For parents of squirmy kids, a Passover seder can seem longer than the 40 years our ancestors spent wandering through the desert. Fortunately, all it takes is a little forethought and creativity to keep the younger set from getting as jumpy as the frogs in Pharaoh's bed at the big event. The following suggestions should help you plan a family-friendly Seder that promises to hold the attention of all kinds of kids -- wise, wicked, simple and those just plain unable to ask.
Set the Stage
You'll immediately pull children into the exodus experience by adding scenery to the seder. Drape sheets across the ceiling to give the table a tent-like feel, or pitch a freestanding Bedouin abode in the corner. If you're feeling especially adventurous, ask guests to sport full Israelite attire. It's amazing what can be done with some sheets, robes, pillowcases and towels.
Not Quite Ready for Primetime Seders
Set an early seder start time, thus keeping the evil Pharaohs lurking within your kids at bay a bit longer.
It's in the Bag
Hand out goodie bags at the door to your most wiggly guests. Include Passover stickers, mini-books and kosher-for-Passover candies.
Open a Mini-Matzah Factory
Dig up a matzah recipe on the Internet and let kids have a go at baking the afikomen. The dry crumbly results may not be Manischevitz material, but they'll leave your pint-sized bakers feeling more a part of Passover, and the extra dough can keep little hands occupied during the seder.
Serve Up Some Plagues
Scatter plastic frogs, beasts and insects (locusts) and other plague-related knick-knacks around the table.
Recline in Style
Help kids use fabric paint to decorate plain pillowcases with Passover related art. Since reclining is the name of the game during the seder, these meaningful creations will be put to good use.
Stretch the Festive Meal
Grumbling tummies are prime perpetrators of seder-night meltdowns. By serving the matzah ball soup upon arrival and offering up platters of carrot and celery sticks as karpas, you can squelch pre-festive meal kvetching faster than your kids can say, "Let my people go!"
Who Wants to be a Matzahnaire?
Passover is all about asking questions, but the big four are only the beginning. Keep kids excited and involved with the seder by intermittently morphing into a game show host. Be sure to award correct answers to holiday-themed questions with special Passover prizes.
Give a Taste of Slavery
Just as little heads are beginning to nod off, "discover" an envelope addressed to all the children at your seder table containing a letter from the Pharoh himself. Read the edict -- commanding all children to begin building pyramids, immediately -- aloud; pull out the blocks you stored under the table prior to the seder and let the enslavement begin.
Try a Change of Venue
Whether everyone moves to the living room to sing Passover songs or takes a walk outside to the pool to send a baby Moses doll off in a basket, a field trip away from the table during the course of the seder works miracles.
Chop It Up
It's much more fun to eat a Hillel sandwich when you helped in making the charoset and maror. In my family, making horseradish sauce is an annual pre-seder event complete with Shlomo Carlbach music. Since only those old enough to safely handle a knife are allowed to participate, the kids consider it a virtual rite of passage.
Put a Spotlight on Stories
The true purpose of the seder is to pass the story of Exodus down from one generation to the next. But why stop there? Ask a few of your senior guests to come prepared to share a true and entertaining tale about their lives. When kids start to stray, pass a play microphone to one of these individuals. Their tales are sure to turn little heads back toward the seder table.
Finally, keep in mind that keeping children occupied during a seder is liable to take far more effort than simply bribing squirmy kids with chocolate-covered macaroons or sticking them with a teenage baby sitter in the playroom for the night. By taking the time to orchestrate a kid-friendly seder, you significantly up the odds that your fidgety children will one day do the same for your fidgety grandchildren.