Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Holidays in the Gan

Our Jewish calendar provides us with abundant opportunities for meaningful learning experiences. No sooner do our little learners settle into the routine of school, then we have the excitement of the fall holidays. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur , Sukkot, and Simchat Torah can be a bit daunting when trying to create understanding and appropriate experiences for young learners. Using nature can re-energize your holiday curriculum.

At Gan Shalom, children witness bees pollinating flowers. They become aware that even small insects contribute to our world. And when they dip an apple slice in honey for Rosh Hashanah, they make a direct connection to what they observed in the garden. This year, we invited bee keepers to visit, and the children tasted honey made by local bees. The bee keepers brought pollen and honeycomb for the children to investigate.

We watch the pomegranates ripen and discuss the midrash about the 613 seeds reminding us of the 613 commandments. Before the conclusion of Yom Kippur, our waterfall becomes a special place where our students observe tashlich, by "washing away" their misdeeds of the previous year.

And what better place to celebrate Sukkot than in a gan! We build a child size sukkah in the garden, then decorate it with fresh picked herbs and branches. Classes can pick a vegetable and have a healthy snack in the sukkah. They understand that Sukkot is a holiday that celebrates the harvest. We look up through the roof and talk about seeing the sky through the branches. They learn that having an open roof is one requirement for a sukkah.

Even Simchat Torah connects us to the gan. We pick a pomegranate from the tree and learn that rimon means pomegranate and also refers to the crown on the torah.

Connecting young children to G-D through nature provides concrete experiences and understanding. It also provides a lasting spiritual foundation.

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