Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The holidays are upon us! So much to do and so little time. It is times like these when I remember my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law’s great line: “I need a wife.” Well, I can’t give you a wife, but I can give you a second best option.

The children.

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After all, why did we have them if they can’t be put to use every now and then? We can always send them to the grocery – depending on their age – and of course, they are eager to crank out desserts if we let them in the kitchen. This year, though, as my children are getting older, I have a real job for them: building the sukkah.

Now, in most households, building the sukkah is usually the husband’s job, but for some families that is not an option. So, this year learn from us. This is more than simply a time saving project for me, although it is that for sure.

Children gain tremendous benefits from participating in Yom Tov preparations and having them do something that seems difficult is a tremendous boost to their self-esteem. Moreover, most children these days do not perform much manual labor, so here’s a great opportunity for them to get sweaty and dirty, and enjoy the rewards of a day of hard work.

To make this project as successful as possible, here are a few tips I will put in place:

The very first thing is the most obvious – the kids have to be willing to do this. This means more than just your kids agreeing to build the sukkah, they have to be motivated to do this even when the going gets tough, which inevitably it will. The motivation could be money, but a better choice would be an incentive that makes use of the newly-built sukkah, such as a special dinner with favorite foods, or having friends over to admire their work.

Once you have the kids on board, let’s be practical. What type of sukkah do you have? If it’s made of canvas, you’re in luck. Those are the easiest to put up. If you have heavy boards that need to be moved somewhere, i.e. from the basement to a porch, be realistic and consider your children’s physical strength and mental endurance. If they can do this easily – than great. If not, don’t discourage them; just get the boards up yourself or with help and then have the children start.

Then, it’s time to go over safety rules. Depending on how old your children are, you want to warn them about being silly with hammers, nails and the like. If they will be using any power tools, confirm that everyone knows how to use them safely. This is a fun project, but there is no fun in running to the ER.

Next, pick a day to start. We would love to begin on Motzaei Yom Kippur, but if your children are fasting, they might not be up to it, unless they drank coffee and are now all hyped up. I have fond memories of building the sukkah with my brothers and sisters on Motzaei Yom Kippur and celebrating with a huge pasta dinner at 3am when we were done, but this isn’t recommended for first time builders. Instead, pick a clear-weather day when your children have a good few hours to get the job done.

Before the kids get started whacking things with hammers, confirm with them that they have a plan for where everything will go. You never want to be almost done and then realize you put the boards in the wrong way. Take a few minutes to figure out where all the parts go, and everyone will be much happier later on.

Just like with cooking, it’s always best to start with a clean slate. Clear the yard or the porch of whatever items might be hanging around, like chairs or toys, unless you are planning on using those items in the sukkah. Then make sure the children have all the tools they need in eye’s view – you don’t want them coming inside looking for a tool and then decide to sit on the couch and forget to get up.

Unless your children are much older and experienced, you should definitely be home to supervise. Get them started by helping them put up one wall so that they can follow your example. When they are up to the schach, guide them as well. Once the children start building, make sure to encourage, encourage, encourage, even if you don’t approve of how they are going about it. Offer cold drinks and ices as they work and continue to marvel as the sukkah goes up.

Once the sukkah goes up, it’s time to decorate and celebrate. Then you want to commemorate their first time. I would suggest either making or buying a special decoration that could be hung in the sukkah to mark the momentous event. Have friends and family come over to admire your children’s hard work and watch them swell with pride.

You never know, next year, they might even volunteer for the job.

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Pnina Baim is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at pninabaim@gmail.com.