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Homeshuling

We definitely aren’t the first family to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah by making, lighting and then eating our menorah. Google “cupcake menorah” if you don’t believe me. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to blog about it. Who ever accused me of being original?

I used Martha Stewart’s yellow cupcake and frosting recipe, adding some cocoa powder to the batter after filling half the tins because the girls couldn’t agree on what  kind of cupcake they wanted.

Ella and Zoe were allowed to use food coloring to make as many colors of frosting as they wanted, so long as they only dirtied three bowls. This was their favorite part of the activity (other than consuming the cupcakes, obviously).

We arranged them on a shiny blue plate, stacking one cupcake on top of another for the shamash, and added the candles.

A few hours later, we lit the cupcakkiah (thanks, Marjorie…) Even though we sang the blessings, not Happy Birthday, it was very hard for the girls to remember not to blow out the candles and make a wish.

We let the candles burn through dinnner – the only downside being a bit of a waxy puddle in the middle of each cupcake when it came time for dessert.  We devoured half the menorah, and look forward to extended our holiday joy one extra night be eating the leftovers.

This is a new tradition for us, but definitely a keeper.

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Last night, I had to exaplain to Zoe that our plans to make jelly dougnuts were put on hold because her sister was running a 101 fever. She was none too thrilled by this information.  “We don’t really do anything Jewish for Hanukkah,” she cried. “All we do is light some stupid candles.” Mind you, this is the same child who sat with her fingers plugging her ears at Bnai Jershurun this past Friday night because she was so mad that I had made her go to shul on our vacation in NYC. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to dismiss her criticism too quickly. Was lighting (stupid) candles in fact the only Jewish thing we did for Hanukkah? Have I been so busy teaching and blogging that I’ve neglected my responsibility as a Jewish parent?

Actually? No.

For you, Zoe, a few highlights of our Jew-y Hanukkah:

We decorated our windows, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of pirumei nissa, aka publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah.

We made latkes, topped with applesauce and sour cream. (Though I didn’t photograph ours, so I borrowed this shot from the public domain.)

We baked Hanukkah shaped sugar cookies. (Yes, these misshapen goodies are ours.)

We read Hanukkah Books, including one of my favorite out-of-print classics, Grandma’s Latkes, by Malka Drucker, and tare currently working our way through the less-engaging but highly-informative Alexandra’s Scroll, by Miriam Chakin.

We took a family trip to NYC, which included the Jewiest of all activities (from a cultural perspective, that is) lunch on Christmas Day in Chinatown. (This was followed by a visit to the to eat pickles from The Pickle Guys on Essex St. on the Lower East Side.)

We also sang Hanukkah songs, attended a community Hanukkah celebration, and made a real, oil burning menorah:

Tonight we are making an edible, but kosher (as in halachic, or legal – at least I think it will be) menorah made out of cupcakes. Here they are pre-frosting and pre-candles. We’re going to cut the top off one cupcake to make the shamash a little lower than the others.

So, yeah, we did watch Miracle on 34th St and went to see the Eloise Tree at the Plaza hotel, and no, we didn’t play dreidl, but I’d still wager that our Hanukkah was Jew-ier than average. We certainly did more than just lighting some stupid candles.

But if it really matters to you, Zoe, next year I’ll really try to make those jelly dougnuts.

 

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Now that I teach full time, a lot of my best “parenting'” work happens with other people’s children. I’m not sure what that might mean for the future of homeshuling (school-shuling just doesn’t have the same ring to it) but I thought I’d share a blog post from my Gan blog. I think this activity could be just as successful at home as it was in my classroom.

When I began teaching young children I made a vow that I wouldn’t do “cookie-cutter” art projects – those notorious items that kids tote home from pre-school and kindergarten that all look exactly the same. I’m not the least bit artistic. However, I had the good fortune of taking an art education class in graduate school with Cathy Topal, co-author of the amazing book Beautiful Stuff, and to take a two-day teacher workshop in the art studio at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, both of which helped me figure out how to set up a classroom and design activities that would support creative, open-ended art-making.

Sometimes, of course, cookie cutter projects are designed that way in order to reinforce a particular teaching point, and are a perfectly good use of student’s time and energy. One example is the pasta rendition of the life cycle of a butterfly. Yes, every child’s looked more or less exactly the same, but it was a fun way to assess their understanding and recall of the central idea of our monarch butterfly unit, and to send them home with an artifact of the unit. I just didn’t consider it art, really.

This Hanukkah, I wanted to create a lesson that was both open ended but also reinforced one of the learning goals for Kindergarten – understanding that the definition of a kosher hanukkiyah – that a Hanukkah candelabra has eight branches of equal height and one, the shamash, that is either higher or lower that the rest. (While children make and decorate their own salt dough hanukkiyyot, that activity isn’t really suitable for concretizing the “all the same height” idea, because it’s almost impossible for Gan children to acheive this result with salt dough. Which, of course, begs the question – should I rethink the medium for that activity?)

I decided to have the children make collage hanukkiyot, drawing from some of the wide range of materials that live on our art shelves. However, instead of making the collages completely open-ended, I draw pencil lines for each of the eight branches, in order to ensure that they would, in fact, be even. I also drew a tall shamash, but let children know that it was fine to make their shamash lower, instead of higher, if they preferred.

I was really delighted with how the project turned out. We started with these materials

 

Children visited the materials table, and chose items to explore. I set very few parameters – they had to use at least two materials, and no more than 9 pom poms (simply because I didn’t want to run out and suspected they would be very popular.) Also, they couldn’t have glue until they had tested out a few arrangements on their cardboard.

Children could choose between Elmer’s glue in a tube and our mini-tubs of glue with brushes. They worked independently to attach the materials. Some students finished in half an hour or so, and some worked for close to an hour. I think you can see how hard they are concentrating!

 

And I loved the end results – don’t you?

 

 

 

 

In an ideal world (or a world with 4-5 extra hours a day) the children would also discuss and perhaps write about or draw their own collages. Even without these follow up activities I think both the project and the display accomplished what I set out to do – teach a lesson using art without any cookie-cutting.

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So, I’ve been working on a post of recommended books to buy for Hanukkah gifts. Procrastination rarely pays off, but in this case Marjorie Ingall posted the same column on Tablet. She recommended many of the same books I was planning to suggest – a few that I already wrote about earlier this year, including The Book of Esther by Eric Kimmel, When Life Gives you OJ by Erica Perl, and Nosh, Shelp and Shluff by Laurel Snyder, plus a few I spotted at book fairs but didn’t receive the requested review copies because I’m not, say, Marjorie Ingall. (And one I didn’t write about because I’m mad at the publisher…) I consider myself officially off the hook for posting my own version of this column.

Best of all, she included one book I would never have mentioned….my very own picture book, The Shabbat Princess. I’ve had positive reviews in the past, but I don’t think there’s anyone out there writing about Jewish books whose values and aesthetics I hold in as high esteem as Marjorie Ingall’s. (We even like the same reality shows.) And no, we’re not friends. (Well, we are on facebook, but we’ve never met.) So, I’m delighted to send you over to Tablet to read the whole post and do lots of Hanukkah shopping.

Any you think she missed?

 

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