Tonight marks the first night of Passover, and Jewish families all over the world will be gathering to celebrate by having a “Seder”: a special meal that follows a very specific order of operations designed to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Children are supposed to be an integral part of the Seder. In fact, one of the most important objectives of the Seder is to pass along the story from one generation to the next. But it’s hard to follow the traditional “Haggadah” text and still keep the kids engaged, especially the younger ones.
Here are five things you can do to jazz up your Seder and get the kids more involved.
1. Avoid hunger. One of the biggest challenges of the Seder is the race against the clock. There’s a lot of interesting content to cover, and you can’t eat dinner until after you’ve finished most of it. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation when everyone is hungry. In Rachel Kobrin’s excellent post on MyJewishLearning.com, she elaborates on a long-standing Rabbinic custom: dipping. During Karpas, an early part of the Seder, you are supposed to dip parsley in salt water and eat it. She suggests using the blessing on the parsley as license to eat all kinds of fruits and veggies and dips (even chocolate-covered strawberries — I think I need an invite to her Seder).
2. Deviate from the text. Instead of reading about Rabbinic debates, you can simply tell the story of the Exodus. Go around the table and each person at the Seder can tell a little bit of the story. Or download this awesome PDF, compiled by my friend Meg Lederman. She’s a 3rd grade Judaic Studies teacher, and also a mom of two young children. She designed this “Magid” (the section of the Haggadah where the Exodus story is told) especially for children, complete with an easy-to-follow storyline and lots of fun songs set to familiar tunes.
3. Add some dramatic flair. This lively Passover skit by Stan J. Beiner looks like a fun way to start things off. It’s about the different parts of the Seder plate getting organized before the night’s festivities. It’s very clever and well-written, and will get kids ready for what’s coming up next.
4. Learn some new songs. Last week, a friend introduced my daughters to a Passover parody of The Twelve Days of Christmas — The Ten Plagues of Pesach — and they’ve been singing it ever since. They are so excited to teach the song to our whole family. There’s a ton of parodies (and many of them inspired by Christmas songs) at kosher4passover.com (the Ten Plagues song is the 6th one down).
5. Role play. Rachel Kobrin has several nice suggestions for kid-friendly Seder modifications in her aforementioned post, but I especially like two of them: to wear costumes to the table and to make believe you are actually experiencing the Exodus, telling the story in first person and improvising details as you go.
Finally, remember that most young children can’t sit for a 30 minute meal, much less one that lasts 2-3 hours (or more). Set realistic expectations for your child based on his/her age and attention span. Try to squeeze in a little prep time before the meal to practice some of the songs and review what you’ll be doing (and why!). If you’re traveling to a Seder, bring along some books and quiet games and let the kids take a break when they need one. Most of all, have fun. And don’t eat too much matzah.