ends it all, Simchat Torah. Two of the most common toddler and preschool crafts done this time of year are play Torahs and festive flags to wave around as we celebrate the gift of the Torah and completing another yearly cycle of reading it one parsha (portion) per week. This year rather than making the classic cardboard tube play Torah or felt stuffed Torah, I snagged an idea from my favorite fellow Jewish homeschooling blogger, and prepared a felt Torah puppet for my son to decorate with glue, sequins, foam shapes and plastic jewels. He had a lot of fun with this one! We used the same concept and materials to create his flag for this year.
Our felt flag for this year (pre-toddler additions) and our flag from last year--we used tissue paper squares, sequins and card-stock shapes inside a laminating sheet. After a run through the laminating machine and some duct tape and a dowel, it made for a wonderfully durable flag!

Simchat Torah: The Original Request to Read it Again!
I love this song from 613 Torah Avenue for learning about the days of Creation and Parsha Bereishit!

My little one has peaked in his phase of "read it again!" We end up reading through certain favorites four or five times in a row before we're either tempted to cut him off or he finds his own distraction (many times another book). This time of year I am reminded that while my son may not be the inventor of "read it again," the Jewish people may have! What do we do when we finish reading the last parsha in the Torah? We roll it up to beginning and read it again, beginning with the first parsha, Bereishit, the story of Creation. This is one of my favorite Torah portions to teach and learn about. There is so much you can do to create fun and playful, hands-on exploration of this theme and many children's programs and preschools devote weeks to the topic. The parsha itself always falls on Simchat Torah and therefore often gets left in the shadows of the holiday season when you aim to teach about the parsha as they occur in the Jewish calendar. This year I am incorporating activities at home into the non-holiday days of this week and again after the holiday next week. Here's a peek at some of the activities we've done so far:

I LOVE paper plate crafts! We're doing a paper plate craft for each of the days of Creation.

I saw this idea in a few places on Pinterest and quickly headed to the Dollar
Tree for a pill box. This is a great DIY material to playfully demonstrate the 7 days and for older kids, can be used as a sorting activity and fine motor tool.

I used stickers and small pictures (plus one Lego guy). You could also use buttons, foam shapes, miniature toys or even make your own with Sculpi or Model Magic clay! 
Our Days of Creation on display so far...

Here are some of our favorite books for Sukkot and Simchat Torah. All of them are available on 

As always, happy playing and one final chag sameach!