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A Mom and a Dad are looking at a menorah with their two kids. Jewish activities for kids.

How to Teach Your Toddler about Hanukkah

Holiday celebrations, no matter what your religious beliefs, are most purely expressed by the joy you get to see in children. Their smiles, their laughter and the overwhelming sense of excitement that radiate from kids in these special times seem to amplify the power of celebration.

Eventually, as they grow older, we want our kids to understand the reasons behind our celebrations. When it comes to Hanukkah, our kids see traditions played out but they don’t know why we do what we do. This is a great opportunity to share with them the miracle that was the foundation of one of the most central celebrations in the Jewish faith.

How to Explain Hanukkah to Toddlers and Preschoolers

Children are not quite ready to grasp the full magnitude of the events that are at the roots of Hanukkah but you can lay that foundation by encouraging their curiosity. For some kids, no encouragement is needed as their curiosity is in full bloom and for others, only a slight nudge is needed.

Some kids will ask these questions on their own and you may need to pose these questions to some kids who may not think to ask.

  •   Why do we use a Menorah?
  •   Is there a special reason we only light one candle per night?
  •   Why do we celebrate for 8 days?
  •   How come we use a Tzedakah box?
  •   Where did you learn how to make a Dreidel and why do we use them?
  •   What does Hanukkah mean?

These questions and engaging with your kid’s natural inquisitiveness, provide the ideal moments to explain the important points of Hanukkah to toddlers and preschoolers.

  • The Menorah is used to represent the lampstand that once stood in the Temple and to showcase the light of God and the eternal flame of love.
  • One candle is lit per night to celebrate the miracle at the Temple, where one day’s worth of oil burnt for 8 days.
  • Hanukkah celebrations last for 8 days because the miracle itself lasted 8 days.
  • It is the responsibility of all who can do so to help care for and support those who can not and the Tzedakah box is a way that we contribute to the community and worthy causes.
  • Dreidels are used not only because they are fun, but also because they help teach the Hebrew alphabet and are a way to remember the miracles of the past.
  • Hanukkah means “Dedication”. Kids can understand the importance of a miracle and the desire of people to “dedicate” a special time to remember this important event (you can even remind them of how you celebrate their birthdays every year as an example of a “special time” that you dedicate to remembering an important event).

 8 Hanukkah Activities

Family activities are my favorite part of Hanukkah celebrations. As families gather and kids get together, family activities create an opportunity to teach, make memories and establish traditions that will last a lifetime. What are the best family activities for Hanukkah?

Build Your Menorah

The Menorah is a beautiful representation of the light and love we feel as we celebrate Hanukkah. Kids can easily be entranced by the beautiful light of the candles and are often ready for a chance to help build a Menorah of their own.

A DIY Menorah doesn’t have to look like a traditional Menorah and you can encourage your kids to use their imagination as they create their own. They can be as simple as a glowstick Menorah (all kids seem to love glow sticks!), a Menorah made from craft material like paper and glue (where you glue on a new flame each night) or a simple tea light Menorah with stands made from some of their blocks. If your kids are building a Menorah with tea lights, the flameless tea lights are a safe and simple option that still gives the desired effect.

Read Hanukkah Books

Kids love to read and be read to! Hanukkah books, especially Hanukkah sound books that your kids can engage with, are another fun and exciting way to bring the holiday to life for them.

 Cali’s Books has put together amazing collections of sound books, one of which is dedicated to Jewish holiday songs. In both Hebrew and English, this book will be educational for your kids and they will engage all of their senses with the bright illustrations, tactile buttons and fun songs to sing and learn.

The Eight Days of Hanukkah

There is no faster way to a child’s heart than through a gift and our kids light up when they see a present that is meant for them. The eight days of Hanukkah give us as parents a unique opportunity to teach the value of giving as opposed to receiving.

Making gifts to give to close family members or friends provides another great teaching moment. You can explain the joy that you can feel when you give your effort and time to something that someone else will enjoy. Great gift ideas that are simple for kids to make can be:

  •   Hanukkah Cards
  •   DIY Dreidels
  •   Homemade Menorahs

Make an 8-Night Calendar

I love making 8-night calendars with kids because they always come up with the best ideas. Your imagination is the limit!

  •   Glow in the dark calendars that use glow in the dark paint or stickers
  •   Window markers work to make beautiful (and sometimes chaotic) 8-night calendars on a picture window.
  •   Classic paper and marker calendars
  •   Kids can make an edible calendar out of their favorite snacks or traditional Jewish foods

Create Your Own Dreidels

Jewish children have been playing with dreidels for centuries and while you can go and buy a dreidel, where is the fun in that? Making your own is far more satisfying and your kids will have pride in their work when they are finished. How do you make your own dreidels?

  •   Cut a 3” square from cardboard (a discarded cereal box works really well).
  •   Divide it into 4 equal triangles.
  •   Put the Hebrew letters in each triangle.
  •   Poke a pencil through the center.
  •   Voila! You now have your very own dreidel!

Make a DIY Tzedakah Box

Tzedakah boxes and the emphasis on charity in the Jewish community goes back thousands of years. Children learn this through seeing their parents and family members actively engaging in acts of charity and one of the best ways to get them involved is with a Tzedakah box. They are simple to make and help teach your kids the value of giving. How do you make a Tzedakah box?

  • Find a container that you can use and decorate, about the size of a coffee tin. An empty tissue box works really well!
  • Decorate it with your kids! Encourage them to use their imagination and provide them with supplies to decorate with.
  • Discuss with your kids the value of charity and put a bit of money in the box.


    Organize a Hanukkah Scavenger Hunt

     Scavenger hunts are a holiday staple in our house. No matter the holiday or celebration, a scavenger hunt provides an outlet for the kid’s energy and makes for some great laughs. This scavenger hunt can include:

    •   Dreidels hidden around the house
    •   Special Hanukkah food items
    •   Hebrew letters
    •   Hanukkah gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins)
    •   Miniature or wooden Menorah candles
    •   Etc.


    Practice Writing Hebrew Letters

    What do your kids prefer? Markers, pencil crayons, chalk or paint? No matter their favorite medium, practicing Hebrew letters at Hanukkah is a practice as old as any other Hebrew tradition and your kids will flex their creative muscles on top of learning their letters!

    Since they will probably be making their own dreidels, those are great letters to start with. Another good starting place is the first letter of their names. These can be made on large pieces of paper or cardboard and hung up around the house to display their skilful work!


    Illustration of Cali's Jewish book and Jewish themed elements. Jewish activities for kids.

    Enjoy and Celebrate Hanukkah!

    Hanukkah is a time of celebration and joy. Take the time to be with those you love and use those opportunities to teach valuable lessons to your kids. Happy Hanukkah!

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    Hi! I'm Cali, Founder of Cali's Books

    “I’ve loved books since childhood and wanted to transmit this enthusiasm to my children”

    I'm a mom of two young children who trained as an engineer and worked in investment banking and at Disney. A French of Caribbean origin (Martinique to be precise!), I grew up in Paris. Los Angeles is now the place I call home!

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