This springtime holiday, commemorating the Jewish people's liberation away from slavery in Egypt, is very much a family celebration. The focal point of Passover observance takes place in the home, at a festive dinner known as a Seder. It's a time when family and friends reunite and celebrate. Keeping the Seder meal flexible, and encouraging your children to act out the story and sing holiday songs, can create a meaningful tradition for them.
Children play an important role during this meal, as the youngest child at the table is called upon to ask the Four Questions of the leader, who proceeds to tell the history of the Jewish people in Egypt. To kelp keep the children's attention during what is usually a lengthy meal, the leader breaks off some of the matzah (unleavened bread) on the table, and hides it for the children to find later in the evening. This is called the Afikomen.
The Passover holiday lasts eight days, during which time families do not eat any leavened food products. Many children enjoy the preparations that go into the celebration of this holiday, including cleaning the entire house and kitchen, and helping cook the special foods that are eaten throughout the holiday.
The Child-Centered Passover Seder
The Passover holiday, when families come together for festive meals known as Seders, can sometimes seem overwhelming for a young child. There are several ways to make the Seder experience a more accessible one for your child.
Where to Begin
A few weeks before the start of the holiday, sit down with your child and help him make his own Haggadah. This tells the story of Exodus—the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt—and provides an order to the Seder meal. Find out what he knows, and either have him tell you the story or let him draw it on several sheets of construction paper that he can look at during the meal itself.
Bring your child and everyone else into the kitchen to help prepare some of the ritual foods that are eaten during the meal. These include bitter herbs, like horseradish, and the mixtrue of apples, sweet wine, and nuts known as haroset. Have your child place the ritual objects on the Seder plate before the service begins. You can also prepare small Seder plates for each one of your young guests to help them participate more fully in the experience. You might even want to consider doing the telling part of the Seder in your den or family room, so that your child and others don't get restless at the dinner table.
The more you can involve your child (and other young children) in the actual telling of the Passover story, the more enjoyable the Seder will be for everyone. One idea is to have your child learn an episode of the Exodus story, and sing, dance or act it out at the appropriate time during the Seder. Encourage your child to be creative: pupets, masks or songs can make the meal more exciting.
To help make Passover meaningful for your child, there are a few projects that can enhance her enjoyment of the holiday. A paper Seder plate is one option. Your child can draw a design, featuring Seder symbols, on an ordinary paper plate, and color them with acrylic paints or permanent felt-tip markers. Using a clear liquid plastic spray (from a crafts or hardware store), coat the surface lightly several times. When the design is dry, spray the back of the plate as well. You can use the plate when it's completely dry and wipe it clean with a damp sponge.
Have your child make her own Afikomen cover. It can be as simple as a brown paper envelope that your child decorates with a drizzled glue design and brightly colored markers. Some children like to contribute a centerpiece to the dining table for the Seder. Use the bottom of a plastic soda bottle as the base. Taking the individual segments from a cardboard egg container, have your child paint them in bright, spring shade, like yellow, purple, and red. Attach them with pipe cleaners to the soda bottle base for a pretty, homemade centerpiece.
To learn more about the Passover holiday and find games and other children's activities, go to www.passover.net or www.kidsdomain.com/holiday.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.