Category Archives: Jewish parenting

Giveaway: Passover Seder Matching Game

mgpas front of box
A giveaway.   Continue reading

Nature’s classroom: blow bubbles with flowers


cross vine, spring bloomer

At breakfast, we looked out the window and discovered that the wild crossvine had bloomed (Bignonia capreolata). Every spring it crawls up through the evil winter creeper (a euonymous that would encase the house if I let it) and over the redneck wire fence that divides our property from the neighbors’.  We abandoned our gluten-free, Marmite-covered toast and ran outside to see it. Continue reading

Shavuot: Edible Mt. Sinai

This article supplements my Kveller.com piece about making Shavuot Mt. Sinai Muffins with kids.

And hey, the Jerusalem Post picked it up on JPost Weekly Schmooze!

Mt. Sinai Muffin, Jordan almond Tablets, coconut grass, Twizzler slice flowers and a few Lego Israelites

Edible Crafts are one of my favorite ways to prepare for and celebrate a holiday with kids. Shavuot has built-in festive foods like cheesecake and blintzes and all things dairy—great things to make with children. But, they take time. Continue reading

Shavuot Origami for Kids: Ten Commandments (printable)

jewisheveryday

Easy 10 commandments origami

This simple paper-folding craft is a fun way to prepare for and celebrate Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments, and by extension the whole Torah.

With your help, even a young child can fold and decorate the “Tablets.”  The finished product can stand up on a table or lie flat as a card. Continue reading

Make Your Own Lego Mezuzah

Lego Mezuzah. A Simple Version

Lego Mezuzah. A Simple Version

DIY Lego Mezuzah with Kids

(Update: a revised version is now under my Make a Mezuzah: LEGO Mezuzah page.)

I’m a big fan of making mezuzah cases with kids, and especially out of found materials. In my house, Lego qualify as found material, as they are found under every large piece of furniture.

Making a ritual object out of repurposed materials with your kid is fun and Jewish (two words we like to link as often as possible), useful and meaningful. In the case of a mezuzah (pun intended), we can touch the container every time we enter a room, which gives us a physical connection to the Sh’ma prayer inside and the parent-child crafted case outside. Of course, we make sure the case is mounted low enough for kids to reach, too. (And the observant among us would have a kosher mezuzah higher up on the doorframe already. For mezuzah rules, see here.)

Other materials great for making mezuzah cases are: dental floss containers, toothbrush tubes, fat straws (from bubble tea), half a walnut shell, toothpaste boxes, plastic tubing and pretty much anything longer than it is wide and that will still fit on a doorpost. Laurie Bellet, author of The Reluctant Artist, posted a great idea at the Torah Aura blog about making cases from dried-out markers.

Do see  my Kveller.com article about making training scrolls (as in “not kosher” scrolls) with kids and about making mezuzah cases from used glue stick containers and empty matchboxes.

But why Lego?  Why not?  Lego are fantastically fun building materials. And if you love Lego, you and your kid can happily fiddle with a pile of assorted bricks and come up with all sorts of designs.

The basic requirements are that the case is: big enough to hold a scroll, has a way to open and close to insert the scroll, and has a flat back for mounting to doorpost with tape.

The flat plate base, upside down

The rest is left up to the imagination. My dream is to create a big letter Shin(the traditional decoration for any case) on the front using the tiny, single-knob round pieces, but I have so far been unable to meet this challenge.

A stylized Lego Shin

To make a three-legged Shin requires five horizontal rows of knobs, and my flat plate is only four rows wide. I made a sample Shin (at left) which could easily attach it to the front of my mezuzah, but the thick profile (I don’t have the right kind of flat plates) would protrude too far into the doorway. Continue reading

Making Toys Jewish

Dollhouse Purim teaparty

Kveller.com published my article on Converting Toys to Judaism.  Do please read it at Kveller.com and leave a comment if you have ideas to share.

What does converting toys mean, exactly?  It means we can use all the toys we already have, Jewishly.  From Lego to play kitchens to Barbies to bath toys.

Here are a few more ideas and pictures I couldn’t include in the article, plus a few quotes.

“A Jewish toy is a toy that can accessorize a Jewish story.”

