Exploring Yom Kippur with Young Children
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Exploring Yom Kippur with Young Children

Lesson Summary:

The story of Jonah, being sorry, forgiving and the hebrew phrase "G mar Chatima Tova" are each addressed in this lesson on Yom Kippur. 

Enduring Understandings:

  • We all make mistakes.
  • We can acknowledge our mistakes by saying, “I’m sorry, ” and try to make things better.
  • When we do something wrong, it is important to learn from our mistakes so that we make better choices next time. 
  • It takes courage to admit when we are wrong or have made a mistake.
  • Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to say “I’m sorry” for mistakes made and to ask for forgiveness.

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Note: the amount of materials needed will vary depending upon whether you rotate small groups through the stations or use the activities suggested with the whole class.

Copy of Jonah and The Great Big Fish by Rhonda Gowler Greene

Taschlich Activity: Coffee filters, washable markers, container with water.

Water Table Story ReTell Activity: Water table, water toys of characters and objects from Jonah and the Great Fish: a whale or big fish, Jonah, a boat, an assortment of people from the boat


Jonah Videos to Consider showing:
“Overboard” A song by Josh Nelson 
Jonah and The Whale Musical Cartoon:  
The story of “Jonah and the Big Fish” in a very “child-friendly way” though simple puppetry and narration: Jonah on YouTube


Note: This lesson is best integrated into the curriculum after Rosh Hashanah has ended and before the eve of Yom Kippur. 

Set Induction:
Discuss the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
Ask several questions to review what students know about the holiday, discussion questions may include:

  •  “Did anyone go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah?" 
  •  “Did you hear any songs you knew? Which?" 
  • “Did anyone hear the shofar blast?” 
  •  “What did it sound like? (Give students the opportunity to try to imitate the sound of the shofar.)"
  • “Who knows why we blow the shofar? “ 

Discuss with students what they might know or have experiences about the tashlich ceremony that occurs following Rosh Hashanah-when we symbolically “cast off” or toss pieces of bread into flowing water, to activate background knowledge before partaking in the activity. Guide students to understand that Jewish people say that we are sorry for mistakes we have made and people we have hurt. on Yom Kippur, and just as the water carries away the bread, the things we do wrong are carried away .

Remind students the our next holiday is Yom Kippur. What do students know about Yom Kippur? Make a class list to reflect their understanding of this important holiday. Reinforce, clarify, and guide them as appropriate.
For example:
What’s the most important thing we say on Yom Kippur? ( “I’m sorry.”)
When do we say, “I’m sorry?” (We say “I’m sorry” to the people that we’ve hurt. Sometimes, we hurt people’s feelings without even knowing we’ve done something wrong. On Yom Kippur we say, “I’m sorry” to EVERYONE! )

Share the story of Jonah, in one or more of the formats that best suits your community, orally, and/or with a picture book, and/or with a video.

As you prepare to share the story:
Ask, “What’s the biggest fish you can think of? Have students draw a picture of the biggest fish they have ever seen and share. Explain that they will be hearing the story of Jonah and how Jonah ran away from G-d when he was scared, and found himself inside a great big fish. (As appropriate, you may wish to explain that in many stories about Jonah, he is swallowed by a great big whale, which is a mammal-- not a fish.) 

While you share the story:
Encouraging student questions, comments and predictions. Stop and ask the children to give give Jonah advice at the following points: When Jonah decides to run away rather than listen to G-d; when Jonah is on the ship, when Jonah is in the whale’s belly; at the end of the story. 

Suggested ways to share the story:
Oral ReTell
Share the story through a classic storytelling, familiarize yourself with the original text MyJewishLearning-Jonah and get tips for storytelling strategies.

Read Jonah and the Great Big Fish by Rhonda Gowler Greene which tales the story of Jonah in simple to follow rhyme: “God told Jonah to obey, said, ‘Go to Nineveh this day.’ But, stubborn Jonah fled instead. Didn’t do just what God said.”

