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October 8, 2015 | 25th Tishrei 5776

Tot Shabbat Top Ten for a Medium Congregation

Presented by Peter and Ellen Allard at the 2007 Biennial workshop "Tot Shabbat That Rocks"

1. We consistently begin Tot Shabbat at the advertised start time.

2. Given the choice, we prefer scheduling Tot Shabbat on Saturday morning, as the children are more able to focus and behave in line with our expectations earlier in the day. We realize there are circumstances whereby the service must be held on Friday night. In that case, it is important that it be held as early in the evening as possible and that the service be shorter in length than it would be on a Saturday morning.

3. Having Tot Shabbat in a consistent, predictable location enables the children to feel safe and helps them learn to trust their environment. It is also important that the space be clean and well-lit. If there are toys in the room, move them to another room or make sure they are covered and out of sight.

4. By not using siddurim or any other handouts, children and adults will be much more able to focus on and participate in an interactive, developmentally-appropriate Tot Shabbat service that includes songs, movement, dance, sign language, stories, and bibliodrama.

5. Seating must be carefully considered. The way the chairs are set up can make a huge difference in the success of your service. The size and shape of the room will help you determine the best way to arrange the chairs. It is also vital that parents/adults sit with (next to) their children

6. It is important for the legitimacy and respect of your Tot Shabbat service that the staff and clergy be on board and fully supportive of the Tot Shabbat/presenter’s goals.

7. Every service offers teachable moments for young children. Parents/adults, clergy, and teachers set the tone for polite and engaged participation in public gatherings. It is sometimes necessary to gently and regularly remind all adults that they are modeling for every child. While this might feel awkward at first, the long term benefits are well-worth it and over time, the parents/adults will self-moderate their behavior and model for the new families in attendance.

8. As long as the service is developed in line with sound Early Childhood principles, you can follow a regular Shabbat service, with exceptions made for modifications as needed. We are teachers of Torah and as such believe that it is important to include some sort of Torah study in every service.

9. While we recommend including new songs at every Tot Shabbat service, we also believe that the consistency and repetition of songs from one service to another is vital towards helping the children become familiar with and learning the liturgy.

10. We include an oneg at the end of every service that includes a motzi and Kiddush. Our experience is that when your oneg also includes a potluck lunch, it is a wonderful opportunity for nurturing and growing the Tot Shabbat community.

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