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A Woman's Voice

Young Children at the Seder:
Age-Appropriate Activities

• by Noam Zion
 

The seder is a highly structured activity with participants of many ages, representing multiple generations. Each person comes to the seder with his or her own set of expectations and experiences of previous family seders. It would be wise to consider each participant’s expected attention span for the evening’s program. Some school-age children may surprise the adults by their enthusiastic participation.

The following section serves to guide those preparing for the seder which is attended by young children. Several of the suggested activities can be performed at the child’s home in advance of the seder; some of the arts and crafts work are to be taken to the seder itself and subsequently used. Our list also includes many impromptu activities for the evening itself.

Depending on the age spread and the children’s knowledge and previous involvement with the seder it could be arranged to set-up a “Pesach Play room” at the home of the seder. This will give the younger children a place to spend some very special time when the seder itself becomes too cumbersome for them. We suggest creating activity centers adjacent to the seder table or in an adjoining room. Children of all ages can spend time here before the long sit-down seder begins while the adults are busy making last-minute arrangements. Alternatively, the younger participants can have their own Pesach educational activities in their Pesach Play room, while the majority of the adults and teenagers participate in the more serious symposium-like aspects of the Haggadah beginning some time after the Four Questions. Setting up a special area for your children may inspire them to ask that most important question: “What is the difference between this night and all other nights?”

Pesach Play Room Suggestions:

  • Impromptu Dramatics: Transform the room into a stage set for the story of baby Moshe, for the adult Moshe’s confrontation with Pharaoh or for the ten plagues. Provide dress and props, such as gowns, crowns, snakes, staffs, throne, wicker basket and ten plagues. Children and parents could research illustrated books on ancient Egypt and the descriptions in the book of Exodus so all the props are authentic to the time period. Arts and crafts projects (before the seder) can enhance the Oscar-winning costume design of the entire family.
  • Book Display and Story Reading: Ask each guest to bring illustrated Bible books of the Exodus and display them on a table. The early arriving guests can read stories to the children and point out the different versions of the same story and the variety of illustrations of the same topic.
  • Storytelling with Puppets: Sock puppets, paper cutouts pasted to popsicle sticks, brown paper bag puppets provide hours of fun preparation before the seder and many more hours of high drama during the seder as Moshe, Miriam, Aaron, Pharaoh and some of the Ten Plagues walk on stage. Stretch a sheet across the room at waist level and ask parents and children to create the dialogue as they display the puppets above the stage line of the sheet for the rest of the guests.
  • Building Egypt and the Exodus: Just about every household with children features a collection of building blocks, Lego, Duplo, and small figurines. Children of every age delight in building their version of the story as it is told to them by their older siblings, their parents or grandparents. Buildings could stay on display for several days after the seder so as to add afterwards the splitting of the Red Sea on the last day of Pesach.
  • Audio-visual presentations: In recent years a wealth of children’s audio and video tapes on the Jewish Holidays have been made available through the local Jewish bookstores and the synagogue giftshops. Listening and viewing educational shows is a nice quiet activity before the holiday starts and during the hours before the seder gets on its way.

Crafts Projects:

  • Haggadah bookmarks
  • The child’s own Haggadah
  • Mobiles with Pesach symbols (such as matza, wine cups, Elijah’s beaker, maror), Pesach figures (such as Moshe, Miriam, Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s daughter) or paper cut-outs of the child’s own family present at the seder)
  • Paper bag dramatics, hand puppets
  • Matza covers and pillow cases for reclining, made from a variety of textiles
  • Coloring books, fold-out books
  • “Welcome to our seder” door signs
  • Place cards for each guest at the seder. The cards could be written in English as well as featuring the person’s Hebrew name.
  • Prompting cards for the various sections of the seder to be displayed on a large board.

Card Games (to be prepared in advance):

You may ask an older child or a talented parent to prepare these simple games for the seder night.

