How to Keep Kids Engaged at the Passover Seder
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You sit down to the Passover Seder, and your four year old is already screaming about being hungry and bored. Your teenage daughter is rolling her eyes and texting under the table, and you catch a few of the adults thumbing through the pages of the haggadah and calculating how many pages are left until they can eat.
“An effective Seder is an extremely challenging proposition, especially with kids of different ages,” says Rabbi Apisdorf, award-winning author of The Passover Survival Kit. He believes that it is possible to keep kids engaged, however, parent's must make the effort to use their own creativity.
“Underneath it all, people want to have an enjoyable, meaningful Seder experience. By and large, however, they are not thinking the Seder can be that. So if all of the sudden you hit them with things that they’re not expecting, that can’t help but get a table going.”
But how can you get your eye-rolling teen and your hyperactive three year old – not to mention their aunts, uncles, and grandparents – excited about the Seder? Follow these five steps to make your Pesach Seder more memorable and fun for everyone.
Step 1: Prepare
Nothing important was ever achieved without putting a little time and effort into it. That means preparing both yourself and the rest of your family for the Seder will make everything easier in the end.
A week before Passover, spend just ten minutes at dinnertime or bedtime reading a book about the Exodus, or even reading parts of the haggadah, with your kids. Get them familiar with the storyline, making the story as dramatic as you’d like. Let them know that this year’s Seder is going to be a hit, and that the whole family is going to love it.
But when you’re in charge of the Seder, you have extra homework to do! Look through the haggadah yourself, and think about which parts you can make fun and interesting. (Ideas on how to do this to follow.)
Then look at the haggadah with a critical eye and come up with some thought-provoking questions that you think the kids would like to discuss. For example, consider the question “Why did God let us become slaves in the first place?” Remember that there is no correct answer to these questions, but they will be a springboard that children and adults can use to become more engaged in what they are reading at the Seder.
Step 2: Prizes!
Who doesn't love prizes? We all know that prizes can make people (kids and adults alike) more engaged and motivated to participate in just about anything. It's important though, not to think of these prizes as bribes — think of them as a Seder table investment that motivates people to ask many questions as possible.
Get some big prizes for “wow!” questions, some medium prizes for good questions, and some small prizes for the questions that are asked just for the sake of the prize. And don’t forget to give out the prizes regardless of the age of the questioner – three years old or ninety three.
Rabbi Apisdorf likes to choose prizes for his Seder that are loosely tied into a theme of the Exodus. For example, one year he bought dozens of Hawaiian leis to symbolize the “freedom” that the Jews felt when they left Egypt. Another year, he bought dozens of tiny alien figurines to symbolize the fact that the Jews were strangers (i.e., aliens) in a strange land. People like to be rewarded, and kids love winning prizes. It doesn’t matter that the prizes aren’t intrinsically worth much; what matters is that kids and adults will have fun collecting them, competing for them, and joking about them during the Seder.
Give out the prize for the best questions asked at the Seder – but don’t forget to give out prizes for good answers as well! Good questions and good answers are the backbones of a good discussion, which is what your goal should be.