By Amanda Klein
OFJCC Ulpanon Preschool Program Educator
Once the air is crisp, the apples ripen and students return to school, we know it is the season for the High Holidays! The Jewish High Holidays at the Leslie Family Preschool and in the Ulpanon Hebrew immersion classrooms are a special time of year. Followers of Judaism mark their years by the High Holidays, similar to how educators’ annual calendars are delineated by the school year. When autumn descends, so do Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah and other holidays to follow. The fact that these holidays fall at the beginning of a new school year means that the energy is high and everyone is ready to commit themselves to a new year. For educators, we commit ourselves to making the coming school year especially meaningful for our students. The holidays are a prime opportunity to engage in sensory exploration, social-emotional learning, fun activities and powerful community building.
Here in the Ulpanon Hebrew immersion program at the OFJCC Leslie Family Preschool, we teach students ages three through five, and strive to make the holiday activities age appropriate as well as social-emotionally and spiritually significant. We do this by focusing on engaging students’ senses. Our educators design activities and explorations that encourage the students to use different parts of their bodies and minds to learn about the holidays and create meaning for both themselves as explorers of the world and interpersonally, as members of a school community.
This year, during our Rosh Hashanah celebrations, our students dug deep into learning about bees:
- How they transfer pollen, drink nectar, make honey, and form their honeycombs
- Some students were more interested in the bees themselves: their body parts, the colors of the bees, and their ability to fly
- Others were fascinated by the formation of honey, how it develops from nectar, or just how sweet it tastes
As educators, we offered students the opportunity to cook honey cake, read about bees, make their own bees out of loose parts and craft materials, touch honeycomb and beeswax, design their own honeycomb out of blocks, and play with yellow slime and sand in sensory bins to symbolize honey.
By offering such a wide variety of activities that allowed the students to engage in the topic in different ways, we show the students that we see their different interests and are committed to helping them further their learning and explore new topics using that they are comfortable with and excited about.
These activities often encourage students to mingle in new combinations and meet new friends with shared interests. The memories of the joy and intrigue bolstered by the holiday spirit of the High Holidays lingers through the fall, creating a stronger sense of community and wonder in the classroom.