Torah and Bible stories, midrashim, folktales, holiday stories and the latest PJ Library selection can all be re-enacted or embellished Continue reading

Grow Your Own Maror (after Passover)

Grating horseradish root for Chain. No, the goggles don't help.

Grating horseradish root for Chain. Annual photo op.

Passover has passed.

Did you buy a big ol’ horseradish root at the grocery store for Maror this year?

Did you toss it on the compost heap yet?

Well, run right out and pull it back off.  You can use it to grow a new one for next year’s seder. Even a small piece should take root just fine. Your kid can help you, and then proudly claim ownership at Passover.

HOW WE CAN USE IT WITH KIDS Continue reading

Origami Mishloach Manot for kids

 

origami cup + handle

origami cup + handle

Just about any origami box, bag, envelope or basket can be a Mishloach Manot container, but this one is actually easy enough that little kids can make it.

Remember the origami paper cup pattern? It’s pretty common in schools and scouts and whatnot.  This is it, plus a stapled handle. (The cup can actually hold water, as long as you don’t need it to hold water for very long…) Continue reading

Edible Mishkan: Build (and Eat) Me a Tabernacle

Edible Mishkan - Tabernacle

copper altar . . .

Last week’s Parsha was Vayakel, the one where the Israelites build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness. So, for a Shabbat activity at synagogue, I created an Edible Mishkan. Each kid 2nd grade and up made a personal, edible Mishkan.

Many liberties have been taken with materials, but it was a sweet little project.

Everything is kosher. My store was out of Jelly Belly gummy bears, or they would be sitting on the ark as chubby cherubim. Continue reading

Converting Valentine candy: Mishloach Manot

Mishloach Manot

Whether or not you do Valentine’s Day at your house, there is a world of half-price Valentine candy in shops right now, and some of it can work just dandy for the next Jewish holiday, Purim.  Kisses, especially. Because of the chocolate preferences of certain grandmothers in our family, our Purim Mishloach Manot baskets always include Hershey’s kisses. Valentine kisses are usually robed in red: simple, bright, fun red.  Without the outer packaging, red kisses are deliciously generic and ready for conversion. And of course, they are kosher. (So are Tootsie Rolls, by the way, and I Continue reading

Seder Plates by Target

Seder plate at Target: cheap and cute

At Target yesterday I found an endcap full of seder dishes. This discrepant event was so discrepant I almost didn’t believe it. Five bucks for a large, melamine seder plate with shallow depressions for each symbol, and with the English and Hebrew name for each.

Hebrew at Target?

And for $1.99 you can get a coordinating square matzah plate with just the three little Hebrew letters that spell matzah.

So very surprised and happy.  Maybe melamine isn’t the earth’s friendliest material, but I am overlooking this fact in favor of the bigger fact that Target is selling dishes for my holiday.

Maybe this is a yearly occurrence where you come from, but not around here.

Todah rabah, Target.

Matchbox Mezuzah

Matchbox Mezuzah

Here’s another easy mezuzah for kids to make, but this one is genuinely pretty. We used a photocopied klaf (parchment) inside the matchbox and mounted it low enough for a preschooler to actually reach.

My three-year old made this with his dad’s help, which would not have been much help, so I believe any kid can create a sweet mezuzah with these materials. The kicker is the lovely, golden Shaddai sticker (the shin with the crown), which makes the whole thing look and feel legit. The stickers come in a sheet of 48 from Benny’s Educational Toys, and the blank matchbooks come from Oriental Trading.

I must mention that playing with matchboxes is irresistible for any age, so this is a particularly hands-on craft. I organized a Matchbox Mezuzah group project for a Shema workshop last weekend at our synagogue and the parents were just as pleased to open and close and open and close the boxes….

