10 Ideas to Make the Jewish High Holidays Fun for Kids
Days of judgment, hours of prayer, the tipping of scales… the High Holidays are definitely a serious time. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for play! Here are 10 ideas on how to use creativity, imagination and fun to educate your kids about this time of year.
#1: Get Punny
Idea: Look through foods (at the grocery store, in your kitchen or in your toy food set) and make up new blessings.
Explanation: It’s customary to eat apple and honey on Rosh Hashanah and make a blessing for a sweet new year. People also eat beets, carrots, gourd, fish and a number of other foods, with some (Hebrew/Yiddish) wordplay in the blessings. Why not have some fun imagining other foods that could bring goodness? Kids as young as 3 can enjoy wordplay.
Example: “May you come across many kind human beans this year.” Or, “May you always say, ‘I feel good from my head tomatoes.’”
#2: Toot Toot!
Idea: Explore the basic shofar sounds by playing a memory game.
Explanation: The three basic shofar sounds are Tekiah (one medium blast: toot), Shevarim (three short blasts: toot toot toot) and Teruah (a string of very short blasts: toot-toot-toot-toot-toot-toot). The first player chooses one of the sounds and makes it out loud. The next player repeats that sound and adds a new one. Continue to take turns choosing one of the sounds and, together, create a growing sequence. The game will get more challenging as the sequence gets longer, and you’ll all have a good time tooting and laughing.
Variation: Throw in a fourth sound: Tekiah Gedolah (a long, single blast: tooooot). You can play with the sound names (e.g., “Shevarim, toot toot toot”) or just the sounds themselves (“toot toot toot”).
Other details: Best for ages 5 and up, good for 2 or more players.
#3: Yom Kipologies:
Idea: Practice the art of apologizing in a fun and silly way.
Explanation: Yom Kipologies is the kind of game you can easily make at home, but you can also find my download-ready, printable version here.
You’ll need to create four decks of cards, with about 15-20 cards in each.
Deck 1. Apologize to (e.g., your teacher; your friend)
Deck 2. For (e.g., something you said; something you did by mistake)
Deck 3. Involving (e.g., a hammer; a potato)
Deck 4. Rule (e.g., it has to rhyme; make a tongue twister)
Before game play, discuss what makes a good apology:
- Be specific.
- Explain why what you did was wrong.
- Ask for forgiveness.
- See if there’s anything else you can do to make things better.
Then, on your turn, pick one card from each deck. It’s your job to create an apology that follows what the cards say. Other players give you a thumbs up if they accept your apology (or are amused by it!).
For example, you may pick the following scenario: Apologize to your teacher for something you did by mistake involving a potato. Rule: Make a tongue twister!
Here’s what you might say: Professor Puck, my purple pot of pureed potatoes poured on your pants. Professor, please pardon me! I’ll pay for the price of the pants.
Variation: You can either take turns picking cards and creating an apology or, as a group, turn over a set of cards and everyone comes up with an apology for that scenario.
Other details: The focus here is on apology practice. No need to keep score!
#4: Choose Your Own Journey
Idea: As the High Holidays are a time to think about your choices and life direction, create a choose-your-own adventure game.
Explanation: Every choice we make has consequences that shape our own, unique journeys. Turn your home into a mini choose-your-own adventure game. Write out some prompts on small sheets of paper with two different answer choices for each question. For each choice, give a direction on where to go next.
For younger kids, consider offering more concrete, right and wrong answers.
Example: You find a toy on the ground near your house. Do you: A) take it home with you or B) hang up signs about it in your neighborhood? If you chose A, go to the fridge. If you chose B, go to the front door.
With older kids, consider more nuanced questions, where either answer can be the right choice depending on the circumstances. This can lead to some great discussions.
Example: You see a friend leave a store with an item without paying for it. Do you: A) say something to your friend or B) ignore it?
Variation: Challenge your child to make their own version for you to complete. This will encourage them to think through interesting life scenarios and the choices they may involve.
