The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is the perfect time of year for family engagement and community-building in preschool settings. This year, the holiday begins at sundown on October 2 and continues through October 9. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which Israelites wandered the desert, living in temporary shelters. Sukkot is also a harvest holiday about coming together and sharing food. Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Sukkot is a structure built for outdoor eating and sleeping called a sukkah. The sukkah, emblematic of the temporary shelters used during this period of wandering, can be made of any material, as long as it is stable enough to survive the wind. The roof, however, is typically made of natural materials, i.e., leaves, bamboo, etc. Once established, the sukkah is a space for family and community gatherings.
To initiate your Sukkot celebration, plan to read books about the holiday (see below) and invite a parent, guardian, or community member to share their Sukkot traditions with the group. Given its emphasis on celebrating the harvest and community, Sukkot is a fairly accessible holiday for young children, however, if your setting does not have a Judaics program, you will want to bring authenticity to the experience by having a special visitor.
Once an understanding of the holiday has been established, use the following activities to guide your celebration:
Build a sukkah. Choose an area outside to set up the structure. You can stretch canvas or thick fabric around poles to make walls, stack concrete blocks, or make walls out of wood. A way to simplify setup is to attach the sukkah to an existing wall, so you only have to build three sides. The children and their families can help you collect items from nature to make a roof. The sukkah only has to be as tall as you need it to be for everyone to enter. Once built, you can place a table and chairs inside for guests to gather. Invite children to help decorate the sukkah with paper lanterns or paper chains, drawings of harvest foods, and/or a welcome sign. Plan to have a snack or meal in the sukkah each day and/or a storytime. You can find additional information about building sukkot here, here, and here.
If building a sukkah outside poses a challenge, make one inside. You can engage the children in arranging cardboard pieces, draping fabric, etc., to make the structure. The area may not be large enough for the whole group to gather, but you can have a schedule for when pairs or small groups of children can eat in the sukkah. You can also challenge children to build model sukkot out of blocks or snack items.
Review etiquette. Given its emphasis on gathering, Sukkot is a good time to talk with children about times their families have hosted guests or times they have been guests. How do they typically greet others? How have they been greeted? Whether you’re hosting a guest speaker or planning an event in your sukkah for families, support children in having a meaningful experience by talking with them about appropriate greetings, acknowledging others, and manners. You can find stories about table manners and interacting with others in our Fireflies Character Counts Digital Library.
Make food. A celebration about the harvest definitely requires food! Offer harvest foods such as pumpkins, apples, olives, dates, pomegranates, grapes, tomatoes, and/or carrots during this week. You may want to make hummus or challah with the children. You can find recipes for both here and here.
Shake the lulav and etrog. The lulav is a bouquet made up of palm, myrtle, and willow branches that is shaken in a special way to offer a blessing. The etrog is a citrus fruit that looks similar to a lemon and shaken along with the lulav. Both have religious/ceremonial significance in the celebration of Sukkot. To learn how to shake the lulav, click here. To understand the meaning of the ritual click here.
- Is It Sukkot Yet? by Chris Barash
- The Very Crowded Sukkah by Leslie Kimmelman
- Who’s Got the Etrog? by Jane Kohuth
- Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast by Jamie Korngold
- It’s Sukkah Time! by Latifa Berry Kropf
- The Elephant in the Sukkah by Sherri Mandell
- Sukkot Is Coming! by Tracy Newman
- The Best Sukkot Pumpkin Ever by Laya Steinberg
- One, Two, Three, Sukkot! by Naomi Shulman
- A Watermelon in the Sukkah by Shannan Rouss and Sylvia Rouss