Need:
Tape (I used blue painter’s tape)
Blank white matchbox (or used ones if you’ve got them)
Craft sticks (I used the broad, tongue-depressor size that comes in colors)
Tissue paper squares (cut from gift wrap)
Liquid starch (or white glue) in a small bowl or jar lid
Small brush
Shema scroll (see previous post: Glue Stick Mezuzah for ideas about this)

  • First, tape the stick to the back of the matchbox. It doesn’t matter what kind of tape because you will cover it with starch and tissue in a moment.
  • Brush thin layer of starch or glue on matchbox—including over the tape—and then place individual layers of the tiny tissue paper squares everywhere except the open ends.
    Keep brushing starch and affixing layers until you or your child needs to be done…
  • Top with a crowned shin sticker if you have it, or any shin sticker. Or, wait until the box is dry and write a shin with permanent marker or rubber stamp.

The only trick is to make sure you don’t starch the matchbox shut. If you do, you can run a sharp knife through the seams after all is dry.

Glue Stick Mezuzah: or, Make a Green Mezuzah for Free

A Glue Stick Mezuzah

Here’s a new use for an empty glue stick tube: a mezuzah case. If you collect a bunch, you have a cost-free craft for a whole class.

Glue Sticks don’t last very long. Manufacturers seem to keep shrinking the volume of glue without shrinking the actual container, and the glue has a fairly short shelf life (about two years).  Thus, empty glue stick containers multiply, especially at a school.

A mezuzah is really the scroll inside of a mezuzah case: a klaf, or piece of kosher parchment upon which a sofer—scribe—has written (special ink, special quill) the first two passages of the Shema, Judaism’s central prayer.* The Shema is comprised of key verses from Deuteronomy (6:9 and 11:13-21), and begins, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

Mezuzah literally means “doorpost,” and it is on our doorposts that Jews are obliged to mount a mezuzah. Doing so is a mitzvah—a commandment—and, what a coincidence, it is a biblical commandment found in the Shema itself: “you shall inscribe them [these words] on the doorposts of your home.”

So, every Jewish home, or to be more inclusive, every home in which someone identifies as Jewish, needs a mezuzah on the doorposts. Home in Hebew is bayit, and the home of a mezuzah—the case—is called a beit mezuzah, or mezuzah home.  A beit mezuzah can be made out of just about any material that protects the scroll, and in every price range. This one comes in sticky plastic and is free.

Making a mezuzah case as pretty as you are able can actually Continue reading

Jewish Bedtime Rituals for families

Bedtime Sh’ma Coloring Book with your child’s photo

InterfaithFamily.com (which is a great site, by the way, full of info and ideas and community) just posted an article about making bedtime Jewish written by Chief Education Officer Karen Kushner, with a link to a free pdf booklet: “Goodnight, Sleep Tight: Jewish Rituals for Your Interfaith Family.”

I am delighted Jewish bedtime is getting attention. Transforming the nightly routine into something Jewish is easy: just add a new element or two–something that feels comfortable and genuine. Whether a family is interfaith or not: it doesn’t matter: what matters is that at least one parent is committed to making every day (and night) more Jewish.

Please see my Jewish Bedtime post for a detailed breakdown of every step of a typical bedtime progression, with plenty of suggestions about how to inject a bit of Jewishness. Continue reading

Origami Dreidels

Origami Dreidel station at a Hanukkah carnival

Origami Dreidel station at a Hanukkah carnival

This is a classic design, and fairly easy to teach to little kids. It comes from Florence Temko’s book Jewish Origami (still in print). Continue reading

Dreidel Cookies

Dreidel cookies, chocolate letters

Dreidel cookies, chocolate letters

If I’d known royal icing was so easy, I’d have made it long before now. Two ingredients (plus color) make a gloppy paste easily scooped and squirted onto the baked good of choice, and later, after it dries, it becomes a beautifully smooth concrete. The perfect medium with which to anchor these little Hebrew letters made from a candy mold. Continue reading

Hanukkah Parent guidelines

A Duplo Temple and a jar of olives.

Guidelines for Hanukkah Parent visits: where are they?

All over the country, volunteer parents are visiting their child’s classrooms and representing the entire Jewish people in 15 minutes or less.

In the spirit of “sharing traditions,” we bring a book, maybe some dreidels, some gelt (its never too early to jump-start a child’s association of Jews and money…see below), and a menorah. Hands-on parents bring all this stuff, and we check if we are allowed to actually light the menorah (and if we are allowed to keep the candles burning or blow them out far, far from the smoke detector).

