Don’t Be left in the Dark: Teach Kids About Diversity with Mindful Hanukkah Activities for the Curious.

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Experiencing Hanukkah Teaches Strong Cultural Diversity Lessons

When we experience things, we internalize them and make them our own. Growing up in a home where Christmas was celebrated, it would be impossible to ever lose my sense of what Christmas means to me. It is a wonderful, joyful, sometimes hectic, time of year, that I just love. I feel comfortable in the Christmas season, and all that comes with it.

As an experiment, I decided that I would teach my children the same Christmas traditions that I followed, however I wanted to add cultural diversity to the mix. So, from when my first child was born, we added in Hanukkah as a traditional family celebration. Long story short, the experiment turned out positive.

Starting small and adding each year, my kids are comfortable with Hanukkah as a holiday and won’t hear of not celebrating it. They have internalized Hanukkah, and with it have internalized cultural diversity and greater respect for Jewish customs.

If my kids had only read about Hanukkah from a book, I don’t think they would have gained the richness and deep understanding of Hanukkah, that they have by experiencing it each year.

Timing: When Should a Family Learn about Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is typically celebrated in the winter during the month of December. There are 8 nights to celebrate with the dates changing each year. However, if we miss a night, or even if we miss many nights due to family scheduling needs, we simply adjust the holiday to meet our time constraints. Of course, we try to honor the precise dates, but if that doesn’t work out, we would rather celebrate than miss out on the celebration and quality family time.

Finding time during the winter months is tricky, especially around the holidays. Family bonding can be a way to help kids and parents alike with emotional development and emotional regulation. Kids are often needing down time, and time with family during the holidays at home, and Hanukkah is a perfect island in the sea of presents, Santa activities, and general holiday hectic atmosphere. A lesson in cultural diversity can be a fun way to experience something new, open up communication between parents and kids, and decrease screen time. All great ways to sooth the senses this time of year.

If your family missed out on the exact dates for Hanukkah, try to catch them next year, but enjoy a few days of Jewish holiday excitement this year. During the month of December, the “celebration of lights” will bring a feeling of warmth to your home. Try my suggestions and I bet you and your family will have fun too.

Mindful Holidays: Hanukkah in Our Family Each Year

I have made it a point to teach our kids about diversity from the very start of their little lives, and being blessed with a Jewish Aunt, we couldn’t have been more gifted with various resources to make Hanukkah an enjoyable holiday to learn about. We really feel that in addition to our regular Christmas fervor, we have embraced Hanukkah with confidence in recent years.

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We started with the basics and so can you. Here is what you need to get started:

  1. Menorah: a picture, a felt one, a crafted one or a solid one.
  2. One book that explains the holiday in pictures (kids like this format!)
  3. One book about a Hanukkah that tells a story
  4. Easy Hanukkah food
A good way to enjoy Hanukkah is to try Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes

Easy and Mindful Hanukkah Resources For The Busy Family

You might feel like you don’t know enough about Hanukkah to actually create activities for celebration with your kids, but a few basic concepts will allow you to do so in no time. It’s like opening a door to a dark room you know nothing about. But have no fear, as somewhat slowly you can peek into the doorway, and then enjoy a look at the wonderful light the holiday of Hanukkah brings forth.

To get started, here are a few of our most favorite Hanukkah tips and tricks. These easy and mindfully chosen resources will help you understand this cultural and religious holiday. You will be well on your way to helping your curious kids enjoy some fun with cultural diversity.

Resources for a Mindful Hanukkah that Teach Cultural Diversity

Using these materials will help you get you and your kids celebrating the holiday quickly, and that is the goal. Experiencing the holiday is the easiest and most fun way to learn about it!

Menorah Resources:

First Kids Menorah Soft Toy

Menorah Coloring Page

Paper Plate Menorah

Noah’s Ark Menorah

Picture Book About Hanukkah:

My First Hanukkah Board book

The Complete Guide To Hanukkah book

Hanukkah Story Books:

Oh Hanukkah

Curious George Hanukkah

Cultural Diversity Dreidel game for Hanukkah

Dreidel is a game played by children during Hanukkah. Mindful planning can making cultural diversity easy. Dreidel is a fun game that teaches cultural diversity in a fun atmosphere.

Hanukkah Activities:

Dreidel Game

Gelt Coins Candies for Dreidel Game

Jelly doughnuts are a Hanukkah treat

Jelly doughnuts are a Hanukkah treat! A little mindful planning makes it easy.

Foods to Enjoy:

Hanukkah Treats Cookbook

Hanukkah Cookie Cutters

My Easy Vegan Potato Pancake Recipe. Get to it here.

