The other day, I gave a group of early childhood teachers a wonderful way to make charoset dishes for Pesach. It involves using clay flower pots. The artist turns the pot upside down and designs the surface with tiles. Since it is upside down, the lip of the rim catches any tiles that might slip. When dry, you place a plastic drinking cup as an insert to hold the charoset so the clay mosaic, itself, never will need washing. It’s a format I have used for years, in many age ranges, and it always results in a happy ending. Nevertheless, the charoset dish was not what I was really teaching. The true lesson came before…
My puppets, so recently the residents of Shushan, were transformed into the Israelites in Egypt. As difficult it was for them, the puppets had to move bricks, one by one, to another site in the classroom while another puppet demanded that they move more quickly so that the structure they were building would get finished. Sadly, the puppets had a problem; the bricks would not stay firmly atop one another. This is where the charoset came into play.
In the classroom, following the drama and every child having a desired role (Our bricks always get moved to many construction sites!), each child receives a “building” in the form of a clay flower pot and with the tiles, or other desired mosaic materials builds a unique charoset dish.
There are so many things students can make for Pesach that it is too easy to get caught up in making the things as the goals, without a solid learning foundation for support. I am frequently asked for ideas that go beyond a Seder plate. Here are some ideas:
First lets start not by going beyond Seder plates, but by making really beautiful (and really usable!) Seder plates. I have ways to make lovely Seder plates, there are 2 different processes described in The Reluctant Artist. To facilitate turning a plain glass plate into an object of Pesach kedushah, I recommend using the Seder symbol stickers from www.tjssc.com (formerly Benny’s).
Place the stickers on a doily that fits the bottom of the plate. Lightly coat the bottom of the plate with Mod Podge and lay the stickered doily, upside down, on the bottom side of the plate. When the Mod Podge dries clear, the symbols show through the glass. The remainder of the bottom of the plate should be covered with pieces of tissue paper, adhered with Mod Podge. An overall coat of Mod Podge, smoothed around the edges and the bottom surface, finishes the plate. When the Mod Podge dries, I recommend having students sponge a coat of metallic silver or gold paint to cover any empty spots and further harden the under surface.
Going beyond the Seder plate means that you can also go beyond the Seder itself for ideas. Some teachers have told me that their younger students are still processing the Purim characters when Pesach learning comes around and, these teachers considered, introducing the Pesach characters would be confusing. I disagree. Young children have a fine hold of what is called “pre-symbolism” in their art. That is to say that a drawn flower one day, is a sun the next and a dog the next. Children engaged in fantasy play are able to play several characters at one given time! Young boys, enthralled with the villain and hero scenarios of Purim are thrilled to continue the drama with new players (Oriental Trading Company sells blank tunics and headwear for easy costuming). Little girls, swept up in the crowns and jewels of Queen Esther’s palace wardrobe are eager to take on their new roles swaddling a doll in a basket (purchase foam doll shapes to wrap from www.makingfriends.com, use a box and raffia to create a basket and set it on a painted river) or dancing with a timbrel. (You can get blank tambourines — ready for decorating — here.)
If you are teaching in a community where your students are likely to observe Pesach dietary laws, consider decorating plain potholders (www.handsonfun.com) or dishtowels with symbolism and vocabulary. Using Crayola fabric markers makes this a simple, beautiful classroom activity. Advise parents to iron the fabric or toss it in a hot dryer to render the color permanent for laundering. A sturdy Chinet paper plate, cut in half, decorated and combined with a quill becomes a chametz sweeper and, if you teach young children, they will lose no time in sweeping your classroom.
Older students respond well to studying the theme of reclining which leads directly to the hardships of slavery. Using imagery from the Haggadah, or individual creativity, students can decorate pillow covers to used, not only on the Seder nights but as a decorative reminder year round. I generally purchase the silk pillow covers from www.DharmaTrading.com. I prefer to purchase the ones labeled “closed” because they are pre-sewn with a zipper. After sketching a design on construction paper, the student artist places it into the pillow cover and traces it with the Crayola Fabric Markers (these markers layer over one another for an even wide color palette) onto the silk. If you have more experience with silk painting, you can purchase paints and dyes from Dharma Trading as well. Since it is zippered, this pillow cover can also serve as a terrific matzah bag.
All areas of curriculum can be translated onto a placemat. The order of the Seder, plagues, the theme of 4’s can be simply and beautifully drawn on a piece of construction paper. Once laminated, that ordinary placemat becomes learning for years to come. Although widely used, markers render an image flat and result in dried lines and white spaces. Crayons abound in colors and offer students a medium with which they can play with texture in their drawings. My students prefer to use Crayola Construction Paper Crayons because they provide true color on any color paper and they are much cleaner than oil pastels. If you prefer a more elegant look, you can buy plain, scallop edged placemats (to use instead of construction paper) from a restaurant supply store or www.foodservicedirect.com. Blank canvas placemats are available from http://www.handsonfun.comand are receptive to the Caryola Fabric Markers.
Would you like your students to write their own Haggadot? Steer clear of photocopying from any template and empower your students to illustrate or author their own. You can purchase blank books of any size from www.BareBooks.com. Some students like making graphic books; others write poetry; others might prefer to collage. In any given classroom the students can create a variety of Haggadot with unique elegance. If you would like to introduce illuminated Haggadot, you can offer students metallic paints and tiny brushes with which to light up the most important elements of their texts.
Whatever you teach, and however you create, be sure to take photos. I would love to see them!