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Celebrating Tu B'Shevat with Young Children

Celebrating Tu B'Shevat with Young Children
By Kim Krikorian
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”
- Chinese Proverb
Tu B’Shevat is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Shevat, this year coinciding with February 5th. It marks the beginning of the blooming season in Israel. Today, this holiday has become known as an ecological holiday that connects us to the land of Israel. In early childhood we recognize this day as the birthday of the trees.

One of my favorite things about working with young children is watching them interact with nature. Recently a 3 year old child came up to me with a handful of branches that fell from one of our evergreens. I asked her what she planned on doing with the branches. She said, “I am taking them home to plant a tree”. I watched a group of children as they watched tall trees moving in the wind. A child said to me, “See how the trees are moving, that is how they make the wind.”

As children sort out their ideas and observations, our biggest task in early childhood is to help them develop a sincere love for nature. Our teachers do this in powerful ways.
  • They bring in items from trees so our youngest children can touch, smell and explore.
  • We share foods from trees for all to taste and explore (especially those that grow in Israel).
  • Children will hold hands around trees and sing “Happy Birthday” to them.
  • We will start sprouting seeds like parsley to be able to use for Passover.
  • Children will draw trees and explore the seasons.
  • We will relate personal growth to the growth of trees. This includes how children are developing new skills like trees are developing fruit.
  • We will work with our school's gardens as caretakers and future planners of our community’s growth.
  • We talk about things children can do to repair our world to make it a better place for everyone, like recycling, composting, and conserving energy.
  • We will explore ideas about lifecycles, the parts of a tree, and living things that make trees their home.
  • We talk about why trees are important and vital for future generations.

As we approach Tu B'Shevat, how will you celebrate as a family? Here are some ideas.

  • Plant a tree.
  • Donate to an organization that supports planting trees. Locally you can get involved or donate to Friends of Trees. Or donate to an organization that plants a tree in Israel like the Jewish National Fund.
  • Take a nature walk.
  • Organize a park clean up or pick up litter in your neighborhood.
  • Commit to doing something as a family to help the environment: use recyclable goods, buy earth friendly products, reuse what you can, or start home composting.
  • Explore your family tree.
  • Explore tasting or preparing recipes that use the 7 species of Israel (wheat, grapes, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates).

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. - David Sobel

Most importantly, spend time as a family in nature. Researchers have found many benefits to playing in nature. There is a significant positive effect on childrens’ play, social behaviors and mental health, particularly in independent play and prosocial behaviors.
Other benefits are:

  • It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play.
  • It promotes creativity and imagination. Outdoor play allows children to interact meaningfully with their surroundings and wonder with open-ended materials.
  • It teaches responsibility. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
  • It provides different stimulation. Nature activates more senses. You can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments.
  • It gets kids moving. Not only is exercise good for childrens’ bodies, but it also helps improve focus.
  • It reduces stress and fatigue.

As important as it is for us to plant trees for future generations, it is equally important to tend to the hearts of children. I am confident that tending the seeds of young children will change the world someday. I hope that you will find a way this Tu B’Shevat to inspire this love of trees and the world around us with young children.

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." - Rachel Carson