At Sukkot, we are commanded to dwell in a sukkah. This ideal may be out of reach for many, but it is definitely do-able for dolls. Any action figure our kid plays with can be an honored guest or hospitable host/ess in a tabletop or model sukkah.
A model sukkah is an easy, fun, and classic way to explore Sukkot with kids. Using whatever materials are already at hand, you can create a sukkah in miniature, play with it all week, use it as a centerpiece, and along the way take a look at the customs of the holiday and the rules of sukkah construction. Not sure about the details? Brush up at MyJewishLearning’s Sukkot page.
First, show your kid a real sukkah if you can, or pictures of different sukkot (plural for sukkah, and hey, the name of the holiday, too!) in books or online. It won’t make much sense to re-create something in miniature if she hasn’t seen the real thing. The variety is truly marvelous: plain, fancy, big, small, all-natural, pre-fab, portable, and so on.
Then, find a box. A tissue box is the easiest first sukkah, ever. Even kindgergarten scissors can cut an entrance and modify the “roof” by cutting slits to let in the light. See below about finishing touches for all box versions.
Shoe boxes are also classic. If your child wants particular figures to fit in the finished sukkah, pick a box size accordingly. For bigger than a shoe box, try a liquor store sidewalk (I made a killer sukkah from a Manischewitz carton once) or the nifty little five-ream printer/copy paper boxes most offices discard.
For most lidless boxes: Use the open top as the entrance of the sukkah, or keep it as a roof. If you choose the open roof, just cut a generous entrance along one of the sides, which will make it easy to reach in and play. To make the open roof kosher, span it with strips of something that reaches from side to side: popsicle sticks, paint stirrers, dowels, twigs, strips of posterboard or paper. Or, adults can cut strips directly onto a box panel with an x-acto knife or box-cutter.
What makes a roof kosher? Technically, a roof open enough to see the stars at night, but sheltered enough to make shade during the day. The roof slats are covered in schach, material that was once connected to the earth, like tree branches or sunflower stalks. My favorite schach for a tabletop sukkah is a few twigs from a hemlock tree. The teensy, flat needles lie beautifully, stay green, and come with exquisite mini cones for decoration.
Decorate the sides however you wish: paint, paper, magazine pages, child’s artwork, or leave it kitschy. The picture at the top of this post is of an empty PG Tips teabag box left unadorned, the better to encourage sukkah tea parties.
Aside from the traditional box construction, model sukkahs can be made out of any building materials or blocks: Lego, Duplo, MEGA Bloks, Lincoln Logs, wooden blocks, foam blocks, bristle blocks, tinker toys, Magnext kits, and so on. Again, build to the scale of your kid’s favorite figures. There is quite a size differential between Barbies and Lego mini figs. But don’t get all obsessive about scale, because obsessiveness is one thing you probably don’t want to share with your kid. I should know.
A model sukkah or a real sukkah need not always have 4 sides. The mnemonic for how many sides a kosher sukkah should have is represented in the word sukkah in Hebrew: סכה. Starting from right to left, the samech (ס) has 4 sides; the kaf (כ) has 3 sides; the hey (ה) has 2.5 sides. Cool, yes?
Once the sukkah is done and occupied by Batman or Fisher Price Little People or Tonka firefighters, bring in the furniture and accessories. A truly kosher sukkah is one that is welcoming, comfortable, and cozy.
To build an Edible Sukkah, see my post here. This is the graham-cracker version with pretzel rod roof. Cute and delicious.
Shoe-box sukkah: The publisher Kar-Ben has a one-page printable with instructions here. An oldie but a goodie.
Paper-Bag sukkah: The Jewish Museum in NY has a printable template for making a model sukkah out of a brown bag. Not sturdy, but cute. Better for school-aged kids, since they probably won’t dissolve into tears if it gets smooshed.
Lookstein’s very thorough Sukkot Resource Page for Teachers.
An amazing script for how to use a model sukkah to present the holiday of Sukkot to a non-Jewish class of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. Extremely thorough.
And, here’s a page of templates to print out and glue onto a shoe-box sukkah.
Rules of sukkah-building from MyJewishLearning.com.