Surviving Passover with Young Kids: 5 Surprising Tips
As far as annual Jewish Holidays go, Passover feels like the BIG one! Of all the feasts, Passover involves the most cooking, the most cleaning, and the most planning. When you have small children, Dayenu quickly goes from being “It would have been enough” to “Enough already”! Having experienced Passover with my six young children (at one point, four of them were under five years of age!), there were definitely moments when I wondered how we would survive a “please be under 3 hours” seder. Somehow we survived, made many memories, and even added a few more children to the mix. Here are some of the lessons we learned:
1. Do NOT bring hungry children to a seder.
Seriously, this is the first thing we warn any adult about who is unfamiliar with Passover. Actually, no Jewish event ever starts within the first 30 minutes of when it’s scheduled to begin. On top of that, Passover means sitting through a good hour (or more) of the narrative of the redemption of the Hebrews from Egypt before anything edible is served.
I was fortunate enough to have learned this important lesson before I had children of my own. At the first seder I attended after getting married, I watched nervously as a small girl anxiously waited for us to get to the good part so she could finally eat. When it came time for the matzo and maror, she was warned to take just a very little bit. Poor Havilah was starving. She took the largest piece of matzo with a giant helping of horseradish and quickly popped it into her mouth. Her ensuing scream has lingered with my husband and me for the last 22 years!
Be kind to your children and feed them more than a quick snack before the seder begins. Besides, it’s your last chance to use up any leftover Cheerios or Goldfish before the “feast of unleavened snacks” is in full force.
2. Do a dry run.
This year our congregation will be hosting our 20th seder dinner, and there will be over 80 people. Most years, our family participates in three seders during Passover week: one with family, one with friends, and the giant seder with our congregation.
The family one has always been the first and most important seder. As it is a once-a-year event, this is the time we get to focus the children on soaking in the meaning of the holiday. The family dinner also helps the children know what to expect the rest of the week. It is when they can ask their questions so
they don’t interrupt dinner with everyone else later on. It also gives them an opportunity to try all the new foods without causing a scene.
3. Provide quiet activities.
Most of my experience with small children was before two year olds had tablets and eight year olds had smart phones. In those days, I found delightful coloring books that followed the order of the seder so the children could color in book as we went along. We saved a small basket of storybooks all year for this one night. There are many more available now through Amazon. If you are crafty, you can make a Passover Lap Book (www.homeschoolshare.com/passover_lapbook.php).
I encourage you to consider the idea of an “unplugged seder.” It’s a very easy way to begin the discussion of “Why this night is different?”
4. Get those wiggles out!
Children can’t sit still for long without their energy bursting forth at some point. You have the option of how to direct it. Singing or dancing along with traditional Passover music can be a great outlet. Another idea is to learn some simple Israeli dance steps and then teach them to the children at some point during the evening.
My kids always had a “bag of plagues” filled with small toys related to the ten plagues, and we would provide opportunities for them to be silly and act out parts of the story. Let me warn you now, the flies and frogs will almost definitely wind up in someone’s soup!
5. Have fun.
There will never be a picture-perfect seder with small children. My favorite Passover photo is of my daughter Zemeira at age two, with matzo ball soup in her hair, which also wound up down my dress. One of my most treasured memories is hearing my young sons tell their little sister why Yeshua was our Passover sacrifice. You will be stressed out at some point during your seder. The children will make a mess and will be a little louder than you wished. I know I did not offer the children or myself as much grace as I could have in those moments.
This year, our children are no longer young, and they will be celebrating Passover on two continents and in four time zones. I will actually miss the matzo crumbs snuggled in their hair and laps!
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Heatherly Walker lives in northern California with her husband and half of their six children. She lends a hand wherever needed at Congregation Harei Yeshua where her husband, Sam Walker, is the congregational leader.