How to Involve Your Preschooler in the High Holy Days

This is when you begin to cultivate a Jewish identity in your little ones, passing on the beauty and joy of our tradition. Let yourself flow and discover new meaning in the holidays.

With a new school year comes the High Holy Days, a time for introspection, reflection, and making amends. How can you involve your preschooler when the concepts are so difficult? While this is a time of contemplation and taking stock, it is also a time of the sound of the shofar, the taste of apples dipped in honey, sweet challah baked into a circle, and times with family and friends both at the synagogue and at home. We know that children learn best through play. By acknowledging the play is the thing that interests them most, it is easy to add some new traditions to your family celebration at this time of year.

Children learn at a very young age that their birthday comes each year. Though they don’t have a concrete understanding of what that year is, but they do know their birthday is coming. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world, so a celebration seems in order. As you would with any birthday in your family, have a birthday party for the world. Whatever your family’s tradition is when it comes to celebrating, make this part of your celebration of the world’s birthday. Give the world the present of cleaning up trash, starting a compost bin in your yard, weeding or planting in your garden, or making a bird feeder. Instead of a birthday cake, serve honey cake, and don’t forget to sing Happy Birthday!

Make a box of hopes or wishes for the New Year. As a family, decorate a box or container with apple and bee stickers, Rosh Hashana cards from last year, or draw pictures with markers. Have everyone write (or dictate) their wishes for the coming year and put them into the box. At your Rosh Hashana holiday meal, read everyone’s wishes.

How about counting ten? You can incorporate many activities to count to ten each day. Children can make a ten-day calendar to mark off the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Collect ten of anything (crayons, fall leaves, birthday candles, etc.) and put them in a small ziplock bag…see how many you can collect. Make a list of ten good things that happened during the summer, the week, or the year. Make a list of the ten ways your child has grown, ten favorite foods, ten favorite things to do, or ten things that your child would like to do better or change.

There is so much to do with apples! Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville is a great day trip. Pick your own apples and bring one of their delicious apple pies home with you. With those apples that you pick from Gizdich Ranch, take some to a homeless shelter as a sweet New Year’s gift, dip some in honey (buy different types of honey for taste-testing), bake them in the oven with honey, and make applesauce (after apples are peeled and cored, even very young children can chop them with a butter knife. Put into a saucepan with a bit of water, honey, cinnamon and stir while you cook until soft. Eat hot or cold…yummy!) Save one apple to slice in half and make apple prints on construction paper to use as New Year cards and apple print placemats. For some great recipes (especially Honey-Baked Apples) visit Amy Deutsch’s website: www.kveller.com.

Rabbi Robin Damsky writes in her article, “Seeking Spirituality with Young Children”:

When your children are young, you will feel challenged to observe holiday rituals in the way that is familiar. Let this go. Remember that these years are the years in which you begin to cultivate a Jewish identity in your little ones, passing on the beauty and joy of our tradition. Let yourself flow and discover new meaning in the holidays. All too soon your children will be on their own and you will be back in the sanctuary wondering where the time went. Enjoy these moments to the fullest.

L’shana tova u’metukah.