Fourth-graders use claymation to teach tolerance

A giraffe and a lion fight about who should be king of the jungle. The giraffe is taller, so he thinks he should be king. But the lion has the moniker “king of the jungle,” so he thinks he is more entitled. Things are about to get ugly when an elephant comes along and asks, “Why can’t you be friends?”

The moral of the story is: “If you and someone else want the same thing, compromise and be friends.”

If this sounds like a kid’s grade school project, there’s a reason why. But it’s all the more impressive when you consider that the skits are in the form of claymation, and the dialogue is in Hebrew with English subtitles. When you take into account that the skits were all filmed and can be viewed on the Internet, you realize that this was no ordinary lesson in tolerance.

This skit with the lion and giraffe was one of six created by the fourth graders at the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, all using the technique of claymation.

Claymation uses clay figures and stop-motion photography to trick the brain into seeing the clay figures moving. When the images of the figures are shown quickly, they seem to move.

The project was the result of brainstorming by four Wornick teachers. General studies teacher Debbi Seligman had used claymation once before, to teach her class about the Jewish holidays, and it was such a hit that she wanted to do it again.

Meanwhile, fourth-grade teacher Steve Blatteis and Hebrew teacher Irit Kuba had gone to Israel last summer as part of the Israel Education Initiative — a local program to help teachers integrate Israel more into their classrooms. Together with Judaica teacher Kaylee Frager, they came up with this idea, with the goal being to share their work with schools in Israel, as well as Brandeis Hillel Day School, which also had some teachers visit Israel.

Kuba chose a popular Israeli children’s book, called “Apartment for Rent,” in which animals and people of all stripes don’t want to live in the same apartment building because of their differences.

“It’s a very simple message, but its theme is not unique to Israel,” said Kuba.

First, the kids built a set of the apartment, and filmed themselves acting out the story in both Hebrew and English. This fostered a discussion with Frager about the Jewish message of the book, which she described as “brotherhood, acceptance and respect, and how building on those themes gives us the strength to accomplish things.”

Then they were divided into groups and wrote a story that had this same theme. They created storyboards, went to Zeum at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to learn about claymation and did the stop-motion photography. Then they put the films on iMovie software, rewrote the scripts into Hebrew, recorded the voiceovers in Hebrew and added English subtitles.

After that, the children were filmed elucidating the moral of each story.

Seligman said of the students, “They were extremely proud of this process, they owned it, and really felt they had taken something and created it and were very proud of what they had done.” Kuba was also proud of how they created an entire clip in Hebrew.

They have shared the link containing their work with schools in Israel; the Israeli classes are working on PowerPoint presentations that will come by mail.

Meanwhile, the students reported that working together in groups (though fights broke out a few times) and seeing the work that they created were highlights.

“I thought it was a fun experience using Hebrew and good morals,” said student Russell Zych. “Although we had some fights over some characters and storyboards, we all had fun in the end watching our own claymation.”

Frager said the fights were just part of the process. “They had ways of sorting them out and working out their differences,” she said, “which comes right from the book. This project is about building the kind of skills so they can resolve their differences.”

To view the claymation films made by the Wornick students, visit

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."