Other details: After play, you can discuss with your child how their life has been a choose-your-own-adventure journey.
#5: Super Self-Assessments
Idea: Do some authentic self-reflection in a playful, easy-to-understand way.
Explanation: With a little bit of guidance and an added bit of fun, kids can have a good time looking back on their year. Write up (or find online) a list of self-reflective statements that can be answered on a scale, and then use emojis, colored candies or crayons to fill out your answers together. Great discussions may result!
Here are some sample statements to get you started:
- This past year, I spoke kindly.
- This past year, I showed good listening skills.
- This past year, I stayed organized.
And your scale for each question can look like this:
- Strongly agree (red candy, very happy emoji face, etc.)
- Somewhat agree (orange candy, happy emoji face, etc.)
- Neither agree nor disagree (yellow candy, neutral emoji face, etc.)
- Somewhat disagree (green candy, sad emoji face, etc.)
- Strongly disagree (blue candy, very sad emoji face, etc.)
For best results, do the survey along with your child, and share some honest thoughts about your own successes and challenges.
Variation: Make this a full-body activity. Using cut-outs, tape or chalk, create five circles on the ground to represent your scale. Take turns saying statements and, for each one, answer by jumping into the appropriate circle.
Other details: Explore the three main areas for good reflection before the High Holidays: between a person and God, between a person and themselves, between one person and another. Come up with statements together for each area that you can include in your reflection.
#6: Sleuthy Sentiments
Idea: Encode Shana Tova cards in spy-like code and include a decoder to help the recipient decipher the message.
Explanation: Send out Shana Tova cards to family and friends, but encrypt the message. There are many ways to do this (see samples below) just be sure to include some kind of hint or the full key in the envelope.
- A=B, B=C, C=D, etc.
- A=Z, B=Y, C=X, etc.
- A=M, B=N, C=O, etc.
Variation: Use a mirror and try backward writing.
#7: Get Sticky!
Idea: Use stickers to interact and play with some of the concepts, themes and stories from the High Holidays.
Explanation:For example, use food theme stickers and set a Rosh Hashanah table. Use sea stickers and create the story of Jonah.
#8: Amazing Mazes
Idea: Create mazes with High Holiday elements.
Explanation: Mazes are perfect for the High Holidays, as they can represent trying to follow the path to become the best version of yourself. You can use online maze makers or design them by hand, and you and your child can each create a maze for each other to solve. Discuss with your child: What should the picture at the end of the maze be? What are some obstacles or wrong turns that may appear along the path?
Variation: Consider making a real-live maze using painter’s tape on the floor. Plan the maze beforehand (using an online maze maker, for example) and place real objects along the way (items that symbolize helpful tools in life, such as prayer and friendship; and items that represent the obstacles that may get in our way).
#9: Blow Away!
Idea: Use household items to create a model shofar.
Explanation: The centerpiece of Rosh Hashanah is the shofar. Have a good time trying to create your own. You can either gather a box of random items, set up some arts and crafts materials, or challenge your child to use whatever they can find. For bonus points: try to make one that actually toots!
#10: Sweet as Honey
Idea: Use your senses to explore what sweetness means.
Explanation: Recreate the classic kitchen taste test – blindfold each participant, feed them something from a spoon and have them use their senses to figure out what they’re tasting – with a Rosh Hashanah theme. First, try to define what it means for something to be sweet. Then, see if your child can detect a teaspoon of honey mixed in with other ingredients. Then, let your child have a turn to be the “mixologist” and test your own taste buds. Finally, discuss what it means to have a sweet year, and why we give that blessing to others.
Other details: Be mindful of food waste. I find it helpful to create and agree upon rules beforehand. (For example: Only give small amounts; don’t use any ingredients that will make something hard to swallow.)
I hope these are helpful in getting your year off to a sweet and playful start! I’d love to hear if you try any of these, or if you have other ways of bringing play into the High Holidays. Reach out to me if you have any questions, and you can find my free Jewish holiday activity packets and other fun resources on my website: thatjewishmoment.com.
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