Telling our children the story — and letting them tell us too

Telling our children the story — and letting them tell us too

Ariel Russo, the rabbi of CSI Nyack, was educated by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and inspired by Camp Ramah. In her spare time she wrangles her kids into car seats and explores the lower Hudson region with her husband.

Passover, a holiday traditionally celebrated in homes, is an incredible opportunity to engage all generations.

The storytelling component and the location allows for experiential education to blossom. Passover brings Judaism to the home, where many participants feel very comfortable. Parents often decide to which audience they will tailor their Passover seder. They are forced to choose whether to read the Haggadah from cover to cover or to start at 5 p.m. with kids’ songs. The nostalgia of reading the Maxwell House Haggadah in its entirety with different versions around the table may seem counterintuitive when combined with Passover songs sung to the tunes of music from “Frozen.” Early bedtimes, limited attention spans, and teenagers who would rather be somewhere else all can put restraints on the seder.

It is not easy to create a seder that will appeal to seder-goers of all ages, yet with a few thoughtful additions, it is possible. The Haggadah teaches us, “In every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as one who personally went out from Egypt. Just as it says in the Torah: ‘You shall tell your child on that very day: This is done because of that which the Lord did for me when I went out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)

How do we balance telling the stories, with all of their mathematical equations and details, while also engaging our kids? We want our kids to have fond memories of real seders while also acknowledging that everyone — including kids — learns differently. By engaging multiple intelligences, the seder is a wonderful opportunity for intergenerational learning. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences asserts that people learn through different modalities, such as music, visual-linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, inter- and intrapersonal, and so on.

Creating an experience at home where all participants can learn and have fun makes Passover so special. With the recognition that your seder is likely to be starting in a few hours, here are a few ideas that you can add at the last minute to be mindful of a traditional seder with children:

1. Games. There are so many creative games that you can use to keep young participants busy and engaged. Bingo is a prime example. The children listen to the words of the seder because they have a task — to hear words for the Bingo board. Empowering people with tasks and providing a focus is a fun way to encourage active listening. Bring out some Legos, and suddenly you have a visual image of a pyramid or the parting of the Red Sea. Asking kids to build scenes with Legos or Tinkertoys or Lincoln Logs sparks their imagination and as a visual aid helps them to reimagine the scene.

Keeping little fingers busy, like fidget toys, can actually help to keep kids focused. Games, puzzles, and scavenger hunts are multisensory activities that can complement the traditional reading of the Haggadot. You can download Bingo boards from the internet or dig out a Lego set and suddenly the traditional seder becomes more accessible to young participants.

2. Ask open-ended questions. I am constantly amazed by children’s insights. They often are spiritual virtuosos, who have so much to add. Big questions based on themes of slavery and freedom, the meaning of Passover, and so on can elicit really creative and thoughtful responses. Giving others the opportunity to speak and allowing for time before they answer can help all of your participants to think more deeply about the subtle underlying meaning of the Passover narrative. The Haggadah teaches, “The one who does not know how to ask — you shall open [the discussion] for him, as it is said, ‘And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, this is done because of that which Adonai did to me when I came forth out of Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8). Adults can ask the questions and learn from the answers of the children. Teens can lead the questions.

3. Role-playing. Children of all ages can act out scenes from the Haggadah. It is amazing what costumes, forts, tents, and props can do to set the scene and engage everyone. There are ready-made skits online, and participants can use improv games or just improvise wonderful skits to make the Maggid section more relatable and tangible. It does not have to replace the entire reading, or it can replace a section of the Maggid. The popular improv game where you answer questions with more questions could be a lot of fun during the Passover story.

4. For participants who do not read yet, the songs can be enhanced with hand motions that help them participate. At the beginning of the seder, when we sing about the order, kids can take the lead by acting out the parts and the adults can follow. Motions like drinking wine, washing hands, and so on encourage other avenues of engagement while reminding us of the parts of the seder. This bodily-kinesthetic modality works for people of all ages. I learned from our Israeli family that assigning each participant a number for “Who knows one?” at the end and asking them to get up every time their number is sung helps everyone to pay attention and have a role. It is also great to get some cardio in after such a large meal! You can use animal sounds, puppets, or images for Chad Gadya (One Little Goat) to keep everyone on their toes.

Finding common ground where participants, and especially children, are engaged does not have to happen separately from the traditional seder. By using a few engagement tools, Passover becomes an example of intergenerational, experiential education. The new additions alongside mainstay traditions can help to cultivate a lifetime of memories.

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