Passover Seders and antsy kids traditionally go together like matzah balls and chicken soup. Fortunately, it's perfectly possible to prevent the fifth question ("Are we done yet?") and the eleventh plague (restless natives) from showing up at our Passover celebrations this year. Taking into account that every family has different comfort levels, objectives and degrees of observance, here are some tips toward creating a fun and meaningful Passover Seder that promises to captivate the interest of all kinds of kids - wise, wicked, simple and just plain unable to ask.
Grumpy kids and hungry tummies go hand in handThat's the Ticket. Prior to the big night, make "matzah tickets" out of index cards. Award the tickets to children throughout the Seder for reciting the Mah Nishtanah, the Four Questions, answering tricky Passover trivia questions, helping little brothers and sisters make Hillel sandwiches and oodles of other desirable Seder behaviors. At the end of the evening, let ticket-holders redeem their winnings for Passover related prizes (i.e. stickers, candies, plastic frogs),
Keep the Karpas Coming. Grumpy kids and hungry tummies go hand in hand. A steady flow of karpas (a.k.a. carrots and celery) and kosher for Passover salad dressing for double dipping, will keep your kids happily crunching away until it's time for the main course.
Give out Goody Bags. Keep your junior Seder participants happy and occupied with special plague goody bags. While you can purchase already prepared "bags of plagues" at Judaica stores and online for around twelve dollars a piece, you can accomplish the same thing at the dollar store for a fraction of the price. Try plastic sunglasses for darkness, toy frogs, wild beasts and insects (lice and vermin); kosher for Passover marshmallows for hail, red dot stickers for boils; and band-aids for blood.
Don't Passover the Books. Visit a library or bookstore and stock up on Passover-themed books. Scatter them around the table for children to peruse during the longest stretches of the Seder. There are some great Passover story books with pictures for younger children and deeper insights for the older children.
Have an Afikoman Search Party. It's always the same story at my house: the big cousins find the afikoman and the little cousins get upset; the little cousins get a prize anyway and the big cousins get upset. By making the afikoman hunt a team effort rather than a competition, we can do away with such griping. Use post-it notes to lead the search party from one destination to the next (i.e. "Go to the place where Elijah will enter," or "Pharaoh had frogs jumping in his bed; now go see if there are any jumping in yours.") The clues should ultimately lead the pack to the illusive dessert of honor. Be prepared with inexpensive "afikoman finder" rewards for the whole crew.
Help kids stay focused and fidget-free during long SedersTake Plague Breaks. Help kids stay focused and fidget-free during long Seders by periodically letting them get their wiggles out. Should your children's attention start to stray from the task at hand, call for a "plague break" and instruct all antsy guests to jump like frogs or run in place like wild beasts.
Have a Matzah Match. Before the Seder, write matched pairs of Passover words on index cards. For example, write "Hillel" on one card and "sandwich" on another; "ten" on one card and "plagues" on another. Keep going – four/questions; matzah/ball; Elijah's/cup - until you have enough cards to secretly stash one under every guest's plate. Sometime before dinner, tell everyone to lift their plates, look at the card and track down their matching half. (Hint: For children too young to read - or to understand the match mentality - cut cards in half using varying puzzle cuts and write one word on each half. When kids find a card that "fits" theirs, they'll know they've found their match).
Put a Spotlight on Stories. The true purpose of the Seder is to pass down the Passover story from generation to generation, but why stop there? Ask a few of your senior guests to come prepared to share stories about Seders past. When kids get antsy, pass a play microphone to a family patriarch or matriarch and let the storytelling begin. Furthermore, the more you learn about the inner meaning of the story of Passover, the more exciting you will be able to make it when telling it to children and adults alike. Talk about the idea that this is not merely something that happened to our ancestors but something we all experience as well. What does it mean to be enslaved? To be free? Young and old will have fascinating answers to such questions and discussion.
Keep an Eye on the Big Picture. Sure, planning a kid-friendly Seder is liable to take more work than simply bribing our kids to behave with a pound of chocolate, or locking them in the playroom with a babysitter for the night. But we'll know our efforts have been well worth our while when our fidgety children one day do the same for our fidgety grandchildren.