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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Jewish Sensory Activity for Babies and Toddlers

Our daughter is about to turn eight months old and by now, she’s exploring everything around through her senses. It’s incredible to watch! And entertaining – because everything she picks up with her little hands goes straight to the mouth. To help her learn, I’m always thinking of fun and unique sensory activities to do together.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I love baking Challah. My entire home smells like freshly baked bread most Friday mornings. When you think of your childhood, are there any scents that remind you of something? Whether it’s your favorite dish your Bubbe used to make or the perfume your Mom used to wear? That as soon as you smell it, it takes you back in time to that special moment? One of mine is the smell of construction building. My Dad owns a construction business and I went to work with him growing up. Whenever I smell fresh cut wood on a construction site, I immediately think of working with my dad and how much I love him.

I hope my children grow up remembering the smell of Mom’s challah.

More importantly, I hope my children grow up remembering the smell of Shabbat.

Erev Shabbat smells like freshly baked bread. But Havdalah – the end of Shabbat – smells like wonderful spices!

What is Havdalah?

Havdalah is Hebrew for “separation” and it marks the end of Shabbat after you see three stars in the night sky. The same way we light Shabbat candles and sing the blessings to start Shabbat, there are blessings to end Shabbat as well. It is a tradition to separate the “holy” from the “mundane” i.e. Shabbat from the rest of the week. The three things used for this tradition is a glass of wine or grape juice, some fragrant spices to smell, and a Havdalah candle. The Havdalah blessings are located in the back of the Messianic Jewish Family Bible, Tree of Life Version.

Shabbat in its entirety is a multisensory experience.

Sensory Activity for Babies and Toddlers

Recently, I came across some fun fabric that was marked down in the clearance aisle in Wal-Mart and decided to sew a b’samim pouch. B’samim means “spices” in Hebrew. The spices that are a part of the Havdalah set come in a decorated box or pouch and smelling the mixture every week is a reminder that Shabbat is over and a new week begins!

I sewed the b’samim pouch, put fun beads on the drawstring and me, my husband and our daughter made our way to the herb store! We had our baby smell all kinds of different herbs and spices. Of course, whenever we held the glass jar near her face to smell something she reached out to try and eat it. She started kicking her feet and licking her gums when she smelled lavender! It was so cute!

We decided to go with the traditional spices for Havdalah which are cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, rosebuds, and orange peel. I thought it was important that wherever we attend a Havdalah service, she smells the same spices to equate it with the end of Shabbat. Also, have you ever seen a cardamom pod? They’re so weird. When I was picking out the spices and herbs I thought there was NO WAY this mixture was going to smell nice – but I was surprised how much I liked it!

Have you ever smelled Havdalah? What do you think?

Make your own B’samim Pouch

To help you make your own b’samim, or spice pouch, with your children and family I made these simple instructions for you to download! The instructions do require a sewing machine to sew the pouch. If you don’t know how to sew or don’t have a machine, you can purchase Herb pouches and personalize them with fun beads and have your kids decorate them with fabric paint! Make one pouch for the whole family or let each of your children make their own to keep. The goal of this activity is to make it special, make it meaningful, and make it a memory to enjoy together every week when you say farewell to Shabbat.

Are there any unique sensory activities you’ve done with your babes? We’d love to read your stories! Share them with us in the comments below!

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