Engaging the kids during seder
Jessica Abelsohn shares some ideas on how to involve the children in the Pesach story and how to ensure they are excited for seder night.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have much to entertain us during Pesach seders.
We had each other and the prayers. And that was it.
My husband likes to joke that on one end of the table, we would spend the majority of the seder chatting, while the other end prayed, but it wasn’t always the case.
When we’d do our Sephardi seder, I’d listen intently to hear my great-grandmother say the prayers in Arabic and wait patiently for the plagues, which meant I could go outside with one of the adults to dispose of the wine (and in turn, the plagues). Side note, it makes me feel a bit old to realise I am now one of the adults taking the kids outside to pour the plagues down the drain.
And when we’d do seder with my dad’s Ashkenazi side of the family, I’d always wait my turn to read my bit of the Haggadah, selected at random by whoever was leading the seder service.
Nowadays though, kids don’t seem to have the same attention span.
And yes, I’m well aware that I sound ancient – ‘in my day, kids didn’t need entertainment, they simply sat quietly and waited for their turn’.
But the fact is that kids and teens are becoming disengaged from Jewish laws. We need to make things exciting for them to keep them interested. We need to make it relevant.
And if that means buying some fun frogs to jump around the table and dressing up like Pharaoh, well then, perhaps that’s the fun price we, as parents, need to pay. For those who don’t strictly keep the laws of Judaism, it can even mean introducing some technology to your seder.
Give them jobs
The first way to get the kids invested in seder – and to keep them occupied while you prepare everything – is to give them a job.
Whether they’re the ones who need to fill up the glasses of wine, make sure there are saltwater bowls scattered around the table or help write out the nametags for those of us who have very large tables, they’ll appreciate having something to do. And they’ll feel a sense of ownership. When someone turns and asks who wrote the names in that beautiful handwriting, for example, your little one will proudly declare it was them who dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s so nicely.
Of course, it’s also a nice idea to get them to help decorate the table. Grab some jumping frogs, some toy bugs for locusts, animals for wild beasts and cattle disease. You can also pop some cotton wool on the table to symbolise the hail (or marshmallows if you’re prepared to deal with the sugar high), some fun sunglasses to represent darkness and crumpled red paper for the blood and boils.
Another job they can do which kills two birds with one stone is printing some pictures to put next to the kids’ place settings with some crayons. Again, this gives them a job, and also gives them something to do during the service. Just make sure the pictures are Pesach-themed, and while you’re conducting the seder, you can even ask the kids what section of the story their picture depicts.
Have you ever heard of the game Mad Libs? It’s a word game invented by Leonard Stern (yep, he’s Jewish) and Roger Price where one player prompts others for words to substitute for blanks in a story. Beneath each blank is a specified category such as ‘adjective’, ‘place’, ‘number’, ‘noun’ and others. Once the blanks have been filled in, the story is then read aloud. The results are hilarious, for adults and kids alike. Of course, you’ll have to tailor the categories to suit the children’s ages, but there are plenty of Pesach Mad Libs templates on Google for you to use and adapt or create one yourself.
Another game you can play is charades. This also gives the kids the opportunity to get out of their seats – remember, the seder can be quite lengthy, especially for the little ones to try and sit still. People can act out the plagues, or certain elements of the story, for example, baby Moses drifting down the river.
Or a good one that can run throughout the seder is Pesach Bingo. It’s just like regular Bingo but with Pesach pictures or words rather than numbers. Whoever gets the full line first, wins!
And finally, even finding the afikoman can be made into a game. Yes, we know it’s a game in itself, but take it one step further and make it into a scavenger hunt or split the kids into teams to really make it competitive.
While we acknowledge that this option may not be for every family, we also know that many families will be okay with technology at the seder.
There are plenty of apps that help children learn about the story of Pesach, including Moses – Biblical Adventure, which has interactive games, like building the pyramids and playing with the animals, and puzzles.
You can also fire up the screens to find some fun Pesach songs or parodies that have been made, by bands like the Maccabeats and Six13, and of course some beautiful movies for them, like The Prince of Egypt. Another option is to make a fun Pesach playlist to have on in the background.
Act and sing the seder
Kids love a good show, so give them one. Get someone to pop on a Pharaoh hat and someone to dress as Moses and act out certain parts of the story. The classic one, of course, is Moses telling Pharaoh to let his people go.
But there are other parts of the seder that can be performed.
You can act out the Israelites building the pyramids, carrying their heavy loads on their backs, or perform the 10 plagues, and get the kids to guess which one you’re doing.
There are plenty of moments throughout the seder when the kids can play along. It’s just about finding the right moment and even being spontaneous, like the Israelites walking through the red sea or Eliyahu coming to the door. The seder is your performance oyster.
And when it comes to the songs, well, Pesach is known for those. Between Mah Nishtanah and Dayenu there are so many fun songs that the children learn at school or after-school activities. Let them have their moment to perform them for you.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Pesach, it’s a beautiful festival to involve the children, keeping them engaged and interested in all things Judaism.