“Overboard” A song by Josh Nelson 
Jonah and The Whale Musical Cartoon:  
The story of “Jonah and the Big Fish” in a very “child-friendly way” though simple puppetry and narration: Jonah on YouTube

After sharing the story, discussion questions might include:
  • What did Jonah do when he was scared and didn’t want to listen to G-d? (He ran away from G-d.) 
  • Do you think that running away a good idea? 
  • What could Jonah do instead of running away? (i.e. Say, “ I’m sorry, “ have faith in G-d, ask G-d for forgiveness, etc.)
  • Do you think anyone can ever run away from G-d? Why or why not?

Before students leave for the Yom Kippur holiday say, “g’mar chatima tovah.” Explain that it means, “I hope you have a great year!” and that it is important to say to our friends and family on Yom Kippur . Give each the opportunity to say this to the class and remind them to say it to all their friends and family! --“I hope you have a great year!”


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

These activities can be set up as centers, stations or group activities, depending upon student interest and ability:

Tashlich Activity: Another opportunity for students to reflect on the things they’d like to “wash away” This is our last chance to say “I’m Sorry.” Students will have an opportunity to toss away their mistakes for the last time before Yom Kippur!

Distribute extra-large coffee filters and washable markers to each student. Ask students to either depict something they did that they are sorry for and don’t want to repeat in an illustration or write a description of their mistake/dictate what they’d like a facilitator to write for them (depending on child’s writing abilities). After reflecting on the mistakes appropriately, take the coffee filter to a bucket of water, sink, or bathtub, place the coffee filter in the water, and watch as the mistakes wash away.
Use this time to discuss forgiveness, learning from mistakes, starting anew, and the concept of a clean slate.

The Water Table with Story ReTell.
Consider sharing the story of Jonah again, either making the book available, displaying a video as children play or showing the clip and then providing play materials.

Encourage students as they play with the big fish, the boat, and the people at the water table. As they play, encourage children to use their own words to retell the story of “Jonah and the Big Fish”

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

  • Student discussions and story retell based on the story of Jonah reflect an understanding of the purpose of admitting mistakes, saying “I’m sorry” and finding a way to make things better.
  • Observe students in their daily interactions. Do they remember to say “I’m sorry” at the appropriate times?
  • Student discussion of the scenarios and reactions to them reflect an understanding of the different ways they feel when: 1) they do something wrong 2) when they say, “I’m sorry.”


literature connectionsmore

TitleAuthorIllustratorBook Summary
I Did It, I’m Sorry Caralyn BuehnerMark BuehnerThrough funny, multiple-choice questions to solve specific dilemmas, this book teaches young children basic moral values. (Note: Some situations are more sophisticated than others, so select carefully.)
How to Lose All Your Friends Nancy CarlsonNancy CarlsonThis book is full of wrongdoings and humorously depicts situations in which children commonly do things that hurt others. It is a book about friendship, but the scenarios can be used to discuss wrongdoings and what can be done to show that you feel sorry for those actions.
I'm Sorry Sam McBratneyJennifer EachusTwo best friends find out that “I’m sorry” can be the hardest words to say, even to those you love.
Goldie Is Mad Margie Palatini Goldie is mad that her baby brother, Nicholas, drooled all over her favorite doll and she yells at him. She “hates” her brother. However, while sitting in time-out, Goldie ponders life without her brother and realizes she would miss his baby smell and his wonderful hugs. Goldie decides to forgive her brother and to say she’s sorry for yelling at him.
Beautiful Oops Barney Saltzberg This book presents a life lesson that all parents want their children to learn: It’s okay to make a mistake. In fact, hooray for mistakes! A mistake is an adventure in creativity, a portal of discovery.
The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story* Jacqueline JulesKatherine Janus KahnThe Ziz, a clumsy but good-hearted bird of folklore, is always making mistakes. When he accidentally destroys a vegetable garden, he flies to Mount Sinai to ask G-d for advice.
* PJ library Books
Lesson Contributors

Becca Weiner