At Zimmer Preschool and Olam Academy and Breitman Hebrew School, our children are starting a new holiday unit about Tu B’shvat – the Jewish New Year for Trees. The Jewish calendar actually celebrates four distinctive New Years that create an opportunity for us to commemorate creation, agriculture, social and political entities, our responsibilities toward contributing to our community’s infrastructure.
Tu B’shvat (which is not a name, but actually the Hebrew pronunciation of the date - the 15th of the month of Shvat) celebrates the beginning of the spring agricultural cycle in Israel. If you were visiting Israel at this time the fruit trees – especially the almonds – are beginning to bloom along with the sweet smell of citrus.
According to biblical dictates farmers in Israel do not use or sell fruit from trees until their third year of growth. During the time when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Tu B’shvat provided the demarcation for marking the years of a tree's growth (similar to the way that all thoroughbred race horse ages are calculated from January 1 for the purpose of becoming a “three year old” that can run at The Kentucky Derby). Once the tree reached “maturity” and its fruit could be picked – the third fruiting season - the farmer would be required to bring a percentage of the third year’s produce to the Temple for charity and dedication.
For the children, who for the most part require a concrete relationship to give context to their learning, we concentrate on the beauty and value of fruit-bearing trees. By linking information they are learning or have familiarity with, we can create a meaningful connection between the observance and spirit of the holiday. No, we don’t live in Israel, we don’t bring tithes to the Temple, we are not contemplating the greater agricultural cycle, but we can talk about trees, about their parts, about fruit, about springtime blooms after a winter’s sleep. We can thank Hashem for filling our world with trees. For some of the older children we can also talk about Israel, climatic differences, seasonal change, and use beginning map reading and early math skills in our discussions. Creating an environment that talks simultaneously “to” the children’s cognitive level as well as just a bit “beyond” their comfort zone we can help our children learn, grow and develop as well rounded human beings.
Tu B’shvat reminds us of our relationship to the natural world, the way G-d intended it to be, including our need to care for and respect it and to act responsibly in order to keep the earth’s environment safe for our children and their children after that. Jewish teachings don’t ask us to give charity, but rather “to do righteousness,” which is really the root concept for the word “tzedakah.”
To this end the children will explore and focus on different aspects of trees and fruit:
Young two’s are gaining the vocabulary to talk about a topic, thus they will concentrate on trees, fruit from trees. Older two’s will be able to expand that idea to include parts of a tree and the recognition that some trees give us fruit, some do not. At this stage the children will create representations of trees and fruit and explore through pictures/photos, walks outside, and representational creations (using various art materials).
Our three year olds will link their knowledge about trees and fruit to a discussion about climate and seasons. They will start a conversation about contrasting climates- here in NJ as opposed to the climate in Israel. Just as we care for ourselves, trees are living and our three year olds can make the connection between caring for animal and plant life. They will be discussing how different kinds of fruit grow on trees that live in different kinds of climates.
The pre-K class will be learning and exploring climate as a factor in nature. They will also review concepts from previous learning about trees and fruit and will bring a cognitive skill- graphing and math into the equation!
In Kindergarten, where the children have begun to explore abstract content, they will certainly build further – talking about climate, water requirements and irrigation. They will be able to extrapolate the needs of people in an arid climate (most of Israel) and how irrigation is used as a method of allowing fruit trees (and food sources) to grow.
Olam Academy's 1st Graders will be exploring these concepts and adding new Hebrew vocabulary words into their knowledge base. Tu Bishvat unit will reflect that interdisciplinary way we approach education.
Breitman Hebrew School will have many hands-on activities - hunts, match-it-games, 7-Species Tasting Test, etc. - to bring this holiday alive. We will analyze the commonalities between human growth and trees, and the symbiotic relationship between human and nature.
In each of the age groups the children will also be discussing the beauty of nature, our responsibility to care for the natural world and how we can show our appreciation of it.
Each holiday has its customs and rituals. On Tu B’shvat we eat fruits, specifically the fruits and grains with which Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, dates, pomegranates and olives.
A wonderful Tu B’shvat celebration will take place in preschool on January 20th. The children will be participating in a representational fruit market. The market itself will be organized by the pre-K class and each class will participate by visiting the market, visually examining the choices, making personal choices of which fruit to eat and then joining their preschool community in a fruit-feast in honor of Tu B’shvat. Conversations linking the teachings and experiences of Tu B’shvat with the fruit market will occur in each class.
In order to “stock” our market, each teacher will be posting a list of fruit we need from each class. Parents are asked to choose a fruit that they can provide (you’ll be asked to designate your choice on the list) and deliver it to the pre-K class (Morah Janice & Chayala on the 2nd floor) between 9:00 and 9:30 AM on either January 18 or 19. The children in the pre-K will appropriately thank you for helping to stock their market! The fruit will be shared communally by the entire preschool.
Thank you for learning about Tu B’shvat through this short note, we hope the children are sharing some of their new knowledge with you at home!
Although it’s snowy and cold outside in New Jersey, Tu B’shvat can also remind us of the beautiful spring that lies in wait.
Malkie and Ann