Chanukah | Tips for a happy holiday for children of all abilities

For a Chanukah celebration that is child-friendly and fully accessible for children with special learning needs, here are some suggestions from Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, a Boston-based agency for Jewish special education.

1. Jewish parents and educators place a lot of importance on students learning how to say the Chanukah blessings. However, the act of reciting a blessing isn’t meaningful if a child is simply repeating words in Hebrew that have no meaning to them. Since students with special needs are often strong visual learners, adding symbols to the blessings can help them to learn the meaning of the Hebrew words and phrases.

2. Did you know that the body learns 10 times faster than the brain — and forgets 10 times slower? Here are some ways to incorporate movement and fun into your Chanukah traditions: Build menorahs out of Legos or Play-Doh; create a two-dimensional menorah out of shaving cream or finger paint; cut strips of paper to make a paper-chain menorah. Also, spinning the dreidel helps improve finger movement for a child’s pencil grip.

3. One menorah for each family is good — but one for each family member is even better. Having their own menorah helps kids feel more engaged and invested in Chanukah traditions. Plus, it is an opportunity to practice properly setting up the candles and lighting them. For very young children, you can buy or create a fabric or paper menorah with Velcro candles and flames.

4. Making and eating latkes is an integral part of Chanukah, and children with an array of needs can participate in helping to prepare them. The key is breaking the process into easy, single-action steps that match your child’s abilities and motor challenges. Do this by creating step-by-step instructions using simple language and pictures. Set up stations — one step per station — with all the supplies the child will need for that step.

5. Many children have difficulty with transitions and waiting. That’s why it’s a good idea to separate gift-giving from lighting the menorah. Too often, kids just want to rush through lighting the menorah to get to the gifts. Also, giving kids toys at night (especially on school nights when they won’t have time to play with them) can be challenging. Instead, consider gift-giving at any time during the day, depending on its use — for example, pajamas and books at bedtime, toys after school so kids have time to play. That way, you have time to enjoy the process of setting up the menorah, lighting it and playing dreidel.

6. Games are a great way to develop social skills and practice taking turns. To that end, here are some great gift ideas. Guesstures: One-word charades in a fun format; helps kids practice reading and using body language to convey messages. Getta Letter: one-minute rounds thinking of words in categories (learning to categorize is an important skill). Guess Who? and Hedbanz: Guess your opponent’s “person” or object by asking descriptive questions; helps kids use descriptive words and deductive reasoning. Rush Hour: The object is to move cars out of the way so one car can exit the board; helps with motor and visual planning.

7. For children who love and learn best through engaging technology, there are some great Chanukah apps for iPads and smartphones. Five favorites are 123 Color (iPad, free); iChanukah (iPhone, 99 cents); Light My Fire (iPad, free); DreidelTap (iPhone, free); and Chai on Chanukah (iPhone, 99 cents).

For more suggestions, including Chanukah blessings with visuals, visit