How to Build a Model Sukkah | Sukkot Craft for Kids
Get your kids excited about Sukkot by building a model sukkah. This craft is an ideal tool for teaching kids about the laws and customs of Sukkot while they have fun with arts and crafts.
We did this as a family, but it could easily be done as a religious school activity for third-graders and up. (Younger children may not have the manual dexterity needed to make small, neat decorations.) If you do this as a class activity, split a larger class into small groups (2–4 students per group), so everyone has a chance at hands-on building and decorating.
What Is Sukkot?
Sukkot (also called the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles) is a Jewish holiday celebrated in early fall. It is both a harvest holiday and a commemoration of the Israelites' 40 years of wandering in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. During the week of Sukkot, Jews are commanded to dwell in temporary booths like the Israelites and like the agricultural workers who lived in hastily built huts near their fields during harvest time.
Most Jews today interpret the commandment of "dwelling" in the booths to refer to eating one's meals in the sukkah, although there are some people (usually in comfortable climates) who do spend the week sleeping in their sukkah, as well.
However, not everyone has the space for a sukkah or the know-how to build one. What can you do if you don't have a sukkah of your own?
- Eat meals in your synagogue's sukkah or at a neighbor's sukkah to fulfill the commandment.
But what about the fun of building a decorating a sukkah? For many people, that's the best part of the holiday.
- Build a model sukkah with your kids. Use it as a teaching tool for the laws of Sukkot, and make it a centerpiece for your holiday table!
- Play-doh or Model Magic
- Stickers or pictures cut from magazines
Gather Your Craft Supplies
For the sukkah itself, you'll need a small cardboard box. A large shoebox or small carton works well. (The box we used measured 10" x 9" x 6".) If you use a box with a design on the outside, make sure you have construction paper or scrapbook paper to cover up the distracting logos and images. Other supplies you may need are:
- Fabric such as canvas or burlap
- Popsicle sticks
Be creative with your wall coverings!
- Solid construction paper makes a nice background for little posters inside.
- Scrapbook paper comes in patterns and textures that simulate all kinds of materials, including autumn leaves, grass, and fruit trees.
- You can also use wallpaper scraps or paint the inside of the box.
Build Your Sukkah
1. Using sharp scissors or a craft knife, cut off the flaps from your box and cut a door in the side. According to Jewish law, a sukkah must have at least two and a half walls, so you can cut out the fourth wall from your box if you want to see inside diorama-style.
2. Cover the walls of your box with fabric or pretty paper. You'll probably want to cover both the inside and the outside, although you can use different materials for each. We used scrapbook paper in a burlap pattern, so we have the look of natural fabric walls without having to rummage through the fabric scraps. Measure the pieces you need before you cut them out so they'll fit properly. Use Elmer's school glue or tacky glue to stick your wall coverings onto the box. Don't forget to mark and cut out the location of the door before you glue paper onto the fourth wall!
3. While the glue on the walls is drying, make the schach. The schach (sometimes spelled skhakh or sechach) is the roof of the sukkah. You must be able to see the stars through the roof (and yes, that means the rain must be able to drip into your soup, too). We came up with the idea of gluing popsicle sticks into an openwork pattern, since we didn't have any long enough to go across by themselves. The schach on this miniature sukkah is not tied down, since the wind is not going to blow it away.
Decorate Your Sukkah
There are several types of decorations to consider for your model sukkah, and they're pretty much the same as for a real sukkah:
- papercrafts such as chains or cutout decorations
- fake fruit or vegetables
I let my kids take the lead in decorating the miniature sukkah.
My daughter wanted to hang pretend fruit from the schach, just like we do in our real sukkah, so she made some from Model Magic, which my son colored with markers after they dried. She molded them directly onto a piece of string, so she could tie them to the schach without having to wrap the string around and tie ugly knots.
Who Are the Ushpizin?
One of the big themes of Sukkot is hospitality. We invite real guests to eat in our sukkah, but we also invite spiritual guests. The ushpizin (Aramaic for "guests"), are great leaders of the Jewish people whom we symbolically invite into our sukkahs to share our meals. The traditional list is all male:
- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David
However, our people have had great female leaders and prophets as well, and some people now invite female ushpizin (ushpizot), too:
- Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda, and Esther
Then they decided on a pretty paper chain. This took real patience and perseverance, since my daughter had to cut tiny pieces of masking tape to make the paper circles. (Glue would work better, if you have the time.) We glued the chain into the corners and held it in place with paper clips while it was drying.
My son glued on some chipboard shapes left over from an old scrapbooking project. We had a squirrel that he glued onto the outside with some acorns, and some bushes to decorate the entrance. You could also use appropriate stickers, foam stickers, or pictures cut from magazines to add some color and interest.
I insisted that posters were an integral part of a sukkah's decoration, so my daughter made a welcome sign and a sign for the ushpizin (traditional Sukkot guests). You could also list the Sukkot blessings or draw pictures of the seven species listed in the Bible: wheat, barely, grapes, figs, olives, pomegranates, and dates.
Finally we were ready to put a family into our sukkah. We gathered up some Playmobil people and furntiure and taped them to the floor of the sukkah so they wouldn't slide around. We just used a table and chairs, but you could add a bed if your model family is going to dwell in their little sukkah for real!
Last, but definitely not least, we glued some leaves onto our schach. The schach of a real sukkah should ideally consist of cut branches (large palm fronds are usually used in Israel), but where such material is not readily available, narrow wooden boards or loosely woven bamboo mats are common. Since we had made our schach from wooden popsicle sticks, we glued on the leaves for some greenery and an authentic look.