(Picture courtesy of ritelite.com)
A Simple Jew asks:
What recommendations do you have to keep everyone, especially small children, engaged and happy at the seder?
Chana Jenny Weisberg answers:
When we invite single people to our family seder, we warn them in advance that our Seder’s focus is our children. No longer are the seders of yesteryear, when we filled Seder night with hours upon hours of adult discussions on the deeper meaning of the Haggadah until the wee hours of the night or even early morning.
As the parents of small children, today making the seder fun and exciting and accessible to our children is our #1 mitzvah and priority on Seder night.
If you are the parent of small and school-age children, here are some ideas on how to make the Seder fun and memorable for your kids:
(1) Broadway in your Living Room
- In our home, my husband and children prepare short, funny plays that they intersperse throughout the Seder. Every year the seder begins, for example, with my husband and children walking in our front door carrying suitcases, and calling out, “I’m wiped out! It’s been a long journey from Egypt!”
These plays are one of the main highlights of seder night for my children. Now that my children are a bit older, they spend weeks and weeks preparing plays on their own before Passover night.
(2) 4 Questions in the Spotlight
- Young children in Jewish schools have been practicing Mah Nishtana for weeks and maybe even months with their teachers. This is their long-awaited moment of stardom. Take time to stand all the kids up on chairs, and let each of your smallest children sing the 4 Questions on his or her own.
(3) 10 Plagues Props
- When my husband announce the 10 plagues, my kids run into the living room demonstrating the plagues: wearing sunglasses during the Plague of Darkness, covered with red stickers during the Plague of Boils, and throwing ping-pong balls in all directions during the Plague of Hail. They look forward to this all year.
(4) Candy for Questions
- Seder night is not a time to worry about your kids’ teeth. In our home, every child who asks or answers a question at the Seder receives a toffee. This encourages the kids to not be shy, and to get the questions rolling. It is also a good idea for parents to prepare age-appropriate questions for each child.
Here are some more amazing ideas for kid-friendly seders from Rabbi Da’vid and Rebbetzin Reva Sperling. (You can see a 6-minute class by Rabbi Sperling on this topic here
(5) Walk like an Egyptian
- During each of the plagues, one person at the table pretends that he or she is an Egyptian suffering during a given plague: scratching his head during the Plague of Lice, or terrified at the sight of her water during the Plague of Blood.
(6) Don’t Drag it Out
- Longer, adult-oriented discussions on the Haggadah and Passover are reserved for when the meal is served and the children are searching for the Afikomen. This means that the pace of the Seder is relatively quick, so young children do not become bored.
(7) Dayenu Thank You
- After the song Dayenu every person at the table recalls something good that happened to them that year for which he or she wants to thank G-d. An engagement, a new puppy, a cure from illness.
(8) Preparing the Haggadah
- During the weeks before Passover, the parents assign each child a part of the Haggadah to prepare. For younger children, this means that they learn how to read a paragraph or, for the very young, even a line of the Haggadah. For older children, this means that they prepare a small talk (Dvar Torah) on an assigned topic that they deliver at the meal.
(9) Crying Out
- When the Haggadah says that the Israelites “Cried Out” every person at the table cries out in his or her own way. One yells “Oy! I can’t stand it any more!”, one cries “Mommy!”, one pleads, “Dear L-rd, take us to the Promised Land!”
(10) The Eternal Nation
- When the Haggadah mentions all the enemies who rise up against us in every generation, every guest mentions an enemy of the Jewish People: the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisitors, the Crusaders, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia. Then the leader of the seder says, “And where are all those mighty empires today? They are all gone! And where are we? The Jewish people has always outlived all of its enemies!”
Some last practical suggestions for the day before the Seder.- Naps are a must for all children during the day before the Seder so children will be able to stay up late.
- Have a stock of boiled eggs, potatoes, and chicken soup for the day before the Seder (or whatever your kids like to eat) so kids won’t come to the Seder starving.
- Have a babysitter take young children to the park or zoo on the day of the Seder so you can prepare in peace and so children won’t have to associate Passover with the stress of last-minute Passover preparations.
To this day, I still remember my family seders as one of the highlights of my childhood, and I pray that my own children’s happy memories of Seder night will accompany them for the rest of their lives. Even if you can only integrate 2 or 3 of the ideas I’ve suggested here into your own seder, that will still go a long way to making Seder night what it is supposed to be: a unique opportunity for our children to experience how holy and sweet it is to be a Jew.
Chana Jenny Weisberg is the author of the newly-released book One Baby Step at a Time: 7 Secrets of Jewish Motherhood and the creator of the popular website http://www.jewishmom.com/