Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Learning Opportunities for Young Children


By Bernice B. Godine JCC Early Learning Center

Baby boy

We believe that children are natural learners. A Jewish expression of values emphasizes that educators inspire children to question the world around them and appreciate multiple perspectives. The following are activities for toddlers and preschool-age children that we like to do in our JCC Early Learning Center classrooms.

Whether these activities are completed at school or at home as a family, they are guaranteed to bring smiles to children’s faces while providing them with the opportunity to ask questions and learn.

Encourage Children to Ask “What is Thanksgiving?”

Thanksgiving was modeled after the ancient Israelite festival of Sukkot. It emphasizes gathering together to appreciate one’s friends and family and to share with them.

Suggested Areas of Focus

  • Thankfulness (“I am thankful for…”)
  • Friendship (intention-based facilitation on how to be a friend, e.g. moments of true friendship make us aware of God’s presence in the classroom and at home)
    • Greet a friend (even for toddlers) using eye contact and body language
    • Brainstorm “What is a friend?” or “What do friends do for each other?”
    • Role model inviting a friend to play; have a child invite a different classmate to play than typical (e.g. “Will you play with me?” or “What should we do?”)
    • Introduce the Hebrew vocabulary for friend(s): chaver (singular male), chavera (singular female) and chaverim (plural)
    • For older kids, ask: “What is the same about us?” and “What makes us unique?”
      • Compare fingerprints, gourds, apples and leaves to learn to appreciate the differences; discuss whether one feature is better or not
  • Jewish values
    • Focus on chesed (kindness), kehillah (community) and hoda’ah (appreciation)
    • Focus on possible mitzvot (good deeds): hachanasat orchim (welcoming guests) and/or tikkun olam (repair of the world, e.g. food pantry donations)
    • Work together to plan and create a festive meal/snack where each child brings a different ingredient; invite others to join you in collecting food for a pantry/soup kitchen and create a note to accompany the donation
    • Look for random acts of kindness in the classroom or at home and acknowledge them publicly (chesed)
    • Do group or family work toward a common goal (kehillah)
    • Invite a friend to have lunch

Songs to Sing

Hineh Mah Tov (“How Good It Is”)

Hinei mah tov u’manayim
Shevet achim gam yachad

How good and pleasant it is
For brothers and sisters to sit together

Shalom Chaverim (“Goodbye My friends, Until We Meet Again”)

Shalom chaverim, shalom chaverim
Shalom, shalom
L’hitraot, l’hitraot
Shalom, shalom

Goodbye my friends, goodbye my friends
Shalom, shalom
Till we meet again, till we meet again
Shalom, shalom

Blessings to Recite

Shehecheyanu (“Who Has Given Us Life”)

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam shecheyanu v’kiymanu vhigyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, O God, for giving us life, sustaining us and allowing us to reach this joyous time.

Located at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton, the Bernice B. Godine program offers a wide range of activities and interactions, including gym, swimming lessons and music. The JCC also offers the Herman Dana Infant Room. Full-year and school-year programs are available, as well as full-week and part-week, and full-day and part-day options. Summer and school vacation programs and afternoon enrichment classes are also available.