Chanukah, like other holidays, has symbols and traditions that children may struggle to understand.

To make learning easier, Jonathan Berger, associate head of school for Judaic studies and programs at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike; Sam Chestnut, head of school at The Lippman School in Akron; and Leah Spector, principal and director of Judaics and Hebrew at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, said their schools incorporate learning about the holidays with hands-on activities.

Chestnut said Lippman teachers use Chanukah as an opportunity to explore different educational themes, like creativity, bringing light into the world and working together to do a large task.

“For creativity, we have an integrated experience in our visual arts class where they build a chanukiah that all students participate in,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to take an ancient holiday that has to do with people from many years ago and make it relevant for kids today. For our diverse community that includes students from many backgrounds, it’s about holding onto our cultural identities. It can be related to today’s world through hands-on activities that way for Jewish kids and non-Jewish kids as well.”

Spector said Mandel JDS teaches Chanukah from national religious and cultural perspectives. 

“In age-appropriate ways, we are talking about the struggle of being a minority and about the Jewish civil war,” she said. “We practice lighting the candles, recite the blessings and sing all the songs associated with the holiday. We also make it a point to gather as a school a few times to celebrate the holiday as a community.”

Berger said he likes to teach his students about Chanukah in alternative and uncommon ways.

“I love asking students to write skits and songs because they can have fun bringing the lessons to life,” he said. “There are so many ways to acquire information – books, websites, museums and more – but real learning involves more than storing information. The best and more enduring kind of learning comes when you create something with what you’ve learned.”

When using these hands-on approaches to learning about Chanukah, Spector said children learn the best when they are able to apply their knowledge to tangible items or real-life situations.

“Children retain information best when the lesson is relevant to them in their lives and when they can apply it,” she said. “At Mandel JDS, we believe that the teacher’s job is to make learning relevant and meaningful for children. Our (integrated project-based learning) approach promotes analytical and creative thinking with the holiday of Chanukah.”

The educators agreed integrating lessons into acts at home can further the understanding of the holiday.

“Ask your children to connect family traditions and practices to what they’ve learned in school,” Berger said. “For example, many families have a beautiful custom of reserving at least one night of the holiday for giving presents or tzedakah to children who have less. This is a great practice, and it can be made even more powerful when parents ask their children how it might connect to the story of the holiday, or to the laws of enlightening. That’s no right or obvious answer, but children can make amazing connections if given the chance.”

Chestnut agreed, and said, “In our country today and for many years, there is a great pressure to assimilate. At The Lippman School, we hold onto the idea that cultural and religious identity and the voices of minorities are important. They make America the rich community we see today. Using those themes in Chanukah, it makes it easier for parents to find relevance to teach at home as well.”

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