The Shabbat Box

The following post is a guest post from fellow educator and teacher, Sharon Ramsey. She teaches Kindergarten at Barnert Temple Preschool and is slowly transforming her practice into an emergent curriculum using the Jewish tradition of shabbat as her springboard…

The Shabbat Box by Sharon Ramsey
In order to have a supportive and enriching environment, the teacher has to pay close attention to what the children are interested in.  What are the children doing with their time?  What are they talking about?  How can we bring their interests to life?  Which of the hundred languages can I incorporate into their learning.

This year I have decided to really try to open up my teaching practice allowing inspiration to take flight from an emergent curriculum.  I think we all interpret what this means differently.  Years ago I went home and planned week by week, month by month, year by year and it went by without much change. I often relied on my plans from years past to get me through different events such as holidays and seasons.  In this year of self-reflection I have tried to really listen to my class.  Hear what they are saying, document it, study it, and then help the children turn it into something amazing. 


For several months, I have watched my students play “house” during free play and recess.  Family, friends and house are common threads throughout an imaginative play session during the kindergarten year.  One day, the game of house became more, it became a game of Shabbat, (a Jewish family ritual-that takes place every Friday evening). The Shabbat talk continually became part of the play. 

  • “My mom is going to do Shabbat this week, but she says she doesn’t know how,” says one child.  
  • “My mom makes a special dinner and we eat challah,” says another.  
  • “I like to make the challah”

The conversation continued to grow. During the play I heard discussions of parents, religion, and traditions that have been passed down to the children.  This idea of Shabbat, the family, food, and gathering together while forming traditions and rituals really stuck with me. This is what the children kept going back to in their play. We began with  an inquiry board.  How much do the children know and wonder about Shabbat?  The children responded with,

  • “Why do we eat Challah?” and
  • “What are all the blessings we say?”
  • “Why do we celebrate Shabbat?”

Shabbat Inquiry Board final

In order to answer the questions, we created a Shabbat box for each child. This box would hold everything  they needed to celebrate Shabbat with their families. (This is not a new idea, but I’m usually doing teeth, and presidents this time of year). It was time to put aside the old and follow this new path that the children were leading me on.  It is their path, and their interest. I thought of it as,  The Hundred Languages of Shabbat..

Sculpture
We sculpted candle stick holders to hold our special shabbat candles. We made our own clay.  We researched this recipe and found that others were successful with the recipe. We wanted something  unique that would get really hard and stay strong through all of the Shabbats to come.   

Then we set up an invitation at the art center,  “let’s make Shabbat candlesticks out of this clay!  What colors are your candle sticks?

IMG_7908We molded it, we painted it, and we added metal candle holders to the inside to provide an extra layer of safety for when the candles burn.  

Fabric
The children decided on the materials that they wanted to use to create their unique challah cover.  We used white fabric squares and created challah covers They glued ribbons and patches, and used fabric markers to decorate.

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Dollhouse
We set up the doll house up for Shabbat and asked,  “What can you do to make the house ready?”  Then used the IPAD to photograph their Shabbat house.


Shabbat Table
How will the table look on Shabbat?  What makes it different? What will we eat?  What is the menu? How can we use our kitchen area and table to set it for Shabbat? What additional items would you like to get for our kitchen area?


Here is the table before and during the play, the children came to us and said we need Challah and candles. “Our Shabbat dinner table is now complete!”

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Writing Center
What are the different parts of Shabbat?  What do you like about Shabbat? Write about it!
We created a book for our Shabbat box.



Design in the Art Center:
The children created table cloths and menus for our meal.

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Story Time
We read rich picture books created by authors who capture the essence of Shabbat.  From “Mrs. Moskovitz’s Shabbat Candlesticks,” to “The Shabbat Puppy” we continually learn about what Shabbat means to all types of people from children to grown-ups.


Cooking
When the children brainstormed the menu, they thought back to our weekly school Shabbat party where we sing songs and say the blessings. They realized a lot of what we sing about are the foods and rituals of Shabbat.  From this we asked each child and family to sign up for one of the menu items that we came up with in class, they even went home and drew a picture and found a recipe to bring in and share.  Matzah ball soup was a popular choice, so as a class we worked together to make delicious matzah ball soup.  

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The Culminating Event
We decided that a Shabbat together was the best way to learn how and why we do Shabbat.  One of our families offered to host. We created invitations and invited our families, our rabbi and the school director to share in the Shabbat experience.  

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The children came dressed up and excited to share this Shabbat together as a class.  There were traditional Shabbat meal foods such as brisket, noodle kugel, vegetables and salads and of course cookies and cakes for dessert.

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 They used their Shabbat candlesticks, and each lit their own candles.

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They said the kiddush (a blessing recited over wine or grape juice). They used their challah covers to cover and bless their challahs.

The Rabbi lead the families in blessing their children.  Each family quietly told their children a special message followed by a Hebrew blessing that has been said to children through the ages.

The kindergarteners took pride in their family recipes so we decided to create a special cookbook for their Shabbat Box. I was so proud of my kindergartners for this Shabbat meal hosted by one family, created by the children, and contributed to by all the families. This was just an incredible blessing to be a part of and one we will all cherish and remember.   The child based interest piece coupled with the commitment of the families clearly made an impact on our class. 

I realized this type of teaching requires much flexibility on the teacher’s part.  The ability to facilitate the conversation and listen, rather than jump in and take the lead and ownership is a new teaching strategy for me.  Sometimes, we go in directions we think the kids want to go and the interest waivers.  I see now through the Shabbat box, in order to succeed, there may be some flops along the way, and that is where the learning happens. By going with my children’s interests, we created a memory that was rich in math, art, science, social studies, religion and family traditions.   It is evident that they will hold onto all of it for a lifetime, and that is the highest standard…Sharon

I asked Sharon to be a guest writer because she was transformed by this experience. She continually questioned her own teachings while pausing to really listen to the children who guided their own learning through their conversations and inquiry. They didn’t just observe shabbat, they learned shabbat. They found deeper meaning in the rituals and made connections. As their teacher, Sharon too found deeper meaning in her own pedagogy by letting go of control and trusting the children to lead. Thank you Sharon for sharing!


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4 thoughts on “The Shabbat Box

  1. This was an incredible experience not only for our kindergarten daughter, but for our entire family… In the days leading up to Shabbat, our daughter gave a play-by-play description of the preparation bubbling with excitement. That day, there was such a sense of pride, a deep understanding of tradition and an incredible connection to heritage.. So grateful to Sharon and Susan for creating such a meaningful learning opportunity for all of us.. And of course, thank you to Sharon for writing about it..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would add that the parents of these children have taken Shabbat into their homes. Rather than “showing” their families, they are living this particularly Jewish experience, some regularly. As the director of the program who has proudly watched Nan and Sharon grow over many years, I encourage all directors to put their creative and fearless educators together and have them nudge and coax each other into new comfort zones. The results are magic and renewed dedication for all involved.

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