Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Israel

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How do you provide structure for your kids over the summer? Camp? Trips to the beach? Copious amounts of popsicles and screen time?

All are valid answers, but for us it's been the same for the last 8 years. We put up a big world map on the wall and spend each week learning about a different country somewhere in the world. This week the kids picked Israel.

Read here about how The Educational Summer Vacation accidentally started in 2012, and then read on for a recap of our week in Israel.


First things first: find Israel on the map (we have this giant wall map from Amazon) and fill out our passport pages.

I made passport pages (free printable is here) for the kids years ago; my only regret is that I threw them away after the first several summers because I didn't know it was going to be an ongoing thing.

I finally saved last year's passport pages, clipped them with a binder ring, and simply added more pages for this year. (Too bad I won't have my teenager's pages from 2012 with her wonky 8-year-old handwriting and misspellings, but at least I'll have it for my younger kids.)

The kids colored the flag of Israel while we listened to the Israeli national anthem. Be careful, it just might bring you to tears. I particularly liked this video because it had a translation of the lyrics in English.

This clip about Jerusalem from Shalom Sesame wasn't overly informative, but seeing Grover got the little kids interested enough to sit still for this overview of the sites in Israel: 

For dinner I tried my hand at some of the national dishes, and all I can say is: where has Israeli cooking been all my life?? In Israel, I guess. I'm just mad I didn't know about it.

Tonight, I made falafel balls and put them in pitas with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, yogurt, and feta cheese. It was delicious and super-easy and will definitely become a regular meal at our house from now on.

Get in my belly.


Over the last 8 summers, I've given dozens of crash courses in different world languages, and never have I been as intimidated by a language as I was by Hebrew. Even when we did Hungarian, and that's saying something.

Every Internet tutorial I saw promised to help you "learn the aleph bet in just 40 minutes!" (Forty minutes? For the ABCs?)

After watching the video, I understood why it took 40 minutes. Hebrew is complicated.

The kids and I did our best to copy down the letters in this simplified video, and after we sweated through it the kids were at least able to recognize some of the aleph bet in this musical alphabet video.

My 4-year-old initially refused to participate because "it was dumb and boring," but then he changed his mind. He asked me to pull up a picture of the aleph bet and I let him copy letters to his heart's content.

When he was finished I asked him to hold his paper in front of his belly so I could take a picture, and being a 4-year-old boy, he turned around and put it on his rear end.

I'll take what I can get.

True to its complicated form, even counting to 10 in Hebrew isn't simple. Lots of languages have masculine and feminine nouns, but Hebrew also has masculine and feminine numbers depending on what you're counting!

Even after looking it up I wasn't sure which one to use if you're just abstractly counting to 10, but I think you'd use the feminine so we went with that.

I love musical teaching videos. (We learned an Arabic song about counting camels years and years ago, and I can still count to 10 in Arabic today because of it.)

After we'd learned our numbers, the kids scattered to various devices and played an online number matching game or a type-the-phone-number game.

For dinner that night, I made a slightly adapted chicken shawarma.


We put it in wraps with cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, and tahini sauce. I wish I'd taken a picture of the assembled wraps for the blog, but they looked and tasted so delicious I devoured two of them before I even remembered I had a blog.

For the rest of the week, the kids had to say 'please' and 'thank you' in Hebrew. My 8-year-old really got into the spirit, because later that day in the car I asked her to call a sibling at home. When they picked up, she told them "Mom says to turn on the oven. Toda! (thank you)"


After briefly going over the Israel-Palestine conflict with the older kids while the younger kids picked their noses and complained about how bored they were, we spent the rest of today talking about archaeology.

Israel is rich in archaeological sites, mostly because it's been an important place for civilizations since basically the dawn of time.

The younger kids enjoyed this Sesame Street segment on archaeology, and the older kids were interested in this video about 7 important archaeological finds made in Israel. Then we watched an episode of Bill Nye The Science Guy and let me tell you, the amount of hilarity in this show is directly proportional to how old you are.

I'd gone to the dollar store that morning and bought a plain white bowl or plate for each of the kids. Handing out Sharpies, I told them to decorate theirs as if it had been made by someone in another culture and/or time, either real or made-up.

In the woods in front of our house, we placed each one in a shallow hole, smashed it with a hammer, and covered it with dirt.

Highlight of his day, hands down.

Each kid switched places with another kid, and I gave out shovels and dollar store brushes to help them excavate and clean all the pieces they could recover.

I'd planned to have them fill out this archaeology record from Blue House Homeschool and be all official about it, but it was about to rain and it was almost dinnertime and we were in a hurry, and sometimes done is better than perfect.

They brought their collection bags indoors and sat down at the table to piece their artifact together (the 4-year-old was NOT happy about not having every piece, but that's archaeology, buddy.)

