You want to engage your kids in the seder. But it’s almost here and you haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen yet. Never fear. Here are a few easy, low-effort ways to make the seder more entertaining for the preschool/younger kid set.
1. EVERY YEAR, I WRITE THE BOOK! Sit your kids down and ask them to dictate the story of Passover to you. Write what they say down word for word, including ‘um’ and ‘you know’ and run-on sentences. DO NOT HELP THEM: the ‘blooper’ characteristic of this is what makes it so wonderful. Once they have done so, pick out a few elements of their stories out and ask them to make a drawing to match (“Can you draw the Red Sea splitting in half for me?”). Then put the text you’ve written together with their drawings, and make a cover saying, “Kid 1 and Kid 2 Passover Story, 2012.” If you are really ambitious, you can make color copies to hand out at the seder. If not, just pass this one around. Trust me, it will be a keepsake.
2. WORK HARD, RELAX RIGHT. Get some pillowcases and markers, and let the kids go to town on them, with Passover-related or abstract art work. Then put pillows in them for people’s seats so they can chillax in freedom-lovin’ style. Offer the pillowcases as a ‘souvenir’ if you find them too, um, aesthetically challenging. Hint: Let these artworks dry before putting them on seder chairs.
3. HAND PUPPETS. I cannot extol the merits of hand puppets enough. I’m not sure why there is such a thrill to putting something on your hand and pretending that it is alive, but I cannot deny the appeal of the puppet.
Ten plagues hand puppets are sold in various Judaica outlets, as well as on Amazon. Personally, I am not really sure why plagues would be represented by puppets, or why one would buy a puppet for one’s child that represents a dead kid as “slaying of the first born.”
I’m not crafty in the least (understatement) but I prefer to sit down and make puppets. Frogs leap to mind. Help your kids make frogs out of socks or paper bags, and then they can be the visual component to that nursery school standard, “One Day When Pharaoh Awoke In His Bed.” Tons of fun. Don’t forget the googly eyes.
I also think a great opportunity for puppets comes during Chad Gadya. As of a few years ago, my kids made puppets from paper bags representing each character/entity in the song (stick, goat, cat, etc.). These get passed out to kids and adults alike – if you have less than the number of participants, people get to be multiple parts. At your character’s ‘turn,’ you get to lift the puppet and say something. This is an occasion for great mirth. In my house, everyone fights over who will get to be the Angel of Death. Nice.
4. CANDY/INDIVIDUAL TREATS. The seder is supposed to be about order, but it’s also about engaging your audience. Tell the kids from the beginning that you want them to ask questions – about things they don’t understand, about things they want to know more about, about what the Hebrew means. And tell them that when someone asks a good question, or gives a good answer, the leader of the seder will throw them candy/a treat. Marshmallows are particularly good because they are soft, and therefore no one has to sign a waiver. Check with other parents first, of course, to avoid allergy-related lawsuits.
5. GO OPEN THE DOOR, KIDS! When you sing Eliyahu Hanavi toward the end of the seder, tell the kids that this is their chance to go and open the door for Elijah, and that they should stand at the open door (NOT leave) and look as hard as they can to see if they can see him in the street, the hallway or the sky (depending on where you live). If you come from a family of tomfoolery as I do, this is a good opportunity for an adult to chug the contents of Elijah’s cup, so that when the kids come back, you can say, “He was here! Look!” I know, tricky. Yet as a kid, this was always something I looked forward to with an inordinate amount of enthusiasm.
6. FINALLY, KNOW YOUR KIDS. If you have a spotlight-shy kid, DO NOT traumatize said kid by INSISTING that they “perform” the Four Questions in their entirety. Come on: that’s not going to happen, and if it does, you’re basically guaranteeing that the kid will have something to discuss with her therapist in twenty years. Let each kid be involved and shine according to their talents. Got a great artist? Have them do pictures for everyone that you will transform into placecards with the use of your gift of literacy. Got a dancer? Ask if they can do a little number about “Frogs Invading Egypt.”
Don’t worry — you’ll leave Egypt soon enough! Have fun!