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Preschoolers and children in early elementary school will enjoy learning more about Chanukah in the classroom. In this lesson, you will be explaining to children the background of Chanukah, and the symbols typically associated with the holiday. Shared reading selections are also offered. At the end of the lesson, you will be able to test students' knowledge of what they have learned with a free Chanukah cut-and-paste activity.
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Chanukah, also written, Hanukkah, is a Jewish celebration which is celebrated for 8 nights, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, as determined by the Hebrew calendar. For this reason, the holiday may occur any time between late November and late December.
The holiday is often referred to as the "Festival of Lights," because, in part, it commemorates an event that the Jewish people consider to be a miracle. The Jewish people had been at war against a group of Syrian invaders. When the war was over, and the Judean people had driven the Syrians out of their land, they decided to celebrate their victory by cleansing the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and re-dedicating it to the service of God. However, they were having trouble finding enough oil to light the lamps of the Temple. Finally, they came across a small bottle of the oil. It appeared to be only enough to keep the lamps lit for one night. In a miraculous act, the oil not only kept the lamps lit for one night, they kept the lamps lit for eight nights! Finally they came upon a small cruse of oil which, under normal circumstances, would have lasted only one evening. Miraculously, this small amount of oil kept the Temple lights burning, not for one night, but for all the eight nights until new oil fit for use in the temple could be obtained. This is the miracle commemorated by the kindling of the Hanukkah lights.
The Story of Chanukah, by Francis Barry Silberg, does a nice job of explaining the story in terms that young children will understand.
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The Symbols of Chanukah
Next, explain to the children that just as there are certain symbols we typically associate with Christmas (like a tree, ornaments and Santa), there are certain symbols that are typically associated with the Chanukah celebration. These symbols include the Menorah, the Dreidel and the Star of David. Here is a little background information that you can give about each:
The Menorah is a candle holder with 9 branches. For this reason, it can hold 9 candles. The candle in the middle is known as the "Shamash," and it is used to light the other 8 candles. The candles are lit each night, at sundown. On the first night, one candle is lit. On the second night, two candles are lit. This continues each of the 8 nights. The Menorah is typically displayed in the window of a home, to remind all of the miracle of Chanukah.
The Dreidel is a small, wooden top. It is used to play a game during the 8 days of Chanukah. Players are given gelt, which is another word for money or currency. Each side of the Dreidel holds a symbol: nun, gimel, hey and shin. Players place some of their gelt as a bet in the middle of a circle, and then take turns spinning the top. If it lands with nun facing up, the player does nothing and their turn is over. If gimel is showing, then the player gets to take whatever gelt is in the middle. If it lands on hey, the player only takes half of the pot. Finally, if the Dreidel lands on shin, then the player adds a small amount of gelt into the pot.
If you have a Dreidel available in the classroom, you can actually play a round or two with your students. You can also teach the children a Dreidel song to sing.
The Star of David
The Star of David is typically recognized as the symbol of Judaism. It is a six-pointed star, formed of two equilateral triangles.
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Now that your students have learned a little about the symbols typically associated with Chanukah, you can test their knowledge with the free Chanukah cut-and-paste activity provided below. Print out one copy for each student. Instruct the students to use a scissors to cut out each separate symbol at the bottom of the page, and then glue the symbol next to the correct word naming the symbol.
Cut and paste images courtesy VintageHolidayCrafts.com