A rare reconstruction of an archaeological artifact with the original Dollar Tree price tag still attached!

After they put together the plate or bowl, they had to guess from the decorations what culture theirs had come from.

My 14-year-old and 12-year-old made up a culture, my 8-year-old did ancient Egyptian, and my 16-year-old used the elves from Lord of the Rings.


For a country the size of New Jersey, it's impressive that the capital of Israel is a holy city to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (Four, if you count Baháʼí.) 

We decided to review two religions today and two tomorrow. Today was Judaism and Christianity.

We reviewed what we knew about Judaism with the nonfiction book What Do We Know About Judiasm? and the picture book A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet.

This video helped us learn about the importance of the Western Wall of the Jewish temple site in Jerusalem, also known as the Wailing Wall.

We ran out of time to watch a library DVD I'd gotten called Lights: The Miracle of Chanukah, which looks like a cute 25-minute animated thing my little ones would enjoy at some point when we have time.

When we switched gears and talked about Christianity, I figured it was a perfect time to brush up on our New Testament geography.

How often do you look at the maps in the back of your Bible? If you're me, the answer is never. So I actually learned a lot from this activity.

With the help of this website, I made a list of Christian sites of importance in Israel. The kids looked up place names from the list in the Bible Dictionary at the back of their scriptures to learn what happened there and why it was important, and then they located it on a map of Israel.

Using a printable map of Isreal like the ones found here, the kids used sticky jewels to mark places of importance from the New Testament like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Qsar al Yahud (the place where Christ was baptized in the Jordan River,) and Jerusalem.

We also found the Sea of Galilee, which isn't really a sea and today is called Lake Tiberias. #themoreyouknow

For extra reading (because who doesn't love homework during summer vacation?) I gave the kids the books What are the Ten Commandments? and Who Was Jesus? from the Who Is book series, which I am currently in love with.

Dinner tonight put a damper on my newfound love for Israeli food. I had high expectations for this shakshuka, but sadly it didn't taste nearly as good as it looked.

In fact, it was kind of gross.

I'm completely prepared to admit it might not have been the recipe's fault and maybe I just made it wrong, but I can't foresee us trying it again in the future so I guess we'll never know.


Today we covered the Islam and Baháʼí faiths.

We reviewed what we knew about Islam, both from "visiting" previous Muslim countries and from going to open mosque day at a local mosque a few years ago. We also checked out the book Islam from the Eyewitness Books series.

Jerusalem is the third holiest city to Muslims because it's the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven. The Dome of the Rock, which we learned about in this video, is built on the site. 

Baháʼí is one of the world's youngest religions, founded in the 1860s. I stumbled on this lovely animated video explaining its beliefs (start at 4:25 because he rambles,) narrated by the guy who plays Dwight Schrute on The Office

The Baháʼí World Centre is in Haifa, Israel. We looked here for an explanation of the different buildings on the site, and then watched this drone video of the Baháʼí gardens at Haifa. 


The last thing to talk about was music. We'd been listening to Klezmer music at dinner, and watched a mini-documentary about it (even though the guy they interviewed was Russian instead of Israeli.)

Then we learned about the horah dance that is done at Jewish weddings. My 14-year-old said she did this at her friend's bat mitzvah last year, too.

We watched this clip from a random couple's wedding reception to see what it looked like (thanks Sheila and Rob, whoever you are!) and then tried to follow this tutorial:

It basically turned into everyone standing in a circle kicking each other, but we tried.

The famous violinist Itzhak Perlman is from Tel-Aviv, Israel. He's so amazing. My kids thought it was fun to watch him on Sesame Street (why was there so much Sesame Street this week?) and I couldn't believe this video of him playing Dance of the Goblins. Seriously.

Our family was gifted a year subscription to Masterclass and I noticed there's a class there taught by Itzhak Perlman, so I encouraged my violinist 14-year-old to take it.

A few other books I gave my kids to look at this week included:

I was pretty intimidated to do Israel for our Educational Summer Vacation this year. I didn't think I'd be able to do justice to the rich history and sacred sites of Israel, and I probably didn't, but I tried the best I could and we enjoyed it.

And thanks to that catchy number song, I'll remember how to count to 10 in Hebrew for the rest of my life.
Learning about Israel is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Israel #jerusalem #hebrew #educational
Building the perfect Israel lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Israel and Jerusalem activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Israel #jerusalem #hebrew #lessonplan
This Israel unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Israel and Jerusalem in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Israel #jerusalem #hebrew #homeschool
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1 comment:

r0b0d0c said...

Every summer, I'm amazed at the geographical educational seminars that you engage your family in! Times that your children will always remember, and hopefully carry on the tradition with their children! You are an amazing Mom!