A (Personal) Hanukkah Tradition: Teaching Dreidel in the Classroom

I have three kids, ages 10-15, and they all went to Jewish pre-school. Back then, when December rolled around, it was all about Hanukkah. Songs, food, crafts and dreidel - all good.

When they entered kindergarten in public school, however, they were one of a small handful of Jewish kids in the classroom. So when December rolled around, they experienced all their classmates' excitement about Christmas, along with some puzzled looks about Hanukkah. This produced a bit of Santa envy.

That's when I e-mailed the teacher and asked if I could come in to teach the kids to play dreidel. I've done this every year for each child until they were out of elementary school (my youngest is in 4th so I only have two years left!). Every time I asked, the teacher was happy to give me at least a half hour of class time.

This post is for anybody who'd like to start this hanukkah tradition for their kids. I put together this little guide to make it easy for you. My kids have always looked forward to my coming in to teach dreidel, and after experiencing it once, so did their classmates! 



- Schedule with teacher in advance - a 30 minute time slot is ideal.

- I like to start off by telling the story of Hanukkah. The website My Jewish Learning has one that's an ideal length called "What You Need to Know About the Hanukkah Story". You can find it here.

- Buy supplies. For each child you'll need:



• DREIDELS: I bought a 30 pack of wooden ones here.

• DIXIE CUP: I like to count out the beans in advance, and a little cup is a handy way to store them and hand them out to the kids.

• BEANS: I use dried black or kidney beans.

• PRINT OUT: (See below) Kids can refer to this as they play. Here's one I made up that has 3 per page, so you just need to print it out and cut into thirds. Download it here.



- Bag of gelt (optional). Because of allergies, your school might not want you to hand out food (my daughter's school doesn't). In this case, what I do is leave the bags of gelt in a box on my front porch. In class, I give the kids my address and let them know that if they'd like a bag of gelt they can ask their mom or dad to drive past my house and pick one up. I found a box of 24 that specify NO NUTS here.


Here's some directions on how to play Dreidel, excerpted from WikiHow:

Dreidel is a traditional game of chance, and one of the most well-known symbols of Hanukkah. The dreidel is a four-sided top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The game dates back at least to the time when the Greek King Antiochus IV (175 BCE) had outlawed Jewish worship. Jews who gathered to study the Torah would play dreidel to fool soldiers into thinking they were just gambling. Now, it's usually played to see who can win the most gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil). With a dreidel and some tokens, you can take part in this holiday tradition, too. 

Get a dreidel. The dreidel you will get will depend on where you live. Outside of Israel, the four letters on the sides of the dreidel are Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin,which stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There," referring to the miracle of the oil. In Israel, where the miracle happened, the dreidel has the letters Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Pey, which means "A Great Miracle Happened Here

  1. Gather friends. You can play with as few as two, but the more the merrier! Distribute tokens evenly among all of the players. The tokens can be any little thing: pennies, nuts, raisins, matchsticks, etc. A lot of people use gelt.

  2. Ante up. Before each spin, players put one token in the middle of the circle to create "the pot." Every time the pot is emptied, or there's only one token left, every player should put a token in the pot.

  3. Take turns spinning the dreidel. When it's your turn, spin the dreidel once. The letter which comes up once it stops spinning determines whether you win, lose, or draw. According to the letter appearing, the player should perform the following action:

    • Shin ("shtel" or "put in" in Yiddish) - Put one more token in the pot.

    • Nun ("nisht"or "nothing" (in Yiddish) - Do nothing.

    • Gimmel ("gantz"or "everything" in Yiddish) - Take all tokens from the pot.

    • Hay ("halb"or "half" in Yiddish) - Take half of all tokens lying in the pot. In case of an odd number of tokens, round up.

    • If you run out of tokens, you are either "out," or you may ask another player for a loan.

  4. Pass the dreidel on to the next player.

  5. Keep playing until someone wins by collecting all the tokens.


Lastly, if you'd like to hand out a dreidel coloring sheet for the kids to take home, here's one I made last year - you can download it here.

Good luck - have fun - and Happy Hanukkah!!!