Creative tips on how to make the pre-Pesach preparation fun and memorable for your children
“Dust is not hametz and your kids are not the korban Pesach.” This sage advice from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, is perfect for shifting our perspective as we prepare for Passover. Anyone who has tried to clean for Pesach with little ones underfoot knows the frustrations of making Pesach with kids in the picture. And on top of that, there is the added challenge of feeding a hungry brood whilst the house is in the throes of Pesach cleaning. Based on the Rebbe’s poignant words, we can assume that due to unnecessary stringencies and stressed-out parents, some children experience the cleaning frenzy as unpleasant and burdensome.
Yet, all of this cleaning is leading up to the seder night, and the main mitzvah of the evening is “vehigadta lebincha” – telling the story of the Exodus to the next generation. Ironically, these children who seem to make the entire process so much more difficult are the “stars of the show” when we arrive at the seder. The seder is set up in a way to engage children with questions, stories and games, so they should remain awake and be excited to experience the narrative of our nation’s birth. On this special night, we try to imbue our offspring with our holy history so that they may carry on the torch of our traditions.
Most families are aware that at a Pesach seder they are creating memories and giving over their core values. The warmth of family coming together, the splendor of a sparkling home, the opulence of the beautiful dining ware, and the intrigue of new customs and strange foods create a charged atmosphere. Abuzz with fun and excitement, children are swept up in the novelty of the night and receptive to participating. This unique event will truly make an imprint on our children’s minds that will stay with them throughout their life. Indeed, most adults can vividly recall fond memories of their childhood Pesach experiences. Yet, while it is true that a Passover seder done right is a precious opportunity to transmit Judaism to our small charges, it’s important to realize that this task is upon us all year long.
In the weeks prior to the big event, when we’re in the midst of cleaning and preparing – and possibly feeling overwhelmed to boot – it’s easy to lose sight of this lofty goal. Of course we know that Pesach is a chance to present our children with a Judaism that is beautiful and alive, but are we conveying this message when we clean? Just as the seder night is a way to give our children memories and inculcate them with Torah values, so too, we can use the pre-Pesach time to achieve the same objective.
Words That Come From the Heart
Many organized housewives have mastered the technicalities of making Pesach, writing down lists of cleaning schedules and menu plans the second Purim departs. I’d like to
suggest, though, that as much as we prepare and plan for our home and food, we should also consider our children and make sure they are ready for the holiday. I learned from a renowned educator in Jerusalem that the mitzvah to prepare oneself 30 days prior to a festival includes preparing children, as well. And thus, my pre-Pesach to-do list for this year will also include a list of fun, Pesach-related projects and games to keep my children happy and occupied whilst we rid our home of hametz.
Pesach crafts have an added benefit of providing parents an opportunity to discuss the story and themes of the holiday. Certainly, children will hear the story of Pesach from their teacher, yet, this doesn’t exempt the parents from teaching their children about the holiday. With a pre-Pesach activity as a springboard, parents can give over Pesach in their own unique way, sharing their memories and telling the stories that they connect to. One mother might overflow emotionally to her children describing how the Almighty went above and beyond when He took the Jews out of Egypt and expound on all of the incredible miracles that occurred during the Splitting of the Sea. Another parent could wax poetic about the meaning of freedom and how being servants of Gd is the ultimate expression of true freedom. The story of the 10 plagues could be presented in colorful detail and humor. When parents express a story in a way that is exciting and meaningful to them, then, “devarim hayotzim min halev nichnasim el ha’ev – words that come from the heart enter the heart.” With a bit of forethought, these projects segue into a platform to transmit our own personal feelings towards Pesach.
Do-It-Yourself Seder Paraphernalia
A fun way to both entertain your children pre-Pesach and also engage them at the seder is by having them create things that will be used at the seder. Entice your kids to stay up till the end with a fun afikoman bag. You’ll need a piece of fabric that is sewn in an envelope style, making sure that there is enough room to fit the piece of matzah. There are endless ways to decorate the bag, so let your kids get creative and come up with cute messages like “Find Me!” Display their artwork front and center by letting kids make a seder plate. For the little ones, it can be as simple as crayons and a paper plate. For older, artistically inclined children, give them some oil-based sharpie markers and an oven-safe ceramic platter to design and decorate as a seder plate, and then put it in a 350° oven (cleaned for Pesach, of course) for 30 minutes to set their work. Another way to incorporate children’s art on the seder table is with a kiddush cup for Eliyahu. A plastic goblet can transform into a masterpiece with glue and colored tissue paper, plastic jewels and stickers, to add an extra dose of fun to the seder table.
Kids can also get crafty with DIY napkin holders and place cards to adorn your seder table.
Creating props to make the seder more dynamic will help create a festive atmosphere leading up to Pesach and ensure participation during the seder. One cute idea is to make signs for the Mah Nishtanah to add a fun visual aid. With some popsicle sticks taped to decorated construction paper or oak tag, kids can draw images to accompany the four questions. Hold up a picture of hametz and matzah, and then a sign of just matzah, for a cute way to contrast seder night and all other nights. The next question would require one sign with a variety of vegetables and the next sign with only bitter herbs, and so on. Older children can get more creative and turn this into a photography project, whereby they are challenged to style unique
photos to be made into signs. This concept can be applied to other points throughout the seder, like the plagues or the four sons.
Bingo, “Pesach Land,” and “Pyramids and Sand Dunes”
Another great DIY project is Pesach bingo. There is an actual board game called Passover Bingo which can be purchased online, but with some markers, paper and creativity, you and your children can make your own. The bingo cards can contain images and words related to the seder, such as “Haggadah,” Egypt” or “Frogs.” But since you’re personalizing this game, you can also add squares with family inside jokes. For example if a certain relative frequently says a certain catch phrase, put that on the board.
Make it humorous by including squares for a wine spill or for someone asking, “When do we eat!” Give each person at the seder a customized bingo board and something to place on squares as they are filled – candy or nuts will work – and enjoy!
There are many other classic games that can also be turned into Pesach-themed fun. Memory match games are easy to make and appropriate for even very young kids. Decorate the cards with images of the plagues, foods on the seder plate, and other Pesach symbols. Along the same lines, you can create a deck of Pesach cards that can be used for “Go Fish” (which can be renamed, “Go Gefilte Fish”) or “Old Maid” with a Pharaoh card instead of the Old Maid. Recreate Candy Land as “Pesach land” with delicious Pesach treats along the colorful path leading to Macaroon Mountain – just don’t get caught in the Marror Marsh or the Lake of Salty Tears! Chutes and Ladders becomes “Pyramids and Sand Dunes.” Land on Pesach-related mitzvot to climb the pyramid, while bad “Mitzri” behavior will send you sliding down a sand dune. Treat your kids to a new batch of poster boards, markers, glitter glue and stickers to get them excited about making their own Passover game.
Perhaps in our efforts to prepare and inspire our children for Pesach, some of that enthusiasm will rub off on us. Wishing everyone a Hag Kasher V’Sameach!