The Process behind the Product: Making Sukkot in Yetzirah

For our Sukkot Reflection this week, we made Sukkot patches in Yetzirah. After we finished, we used Popsicle sticks and tape to make our own sukkot (an individual shelter is called a sukkah; plural, is sukkot). The only prompt the children were given for this exercise was: “Build your own sukkah!” You may have seen one of these come home in your child’s hand on Tuesday; and you may have (rightly) wondered what it was.

As you can see in the pictures above, we ended up with a wide variety of sukkot. Some children chose to put a pointed roof on their sukkah, while other children did not; some chose to put a floor on their sukkah, while others did not. Other sukkot at first glance do not look very much like a sukkah that we have ever seen before.

These artistic choices may not result in a true reflection of how a sukkah looks. However, each of these sukkot had many different influences that led to its creation that we have to consider in order to understand what the project is about. At the Jewish Enrichment Center, we examine all of these observations before we can make a judgement about what is at stake in a child’s work. For example:

(a) The prompt for the exercise was “Build your own sukkah!” Further directions were not provided. The intention of the activity was not for the children to produce a faithful reproduction of a sukkah, but to explore the shape of sukkot and shelters in general; they were given artistic freedom.

(b) Each variation may simply reflect the personal aesthetic choices of the child, spontaneous or intentional choices that came to them in the moment that they may not be able to verbalize or recall after the project is over.

(c) There is a time component. Some children finished their patchwork earlier than others, and thus had more time to work on their sukkah. Those with less time may not have had freedom to make a more complicated structure and thus ended up with something incomplete.

(d) There is a social component. At this age level, it is not uncommon for children to examine and take ideas from the work of their neighbors. Since all the children were working at the same table, they may have gotten the idea for a floor or pointed roof from the child sitting next to them and replicated it in their own work. This way, the work reflects friendship as much as it reflects the children themselves.

Phew! And to think, all of these aspects come into play every time the child builds or draws something. A few scribbles on a piece of paper can have many influences. As parents and as educators, we often can be confused whether a piece of work should go on the fridge or in the trash. The key here is to understand the process behind the product; to do this, watch the child as he or she works, ask questions, and draw conclusions based on what you see and hear. Discover the causes behind a work before the child forgets them. Finally, provide those observations back to the child. This is a foundational process we use at the Jewish Enrichment Center.

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