  • Memory: Cards with a picture of a seder object or activity that match an identical picture or the name of that object, either in English or in Hebrew (for example: the word “Afikoman” and a picture of a hidden matza on a matching card).
  • Put in order: Cards for each of the 15 activities on the seder agenda (Kadesh, Urchatz) that must be put in order.
  • Quartets: Use four differently colored sets of cards. Each set consists of four items of the seder agenda (the four cups, the four children, the four questions, four foods on the seder plate, four names for Pesach).
  • Seder means “Order:” The children can help mark the progress of the seder for everyone. Prepare a large tag board entitled “Seder.” At the beginning of the seder, distribute cards to the children with Hebrew, English and picture names of the key signposts of the evening. For example, use the names of ritual activities (kadesh/first cup; urchatz/hand washing) or key texts of the Haggadah (four questions/ma nishtana) listed in the table of contents. As each activity or text is reached, the leader calls on the three holders of the English, Hebrew and the pictorial name card to attach them to the tag board (by Velcro or large paper clips).
  • Questions for everyone at Ma Nishtana: School age children will enjoy quizzing the older children and the parents in the following way. Prepare index cards with Pesach questions on one side and the answers on the other. Each child chooses a partner to whom s/he poses the questions. For example: “I am made from chopped nuts, apples and wine. Who am I?”/ “Charoset.” Questions can be posed on many different levels of difficulty, depending on the participants’ age, knowledge and curiosity. Each question earns the child one nut or candy if answered correctly and two if the adult is stumped. Adults may also buy hints from the child for nuts or candy.
  • Open ended questions on cards: It is even more interesting to pose open ended questions such as: “When you were a slave in Egypt, what was the most unpleasant part of your life?” or “What was your favorite memory as a child from the seder?” “What is your favorite seder song?” “Which one of the ten plagues is the worst for you?”

Quizzes:

Asking questions is a time-honored activity among Jewish families, so here at the seder we add some more action to Ma Nishtana. Parents, grandparents, teachers, seder guests can all prepare in advance various forms of quizzes for the younger ones. Even an adult quiz will be a welcome addition to the seder.

  • Who Said to Whom from the story of Exodus (chapters 1-12).
  • Word Scrambles: For example: SAPEHC, S’LEIAHJ PCU.
  • Charades of the Ten Plagues.
  • Passover Mathematics: For example: how much are The Plagues (10) times The Cups (4) minus the Matzot (3).
  • Pesach Trivia in teams with points. Teams can be comprised of families, age mates, left side of table against right side.
  • Chametz or Not: Make a list of difficult items such a spaghetti, beer, noodles, crackers, potato chips, latkes, hamantashen, kneidlach, muffins, lasagna, whiskey, blintzes, pancakes, kreplach. Each correct answer receives a point, each incorrect answer receives a promise to receive that food as a gift after Pesach.
  • Guess Who I Am: Place a headband on each participant’s head with a slot for a word like Moshe, matza, frogs, locust, chad gadyah, dayenu. Only the person him/herself does not know who or what is written. By asking “yes”/”no” questions each one guesses their own identity.
  • Cross word puzzles prepared at various levels of difficulty.

Nutty Games:

Since nuts are a traditional food on Pesach, many regular games and sports can feature nuts instead of the usual coins, peons or dice. Special concern should be taken that the smaller children are not endangered by eating nuts; they can be compensated by special Pesach foods.

  • Games that can be played with nuts are:
  • Pitch nuts into boxes or “pyramids” with various values.
  • Hide nuts in bunches throughout the house. Before the nuts can be eaten, the children have to answer questions, perform a small task or sing a song.
  • Nuts can be given as prizes for answering the quizzes correctly or for helping the parents in preparing for the seder.

“Plastering Pharaoh:”
The Ten Plagues Revisited:

At children’s stores buy stickers or plastic representations of frogs, wild animals, insects, darkness, etc. for each one of the ten plagues. Distribute the plagues to the children and prepare a tag board with a large picture of Pharaoh. As each plague is read off during the seder, invite one child to “plaster” Pharaoh with the appropriate stickers or tape on the plastic figures or by throwing Ping-Pong balls (hail) at Pharaoh. Traditional religious observance does not permit the use of tape on a holiday, therefore this activity is appropriate before the seder starts.

Relay Storytelling
for Older Children and Adults:

Begin telling the story of Exodus, embellishing as you go, then stop and hand the “baton” or “matza” on to the next storyteller to continue where you left off.

Adapted Shows with Pesach Topics:

  • Concentration
  • What’s My Line
  • Password
  • Meet The Press
  • Jeopardy (guess the question from the answer)
  • To Tell The Truth

Resources for Children:

When you get ready to plan your children’s participation at this year’s seder, you should consider using the following resources:

  • Visit your local Jewish book store, the synagogue gift shop and contact the Bureau of Jewish Education in your community.
  • You can order directly from publishers such as Kar-Ben, Torah Aura, Alternatives in Religious Education, Behrman House, the Melton Center at JTSA (Conservative), CCAR (Reform) or Artscroll (Orthodox).
  • In case you have family in Israel, you can ask them to send you the latest audio- and video tapes, stickers, workbooks and kits for crafts projects.
  • Consult with your child’s JCC pre-school staff, Hebrew School or Day School teachers. How did the children prepare for Pesach at school, which projects did they participate in, how can the home enhance the learning at school?