As a mom, I want to be able to share Diwali with my kids in a way that is meaningful to them and fits into this world they are growing up in- this will enable them to take their experience and knowledge with them as they move forward in their lives. When I was teaching in the classroom, I found that the way to create the most meaningful learning was to engage students with creative and fun projects that allowed them to put a little of themselves into it- in essence giving them ownership over what they were learning. The same idea applies when we are trying to teach our own children about culture. The idea is not to force the information on them, but to provide it in a way that allows them to ask questions so that they can explore and discover what it means to them.
We’ve listed 8 hands-on activities that are connected to the five days of Diwali- each activity can be modified to fit the skills and interests of a child that is 2 or 12. You may want to read more about some of the myths and interpretations before introducing them to your kids- visit our “What is Diwali” page!
1. Decorating Clay Pots
This activity is inspired by the first Day of Diwali festivities, Dhan Teras, in which a clay pot filled with the nectar of eternal life surfaces from the ocean after the ocean has been churned by the Devas and Datyas. In this story “eternal life” refers to nirvana, or enlightenment. For the activity, simply purchase a clay pot for each child (size does not matter), or use pots that you already have. Provide them with paints and brushes (fingers work for the little tykes!) and let them decorate. For the older children, ask them questions that make them think about what this story means to them, eg. ‘what is nirvana’? ‘what are the qualities of a person who is enlightened?’.
2. Make masks or puppets
Each day of Diwali centers around a mythological story, and creating masks or puppets for the characters is a great way to inspire kids to engage in a story. Let your child pick which story is of interest to him or her and create masks or puppets based on the characters in that story. With older children, you can talk about the qualities of the characters they are making and how they personally relate to those qualities- which ones do they think are important, which ones do they have, which would they like to develop in themselves. Even further, you can broach the question of whether “bad guys” are all bad, or if they are sometimes misunderstood? This question helps them consider how Ego can influence our choices and path and also develops compassion.
Coloring is definitely my child’s favorite past time, so providing her with coloring pages that also introduce her to parts of her heritage is a plus. You can find great Avatar coloring pages on Gnaana.com’s blog- a great place for ideas on how to teach you children about Hindu religion and culture. The Avatar coloring pages have a cute cartoon quality to them that is appealing to kids. If you are looking for something more universal, you can print off Rangoli or Mandala coloring pages. I found these great stained glass coloring books (made by Dover Little Activity books), called Little Mandalas. I wrapped the outside of each with card stock and decorated them to give them a more personal touch!
4. Hand made Paper Lanterns
This activity is connected to the third day of festivities that we all know as Diwali, the festival of lights. Making paper lanterns is a great way to share Diwali with kids of any age- and it is easy too! Check out our “how to make a paper lantern for Diwali” article to incorporate this simple and fun activity into your celebration. As you do this activity, talk about the significance of the lights, not only in the Ramayana, but also what it represents in ourselves.
5. Read books about Diwali
You can find a great list of books about Diwali on Gnaana.com’s blog. One book, however, that is not on the list that I absolutely love is Ramayana, the Divine Loophole, by Sanjay Patel. Aside from the illustrations being absolutely brilliant, the story is written with a modern tone that kids can connect to. It is a book that is definitely great for older kids and adults, however, even young ones like my little Lela (4 years old), are enamored with the bright graphics and the ease with which the story is told. This book is longer than most picture books, so if you decide to read it with your child, you may want to spread it out over a few days. However, Lela and I began reading it the other night and after several pages, it was I who insisted we stop for the evening and she who kept insisting to read one more page!
6. Make Diwali Treats
We bake cookies for other holidays, why not create a similar tradition for Diwali? Making any kind of treat, whether cookies or ladoos, easily fits into a Diwali celebration. Try coconut ladoos recipe- they are delicious and easy for kids to make! While doing this activity, you can connect it to different ideas such as why we offer sweets in Puja and what it represents. It can also be connected to the fourth day of Diwali festivities, Annakuta, meaning ‘mountain of food.’ Create your own mountain of food to share and distribute to loved ones and other people in your community!
7. Plant a seed- literally and metaphorically
The myth that accompanies Annakut is one that emphasizes our connection to the earth and nature. It demonstrates that by nurturing and showing appreciation for mother earth, nature will take care of us by providing sustenance. What a beautiful message that is also very relevant in today’s world of environmental awareness. Take some time to share this connection with your child and then plant something- in a pot or in the ground, to represent the importance of nurturing everything around us and inside of us.
Rangoli is a great kinesthetic activity and is a part preparing and decorating for many Hindu holidays. This is an activity you can do with them on a large scale, like in the doorway, on your counter or dining table as decoration, or that they can do on their own in a flat tray you provide for them. Explain to your child the purpose of Rangoli and talk about different shapes and symbols that are important to them that they would like to include in the design. To learn more about Rangoli and how it is done, click here.