In the overview of the Jewish year, Pesach really has a leg up re: kid-friendly angles. Sure, Purim has costumes, graggers and mishloach manot but then there's the tough issue of keeping everyone quiet through the whole megillah reading. Chanukah has candle lighting and presents, but in our family both of those involve some amount of angst (for the former, maintaining appropriate fire safety, the latter, managing the grumpy weirdness that comes from somewhat gratuitous gift-getting). Pesach has the benefit of being rabbinically designed to be focused on children. So many of the details of the seder are there "so that the children should ask." Add to that the host of items people have designed to extend the involvement even further -- bag-o-plagues, a plethora of children's haggadot, afikoman cover and pillowcase crafts -- and Pesach is definitely far at the front of the pack.
At the other extreme is Shavuot. This past year my husband and I noted that Shavuot has the fewest readily obvious handles for engaging children. Staying up to learn all night? That no longer works well for any of us, least of all the kiddos. So family-wise we're left with cheescake, blintzes (granted, those are delicious), and the vague notion that this is when we received the Torah.
That said, even Pesach still feels like it's in need of more Beyond Noah's Ark magic (by which I mean, items that truly engage children of all ages in deeper questions of meaning and spiritual growth). The seder table matching game and seder plate puzzle that we were very kindly gifted by one guest were cute, and moderately engaging, but not terribly spiritually meaningful.
One new acquisition this year that definitely gets the Beyond Noah's Ark seal of approval was the Ayeka Haggadah, titled "Hearing Your Own Voice," by Rabbi Aryeh Ben David. I bought it, along with a graphic novel about leaving Egypt (thanks for having these in stock Israel Book Shop!), hoping to engage my 4 year old in some meaningful Pesach prep. I was a bit dubious about how he'd relate to the Ayeka haggadah given that it has very few illustrations -- even thought it is explicitly aimed to include children in its broad target audience. At any rate, the fears were unfounded. A little while into working on it together my son actually exclaimed "Mama! This is so fun!"
Among the elements that contributed to this:
- The haggadah got me to take 20 minutes out of pre-pesach hububb to sit and do a focused activity with my kid
- Mama was actually listening attentively to child's answers to deep, open-ended questions, and even writing them down
- Kiddo was being allowed to write and draw in a real book that was not a coloring or sketch book
One discussion that this process-oriented mama particularly loved was prompted by the Yachatz question which asks: What was the risk you took in the past year (or years) on your journey? What was the missing piece you fond for last year's journey? What is risky about the next step on your journey?
Ezra drew a picture and proclaimed "This is me on that giant rock in Dean Rd. park!" So I asked, "And you felt proud because you got to the top?" To which Ezra countered, "No, I felt proud because I climbed, mostly by myself."
That was just one of a number of wonderful/interesting/unexpected conversations that the haggadah helped bring about. All of which also got me thinking about what goes into crafting the sort of open ended questions, prompts, or items that spark real thoughtful contemplation, and could provoke new responses every time they're considered. There's a lot out there earnestly attempting such simple grandeur that unfortunately falls short, into the realm of getting asked, answered quickly if at all, and promptly forgotten. I'd love to get Rabbi Ben David's perspective on how he considered (and in my opinion, succeeded in) walking this path when crafting the haggadah.
At any rate, here's a cheer for the Ayeka Haggadah! (I am certainly not an affiliate, but if you're interested you can get a copy here for next year, or probably at your local Judaica store.) Did you discover any exciting additions to your family's seder this year? Looking forward to Shavuot, any ideas you've been imagining for items or activities to add more texture for the 3-13 year old set, either on the holiday, or in preparation?