A Bug's Lag B'Omer

AS WE COUNT THE OMER, and as Lag B’Omer approaches, many families are looking for new and creative ways to engage their children in Jewish tradition.

A Holiday for Ari AntPJ Library author Sylvia Rouss is an expert at teaching children about Judaism. The former preschool teacher from Los Angeles now writes her Sammy Spider series and focuses on teaching about the holidays.

In 2011, Rouss announced on her blog that she was introducing a new holiday book: A Holiday for Ari Ant, which tells the story of a food-loving little bug during Purim, Passover, and Lag B’Omer.

On her blog, Rouss provides background for parents interested in learning a little more about the minor holiday of Lag B’Omer. She writes, “Lag B’Omer is celebrated on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer and is a day on which mourning is suspended.” She adds, “his minor festival is observed by going on family picnics and outings.

Jewish family blogger and former education editor Linda Wertheimer interviewed Rouss last month. Her interview, which was published in April, provided a glimpse at the ideas that inspire Rouss to write her Sammy series of books.

In her interview with Rouss, Wertheimer asks, “What led you to become a children’s book author. Rouss replied:

“I had been teaching young Jewish children for several years, and sometimes I would be unable to find material on specific holidays. Or if I found something, the text would be a little too sophisticated. I started writing my own materials for use in my classroom. I would share what I had written with my colleagues. It was with their urging I decided to see if I could get something published.”

Presumably, it was this motivation that led to her to introduce Sammy the Spider (and now Ari the Ant) to so many holiday firsts.

Sylvia Rouss is herself a treasure trove of Jewish learning ideas. On Rouss’s own blog, she posted several songs for families to sing in order to teach children a little bit about Lag B’Omer.

One of the songs Rouss posted is made up of her own original lyrics and is sung to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey.” The song is called We’re Filling Our Basket:

We’re filling our basket,
for a picnic today.
It’s Lag B’Omer;
let’s go out to play.

The weather is lovely,
as lovely can be.
Let’s sit on our blanket,
beneath this big tree.

We will eat our picnic
and play in the sun
because Lag BaOmer
is always such fun.

In addition to her songs for the holiday, Rouss provides families with a couple healthy snack recipes and learning games.

“Ants on a Log,” for example requires celery sticks, peanut butter (or cream cheese), and raisins. “Spread butter or cream cheese onto celery sticks,” she writes. “Place raisins on top to represent ants. Eat.”

To help very young children learn about spatial relationships, Rouss offers this Lag B’Omer idea:

“Use a real basket and piece of fruit. Ask child to put the fruit in the basket, under the basket, behind the basket, etc.”

For toddlers and pre-school-aged children, Rouss suggests parents use the foods from Ari Ant and the Lag B’Omer picnic to play “What’s Missing?”

“Have children identify items and then close their eyes,” she explains. “Remove an item and let children guess what is missing.”