Out of the dozens of books I’ve accumulated the last 16 years, plus the books I see at shul and in the library and in the bookstore (that just closed forever), why is it I can’t find a single one I LIKE? Continue reading

“Make a Kosher Edible Sukkah” for the obsessively organized

instant edible sukkah with cereal "fruit"

instant edible sukkah with cereal “fruit”

(EDIT: if you are NOT in charge of a group project, see my newer post: Instant Edible Sukkah, Step-by-Step Photos.  If you ARE in charge of a group project which will be held on the holiday in a “kosher” building, read on.)

In the interest of those who are in charge of a “Make Your Own Edible Sukkah” project, I offer this record.  Learn from my experience, and add to it, if you can.

If your project is not conducted in a kosher building, you needn’t pay so much attention.  For you awaits a world of candy, a universe of sugary confection in endless variety.

For the rest of us, alas, a ghetto of fruit gums.  And it is for the rest of us that I type my notes; for the folks creating edible sukkahs in a kosher building and, even more restrictive, in a kosher building during the first two days of Sukkot, when “work” is not permitted.

Building a kosher sukkah on a holiday is easy and not so easy.

Finding kosher graham crackers is easy.  Just keep in mind that some still come in perforated rectangles Continue reading

Random, panicked thoughts about guns

I just read about the death of the 39 year-old security guard at Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and about the white supremacist who shot him.

My daughter was at that museum just weeks ago, on her rite-of-passage Eighth Grade Trip to Washington.

And just days ago the Tennessee State Senate, my State Senate, passed with a vote of 21-9 the infamous “Bar Bill,” allowing handguns in restaurants with bars.

Next up for vote, any day now, is the bill that will allow guns in our national, state, and local parks.

And suddenly I feel much, much less safe here. I really, truly do not understand these things.

Next time I take a wildflower walk or eat at the Trattoria I may have more to fear than a fellow walker who asks me what church I go to.

Hebrew blocks rock

 

No, I don't get a commission.  I'm kvelling, not selling.

No, I don't get a commission. I'm kvelling, not selling.

Consider the Omer counted.  Shavuot is over.  And now, stretching before us is a couple of calendar pages of sun, humidity, chiggers, and porch-sitting.  

    I’ve just cleaned my screened porch for summer, and we’ve transfered some rug toys out to the concrete: Thomas and Friends and their endless track, Duplos, and wooden blocks.  We are lucky to have Teenager’s old blocks: the thick, heavy kind we can really build with.  

    And, we are lucky to have some Alef Bet blocks, too.  We have two sorts: the small, cheap kind and the big, expensive kind.  I love both.  The small, cheap kind (around 5 bucks) are the same size as our aged alphabet blocks—about an inch and a quarter—good for teetery towers and for crafty projects like, say, a Hanukkah menorah using blocks that spell out your kid’s Hebrew name.  

    The big, expensive ones (around 30 bucks) are the type of toy I kvell about to every new Jewish parent at synagogue.  Why?  They are big and fat and heavy; a pleasure to hold.  They depict not just the Hebrew letters but pictures of animals as well, with the names in Hebrew.  All artwork is not merely printed on, but carved out.  Made by the Uncle Goose company, who make other fantastic specialty blocks like Braille, Russian, Chinese, and Hieroglyph.  

    We can’t get enough Hebrew stuff at our house.  It doesn’t matter that Toddler can’t read, yet.  He can sing the Aleph-Bet Song, which is a great start.  And he knows a shin when he sees one on a mezuzah.  I’m all for painless, natural learning, and it feels right to have blocks and posters and puzzles and books and placemats here and there: a sea of aleph-bet and alpha-bet ready for learning by osmosis.  

 

Sources:

 

The small ones are from JET (Jewish Educational Toys).  They have little pictures of holiday symbols and Jewish whatnots, too.  

 

The big ones from Uncle Goose.  At Amazon, OyToys, and the manufacturer. Made in USA out of basswood and child-safe inks. 

 

This third kind I don’t like, somehow, but they are 1.75 inches and come with vowels, too.  Something about the design bothers me.  I think because they are printed on flat wood: no variation in texture.