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 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.
OTHER BUILDING MATERIALS:
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.
HOW MANY SIDES?
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. (NOTE: this link is dead (2014) and I’m still looking for a live one!)
Lookstein’s very thorough Sukkot Resource Page for Teachers.
And, here’s a page of templates to print out and glue onto a shoe-box sukkah.
Rules of sukkah-building from MyJewishLearning.com.
Why should a sukkah be “out of reach” for anyone who is interested?
Okay, I have a sukkah in my back yard. We eat all meals and most snacks in our sukkah unless it is raining.
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Excellent work, then.
I wish everyone who was “interested” could make a sukkah happen. It can take planning, research, time, skill, money, physical effort and outside assistance.
My post was about making a model sukkah and I did not intend to imply it was a substitute for a life-size sukkah. Tabletop sukkahs are a time-honored embellishment to the holiday, and a good little teaching tool.
i think the two biggest obstacles are money and physical space. For anyone who has the money to purchase one and the space to put it (and, if necessary, the money to hire someone to help), there are prefab sukkahs which are relatively easy to erect.
We live in a townhouse with a relatively small yard and have such a sukkah. The most difficult part is putting the bamboo mat on top. Fortunately, my 20 year old son got two of his friends to help him; they did not have a problem. It happens that both of my son’s friends will be our guests during Yom Tov, which may be why he asked for their assistance.
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I love your blog, and all the ideas…..live in an apartment, and am just becoming observant(long story – born Jewish, not brought up Jewish, just now at 56 finding my way) A lot of the ideas for children are really helpful to me….I don’t have children(one cat), but the ideas are very helpful for me in many ways 🙂 I’m my husband’s carer and don’t get out a lot, so most of my learning is done through books and online: I have an ever increasing collection of all kinds of Jewish books, with several Siddurim.
Just wanted to say thank you, and hello from Scotland
I am delighted you found useful ideas here! Thanks for letting me know. Hearing you are a full-time adult caregiver makes me hope that you are able to get support wherever and from whomever you can. That’s one of the toughest jobs in the world. Looks like you are already creative about finding what you need: otherwise, you’d never have gotten from Scotland to Nashville!
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Hello again, from Scotland….I was looking for tabletop Sukkot again and had forgotten I had written here. Thank you for your kindness…much has happened nice then. My husband had another stroke, leaving him almost blind, I could no longer give him the 24 hour care he needed, and he had to go into a nursing home. That was just over two years ago. Then on my birthday thus year, May 26th, he had another big stroke: he beamed up to heaven( Im not fond of the expression ‘passed away’, nor was he) on the 29th. We’d been married 34 years. He was my bashert, my sweetheart, my soulmate. ( he wasnt Jewish but had his own spiritual beliefs….we used to say wee prayers together and for one another) I saw the effect the final stroke had, and what made him ‘him’ was gone….it would have been awful if he had to exist lie that; but my wee hearts broken(Im crying again writing this) no family, just my cats, who keep me going. Hope you dint mind my writing this, but you said such a thoughtful and kind thing to e, that I wanted to let you know. Alex
Alex, I am terribly sorry for your loss. I shall take it as a good sign that you are online looking for holiday ideas. Still, you’ve been through prolonged and devastating hardship, and I very much hope you find support from good friends and other kind folk.
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