We cook with the kids to make these pancakes each year. Toddlers love to wash the potatoes, and the older kids love to push the buttons on the food processor (with supervision for safety always). Baby can even try mashed potatoes with some sauteed and pureed veggies an butter mixed in for color and taste. Whatever age your child, cooking and eating these Potato pancakes is easy to adapt to include the whole family.

Music for Kids at Hanukkah (even if they never listened before)

Mah Tovu CD – “Only This”

A Child’s Hanukkah

Hanukkah Party with the Neighbors

This year we decided to have an impromptu party with the neighbor kids who came over for a play-date. We started off with a story about the meaning of Hanukkah from our Complete Guide to Hanukkah book, then a little dancing to Mah Tovu Music CD. For a full description of our favorite Hanukkah music click here.

After a pretty good dance session, we went into the Kitchen to make Easy Vegan Potato Pancakes. Also, known as Latkes, you can save time if you buy frozen ones at the grocery store. Dipping Latkes in apple sauce, ketchup or sour cream all add fun and taste to these little potato wonders.

We made them as a group, with the neighbor watching with interest.  First seeing how the Potato pancakes were cooked, then watching how much our kids liked them was all our neighbors needed to give them a try themselves. Next time we all voted on Jelly doughnuts!

I hope you try some of these ideas! please share how it went. Here’s to a fun lesson in cultural diversity and a Happy Hanukkah to you all!

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A Better Way To Swing Your Kids

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If it’s warm or cold, doesn’t matter. Find a place outside to get moving with your kids! It’s good for you and your kids, and babies especially love movement play. Fresh air, natural light, and good old fashioned movement stimulation for the brain! Ahhh….life is good!

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I took my little one and first grader out for a swing ride, and although this may seem simple, there is an easy way to get provide great movement with little effort. All you need to know is the Sensory Movement Hack!

I can assure you these smiles you see are the real deal. Baby loved her time in the swing, as did my first grader, but having a developmental therapist as a mom, well, you get a little more bang for your buck!

The official name for movement input, in sensory integration theory  is “vestibular” input. (OT Nerd Alert!  🙂 The term was first coined by Jean Ayres, Phd., OTR/L, an American occupational therapist, educational psychologist and pioneer in sensory integration theory. She wrote many books and published many research articles in her day, as well as made great contributions to the field of occupational science. She was the one who started it all. Without her, we might not think about sensory play in the same way we do today.

Her groundbreaking book in the 70’s was entitled Sensory Integration and Learning Disorders.

I was fortunate to have one of her colleagues as my master’s thesis advisor. My advisor worked with Dr. Ayres in California for years before switching to University life. I somehow won the lottery to get her as my advisor! Jackpot!

And so began my complete obsession with all things development and sensory. I have been learning ever since, and have enjoyed applying my findings to thousands of kiddos. Let me share my #1 favorite sensory hack for movement play so you can indulge yourself in a little movement play geek-dom too!

Movement Hack for Brain/Language Development

When you are providing linear movement for your baby or child (like swinging!), make sure you stop every 30-60 seconds to ensure that you re-activate the brain. After approximately 1 minute, there is a brain habituation process that happens. Habitu-what?? Brain habituation means that the brain detects the sensory input coming, but quickly gets used to the input and stops sending signals to the higher brain centers. To short circuit this habituation process, you simply have to change the movement.

Remember to keep the movement linear, and simply stop the movement and restart the movement. That’s all you need to do. Tell the brain movement is starting. Then tell it that it is stopping. Then tell it again it is starting over and over, every 60 minutes or so.

Do this in a consistent manner, and bingo, you have sent the upper centers of the brain all kinds of great movement input that not only is calming and organizing for your little kiddos, but also great for developing their gross motor skills. Plus, calm and organized kids = healthy emotional development. 

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2 common questions I get from parents:

1. Do you have to change the direction of movement? You can if you like. But stop and go movement works the same way.

2. Should I add some spinning or circular movement? Well, you can, but for truly                    calming and organizing input you want to keep it linear.

So, try this on your backyard swing. Try this playfully in a swimming pool as you play tug boat, or in a wagon on a trail. Just remember this hack is a simplicity hack. Simple is best.

For even more giggles for babies, I usually add the game of “stop” and “go” with sign language to engage language skills. I have noticed significant increases in how my baby initiates sounds and words during this type of play. This actually makes sense scientifically because the movement receptors are located in the inner ear, so, of course we see greater language engagement! Movement and language play- all in one!

For my older kiddo, I usually play “red light/green light”. Giggles ensue, I promise you.

One last piece of advice, be sure to have fun!! Make memories with this simple hack, that you will remember long after your kids are grown.

For more fun outdoors,  try to design some fun outdoor time with your kids. It’s Easy!

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