May 10 2023 Simple Ideas to Bring Shavuot to Life
Shavuot recalls the story of the Israelites receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai (including the centerpiece of the Ten Commandments) seven weeks after leaving Egypt (Shavuot means “weeks” in Hebrew). Shavuot also honors the ancient tradition of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bring an offering of the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. One tradition is to eat dairy foods such as cheesecake, blintzes, and even ice-cream, so this holiday may soon become your grandchild’s favorite!
Click HERE to learn more about the background of Shavuot.
Here are ideas to spark your grandchild’s curiosity about the holiday. Almost all of the activities can be adapted if you are at a distance on Zoom, FaceTime, or What’sApp.
First, share the Torah story with your grandchild:
After leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses takes the people to camp in front of Mount Sinai. The sky fills with thunder and lightning, fire and smoke appear on the mountain, and a very loud shofar blast is sounded. The whole mountain shakes and trembles. Moses climbs the mountain, and God gives him the Ten Commandments, a set of rules to help people get along with each other.
Try these two Torah games.
1. Climb Mount Sinai.
Now, bring the story to life. You can cut out two pieces of cardboard in the shape of tablets (tape them together) to represent the Ten Commandment tablets. Decorate the tablets with markers and crayons or cut pieces of construction paper and glue them on to create a collage design. Perhaps write the numbers 1 through 5 vertically on one piece of cardboard, and the numbers 6 through 10 vertically on the second piece, symbolizing the ten ideals that were written on the tablets for the Israelites to follow.
Using bed sheets, pillows, and blankets, you and your grandchild can build a mountain. Put the cardboard tablets at the top of your mountain and ask your grandchild to climb up the mountain and bring the tablets down, just like Moses! You can even make the room dark, and your grandchild can turn on and wave a flashlight and shake a piece of tin foil to create the effect of lightning and thunder around the mountain.
2. The Ten “Grand-Mandments”
What are the ten rules, ideas, actions, or principles that are most important to you and your grandchild when you are together, either in person or on a video call? Create a set of Ten “Grand-Mandments” that are a reminder of the ways you like to be together with each other. Write them as commands. For example, you might include “Make each other laugh” or “Speak respectfully to one another.” You can create this with your grandchild as a way to learn what you each find most important about being together. Write, draw, and decorate your Ten Grand-Mandments.
Click HERE to create a Ten Commandments origami project.
Shavuot is also a celebration of the grain harvest time.
The grain harvest time is in early summer in Israel, when the first fruits were brought as an offering to the Temple.
Here are two harvest-time activities.
1. Go on a neighborhood spring scavenger hunt.
Take a walk together, and notice the trees, plants, and flowers that are in bloom. You can take pictures, draw them, or describe something you see and ask the other person to find and guess what you have found. You can also prepare a picnic and sit beneath a tree to enjoy the springtime together.
2. Do a first fruits taste test.
Is there a fruit your grandchild has never tried before? Or one you haven’t eaten in a while? Buy different fruits from the store and have a fruit tasting test. You can cover your eyes and try to guess which fruit you are tasting without seeing it first.
Click HERE for the Shehecheyanu blessing when you taste a fruit for the first time.
During Shavuot, many people eat dairy foods like ice cream, cheesecake, or blintzes.
This is a reminder of the sweetness of the Torah, as well as the way the Torah talks about the land of Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Enjoy these two dairy foods activities.
1. Throw an ice cream sundae party.
Buy a few flavors of ice cream and several topping choices. Lay them out as a sundae bar. Ask your grandchild to design the perfect ice cream sundae for you and you can prepare one for them! Take turns pretending to be the ice cream person arriving in an ice cream truck. You can play music and stand behind a counter to imagine serving ice cream through the truck window. You can also design menus for all of the flavor and topping options with your grandchild, writing and drawing them together.
2. Become chefs and prepare a Shavuot treat together.
Create a dessert together. Try this two-ingredient Rugelach recipe from The Nosher, or these 5 fun easy, cheese recipes from PJ Library. You can also introduce cheesy recipes from your own family traditions.
Many people stay up all night on Shavuot, learning Torah together until the morning.
Legend says that the Israelites overslept the night before receiving the Torah, and the thunder and lightning woke them up for the momentous occasion. To make up for this, some stay up all night learning Torah so that they are awake and ready to commemorate the holiday.
Try these two fun learning activities.
1. Host a Shavuot slumber party.
If you live close to your grandchild, have a sleepover party at your house — or perhaps theirs. Build a tent fort out of bedsheets, chairs, couch cushions, and pillows. Put flashlights inside your tent. Sit together in the tent and share new stories with each other.
Try to learn something new together. Is your grandchild fascinated by space? Dinosaurs? Sea creatures? Discover new facts about a topic that excites your grandchild by reading a book or watching a video related to that topic and become fascinated by it with them. Treat them to staying up a little later than usual too!
2. Do Shavuot shadow puppetry.
You can use your flashlights and your imagination to re-enact the story of Shavuot using shadow puppetry. Put your hands in front of an LED flashlight (the flashlight on an iPhone is perfect) shining against a white wall or bedsheet. Using your hands or small toys, try to create the shape of Mount Sinai against the wall and Moses climbing up the mountain. Notice that when your hands get closer to the light, your shadow gets bigger, and it shrinks when your hand moves away from the light. Experiment using different hand shapes and objects to bring the story to life!
You can also find a range of activities to bring different Torah stories and values to life through play at Play-Along Parsha. Choose any of the posts as inspiration for a Torah-themed activity.
Whether you find inspiration in recreating Mount Sinai, experiencing nature together, or making a mess in the kitchen, Shavuot can be a joyful way to connect with your grandchild this spring. Together, you can recreate the wonder and awe that the Israelites experienced at Sinai through the magic of play and discovery.
This year, Shavuot falls on Memorial Day weekend in the US. Both holidays help us remember generations that came before us, paving the way for the people we are today.
On Shavuot, we remember the Israelites receiving the Torah, which marks the moment that we became the Jewish people. On Memorial Day, we commemorate the sacrifice of fallen soldiers, who fought for our right to be free. In different ways, both holidays demonstrate our identity and remind us of the ways our ancestors shape who we are today.
Here’s an activity to explore family storytelling through photos and objects.
Use family pictures and storytelling to remember an important family ancestor. Share a story about what they did in their lifetime and think about how their actions impact your life and who you are. Then, ask your grandchild to look through a photo album that features them, and have them tell you a story about a memory from the photograph they choose. You can also do this activity using objects that inspire a memory from a family trip or a keepsake from the past.
Click HERE for some tips for telling great family stories.
Jonathan Shmidt Chapman is the founder of The K’ilu Company, creating projects that activate Jewish early childhood education through theater and imaginative play. He is the creator of K’ilu Kits — interactive audio adventures that bring Jewish holiday stories to life — and Play-Along Parsha — a resource for 3-to-6-year-olds and their families to creatively engage with the weekly Torah portion. Jonathan was previously the Producer of Family Programming at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.
Special thanks to Rabbi Emily Meyer for her expert review.
Banner by Stephanie Fink
Adult holding the Torah and child baking by Gail Buchbinder
Child with fruit and child holding toy Torah by Jonathan Shmidt Chapman
Ice cream party and cheesecake courtesy of Unsplash
Family photographs courtesy of Pexels