The Seder is an intergenerational family ritual and focuses on children in several ways. It is a family-based ritual based on a verse from the Bible: “And you shall tell it to your son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this God did for me when He took me out of Egypt.'” (Exodus 13:8) The ritual and the words of the Seder have the purpose of transmitting the Jewish faith from grandparents to children, from one generation to the next.
Because of the fact that the retelling of Exodus is the object of the Seder ritual, a lot of effort is made to feed the interest and curiosity of the children and to keep them awake for the whole meal. One way to do this and involve the children is through the questions and answers that are part of the ritual. The children who take the role of asking the questions are more likely to remember the answers and learn.
Mah Nishtanah is the most famous question and is generally asked by the youngest child: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The answers are a review of history. At different points of the Seder, the leader will cover the matzot and lift his cup of wine. Then he will put the glass down and uncover the matzot. This is all done to elicit questions from the children.
Children are often given nuts and candy for correct answers. The afikoman is another device to focus on the children. It is hidden away for the dessert by the leader of the Seder. The children must find it. When they do find it they receive a prize or reward. Sometimes the children barter with the adults to return the afikoman for a bribe of money or a gift.
Some modern Seders have replaced the “Four Sons” retelling of questions and answers to “Four Children” sometimes adding a fifth child who represents the children of the Shoah who did not survive. The child may ask “Why?” and there is no answer.
The enumeration of the Ten Plagues which describes the slavery and miraculous salvation by God of the Jewish people is a high point in the ritual for children. Having “all the water was changed to blood” or “An epidemic of boils afflicted the Egyptians” is very dramatic and the children are easily caught up in the retelling.
Some families buy or make props for this portion of the Seder. There may be plastic frogs for the children to throw, ping pong balls, plastic locusts, sunglasses for all guests, etc.
The Seder usually ends in songs jointly sung by adults and children which tell more the miracles of this night.
Other ways the Seder can focus on children are to remove the hurry from getting empty stomachs to the food by having hors d’oeuvres on the table. You might also feed small children or children with special dietary needs first. Karpas, the blessing for vegetables, comes early in the Seder. You could have several veggie trays and dips on the table.
The charoset is a favorite of children. It is a sweet, dark-colored paste made of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon. It may be eaten liberally by itself or spread on matzah.
You could use a paper tablecloth and distribute crayons to the children. You can include small percussion instruments such as drums or bells as well as clapping to lively songs.