By Lara Nicolson
PJ Library Coordinator, Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE)
This time of year is summer in my native South Africa and in the upcoming months families spend as much time outdoors as possible. While I have enjoyed raising my children in a snowy climate, I find that we spend more time dressing in our snow gear and drinking hot chocolate afterwards than actually playing in the snow. Like many of you, I would like to find ways to connect my family to nature leading up to the January holiday of Tu B’shevat (the Jewish Earth Day), which is a perfect opportunity to appreciate our natural surroundings.
One of the PJ library books being mailed to 2-3 year olds in Baltimore in January 2014 is “26 Big Things Small Hands Do,” which was featured in the September PJ library Storywalk event at the Pearlstone Center. This program offered families an opportunity to see a book come to life on the farm*. But you don’t need to wait until our next Storywalk or springtime to go out and experience nature with a Jewish lens.
On January 15, 2014, we will be celebrating Tu’ B’Shevat, which is also the “New Year” or “Birthday” of the Trees. Here are some tips for celebrating this holiday with your children:
• PJ Library books are a great start! By reading these books** together as a family, your children can learn about Shemirat Ha’adamah, the Jewish value of protecting the earth and prepare for the outdoor activities you plan for them.
• Once you have read and enjoyed them, consider sharing your PJ library books with others and practicing the value of Bal tashchit which encourages us not to waste and preserve the beauty in our world. You can swap them with your friends; donate your books to your child’s school or the CJE library. If you are interested in starting a book drive at your school, we would be happy to set up a PJ donation box, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Have a New Year’s or Birthday Party for the Trees. Celebrate by having each child decorate a planter and plant some seeds that they can take care of through the winter and transfer into their gardens in the springtime.
• Invite your neighborhood friends over for a Seder for Tu B’Shevat (I’ve never had one and am planning to hold one on Shabbat that week). You can ask everyone to bring a dish that includes local fruit and vegetables. Please post your photos and recipes on our PJ Library Baltimore Facebook page.
• Visit the Pearlstone Center to take a walk along their beautiful forest paths and take your children to “Meet a tree.” This is a unique experience that will connect your children to a special tree, as they are to the people in their lives. You can also contact Pearlstone Center to visit their farm, join the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or attend a family program, such as the Beit Midrash in March.
We hope that these activities will inspire you to join us for our next PJ library programs: PJ on the Town at the Science Center on February 9, 2014, with the theme of “Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge” and PJ on the Town at the Irvine Nature Center on April 6, 2014.
* We created a Reward Chart linked to the book and event that you can download and adapt for your family using the supporting resources on our website.
** If you don’t have copies of these books, you can also visit our CJE library too.