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How to Keep Kids Entertained During the Passover Seder

Don’t just get through it … Enjoy it!

by
Marjorie Ingall
February 24, 2020

Prepare them.

In the days leading up to Passover: Get them some fun children’s books about Passover so they know why we’re doing this. Adapt an old deck of playing cards by having them illustrate Passover things and tape them to the suit side of the cards to create a Passover matching game to play with their cousins. Have them build a Moses-and-Miriam-centric centerpiece out of Lego. (Keep the cat from destroying it.) Have them help you make charoset and be the Official Seder Charoset Taster.

Get them invested.

Growing up, I was the Official Seder Salt-Water Preparer. My dad always tasted it and said, “Not salty enough!” This prepared me for a lifetime of disappointment. Which is very Jewish. (I’m kidding.) (Sort of.)

Involve them.

FYI: Some of these suggestions (like coloring) are not strictly halachic, so if something doesn’t work with your level of observance, ignore me.

Create a Seder-centric coloring book, using downloadable Passover coloring pages. Staple it, and put it on each kid’s plate, along with a little bouquet of colored pencils or crayons.

Do Passover Mad Libs. Just Google it—templates are all over the internet. (We used the ones provided by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.) As relatives arrive, have elementary- and middle-school-age kids run around asking adults for nouns and verbs and numerals to fill in the blanks. Then to start the Seder, have the kids read aloud the Mad-Libbed Four Questions or the Mad-Libbed story of the Exodus. Laugh uproariously.

Before the Seder, write down a list of the 14 steps, in order, from Kadesh to Nirtzah. Make a box next to each step. I write the steps in Hebrew, English, and pictogram (a kiddush cup next to the word Kadesh/קדש, a hand with water droplets falling on it for Urchatz/וּרְחַץ, etc.,) but do it however you want. Tape the list to the wall and tape a string with a pencil tied to it next to the list. Have a kid officiously check off each step after it’s completed. Doing this (and using the Official Pencil on a String) will make the kid feel important. Children are born bureaucrats.

Entertain and edify them:

There’s evidence that pedagogically, humor assists in students’ recall. There’s method to the madness of incorporating laughs into your ritual observances.

Throughout the Seder, ask trivia questions about what’s going on. (“What does the word ‘Seder’ mean in Hebrew?” “Can you tell me one way this night is different from all other nights?”) Raise your hand if you know. No shouting out answers. If a kid gets an answer right, quickly toss them a piece of candy or a marshmallow. Competition, plus the frisson of danger that someone could lose an eye, will keep them hyperattentive.

Let a ringer tell a Passover joke:

Q. Can Elijah get through a screen door?
A. He can, but it’s a strain!

Or, hey, here’s a joke my vaudevillian kid Maxine used to tell every year: “One day during Passover, a rabbi is having lunch in the park. He sees a homeless man and thinks, ‘That man looks hungry! I’ll do a mitzvah and give him a piece of matzo!’ The homeless man takes the matzo and runs his fingers over it, then exclaims, ‘Who wrote this crap?’”

This joke is very funny when told by a 7-year-old.

Speaking of humor, here is a FUN TRICK for the Seder leader! Put a tiny pinch of red gelatin powder in your empty wine glass. Explain that according to legend, during the first plague the Israelites could drink from the same pitcher as the Egyptians, and the Israelites would get cool, fresh water (pour some water from a water pitcher into a couple of people’s glasses) but the Egyptians would get BLOOD. (Pour water into your wine glass, which you’re holding in such a way as to hide the speck of gelatin powder. As you pour, the water will turn bright red. Scream.)

If you have small kids who you know will get antsy, add a DANCE BREAK! In Exodus 15, we learn that after the People of Israel crossed over the Red Sea on dry land, Miriam led the women in singing and dancing with timbrels. In my fam, we used to blast the Eurythmics/Aretha Franklin oldie “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” and have adults raise and lower a blue sheet to represent water while the kids ran around under it to represent the crossing. Everyone played tambourines, maracas, and egg shakers. This effectively got the yayas out.

Every year, I change the lyrics to a popular kid-friendly song to reference Passover. We sing it along with “Chad Gadya.” Of course we’ve done “Let It Go” as “Let Us Go,” an Israelite plea, but we’ve also done “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton as if sung by Pharoah; Avenue Q’s “Schadenfreude” as a description of the Ten Plagues, and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” as an ode to matzo crumbs. If you pick a song your kids love, they’ll be engaged (if potentially mortified).

One possible caveat: Only you can decide just how much to tailor your Seder to the wee. There’s something to be said for insisting they suck it up, that it’s not all about them, that this event is more important than they are. There’s no right answer here; you do you. And do feel free to share your Seder tips with me!

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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