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How to celebrate Passover with kids: 9 engaging ideas for the springtime holiday

Even if your family doesn't observe Passover, consider these festive, educational ideas to usher in spring and celebrate freedom and resilience.

How to celebrate Passover with kids: 9 engaging ideas for the springtime holiday

Passover — the Jewish holiday that begins, in 2022, at sundown on April 15 — is essentially a celebration of freedom. It’s an opportunity for the Jewish people to pass down a story of survival from generation to generation. Yes, there is matzah (unleavened bread that represents the dough that baked on the Jewish people’s backs as they quickly left Egypt), but the Passover celebration is also chock full of symbols, songs, family traditions, food and the retelling of the ancient biblical story.

Even if your family doesn’t observe Passover, you’ll find that many of these ideas can be used to usher in spring and celebrate freedom and resilience.

What is Passover?

Passover begins with a seder — or special meal on the first and often second night — and lasts for either seven or eight days, depending on your family’s traditions. It is during the seder that Jewish people read from a book called the Haggadah to tell the story of their ancestors’ exodus from Egypt after a cruel, new Pharaoh enslaved them. 

Pharaoh was apparently fearful of the Jewish people and ultimately ordered all their newborn sons killed. One mother placed her baby boy in a basket and floated him down the Nile river to save him, as his sister Miriam watched. She reported back to her mother that he had been taken to the palace by none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter. That lucky baby boy was Moses. 

Later, as an adult, Moses heard what was said to be God’s voice in a burning bush telling him to ask Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go. Pharaoh, though, wasn’t convinced by Moses’ plea. In turn, he and his people had to contend with 10 plagues — each one worse than the next — until Pharaoh listened. 

After the final plague (death of the firstborn from each Egyptian family), Pharaoh finally agreed. (It’s believed that the word Passover actually originates from Jewish homes being “passed over” during this plague.) 

The Jewish people had to pack up quickly with unleavened dough on their backs (hello, matzah!) and followed Moses — who was miraculously able to part the Red Sea just long enough for them to reach the shore and escape Pharoah and his soldiers. They would wander in the desert for 40 years before reaching what is now the land of Israel — but at least they were free. 

While Passover commemorates that story of freedom from slavery, the seder acknowledges the suffering of those who faced the plagues. That’s why during a reading of the 10 plagues, participants are instructed to dip their pinky into their wine — or grape juice — to remove a drop for each plague. The ritual represents a cup of joy that’s not entirely full, according to PJ Library, a program that provides online resources for Jewish learning and sends free Jewish-themed books to families who sign up. 

The Passover story for kids

Playing down violent details and focusing more on the story’s main plot may be the way to go for younger kids. The Passover River Ride, a downloadable story in 10 scenes created by PJ Library does just that. It includes a kid-friendly version of the plagues, the tale of a courageous Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt and the excitement of freedom that follows. (Feel free to add in the more graphic details when the time is right.)

PJ Library also recommends children experiencing the holiday (often with family at home) through their senses, which to many people is the most familiar and important part: the tastes and smells of Grandma’s cooking, the sounds of singing, the beauty of spring, the feel of family. (This is why celebrating Passover at the start of a plague in 2020 was especially challenging.) 

Of course, giving purpose to tradition goes a long way. Kids are usually tasked with asking the Four Questions, which help answer why this seder night is different from all other nights. But grown-ups can also encourage them to ask other questions about the holiday, its meaning and its many connections to the present. 

It’s also a good time to remind children that even as they celebrate, there are many people around the world who cannot. That’s why during the seder participants pour a glass of wine and open the door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah.

Passover activities for kids

Some families with younger children might still be opting for smaller gatherings due to COVID precautions. But no matter how big or small your seder might be, these activities (along with several Passover craft suggestions) will help kids and their grown-ups celebrate together and learn about the spring holiday in fun and meaningful ways.

1. Welcome spring by “planting” this seder plate staple

Image via Jennifer Cohen/Instagram

The spring holiday celebrates rebirth and renewal, so welcome the season by getting kids outside to connect with the earth through playing — and planting. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can simulate the process (in this case of growing parsley) by making these yummy chocolate mud pies courtesy of Jennifer Cohen from Our Happy Tribe. All you need are waffle bowls or mini pie crusts, chocolate pudding or ice cream, green sprinkles to represent grass, gummy worms or Chow Mein noodles to look like worms, a sprig of parsley to top it off — and these simple step-by-step instructions

Why parsley? It’s often the green found on the seder plate and dipped in salt water during the meal to remind Jews of the tears of slavery. Ultimately, though, it represents hope and the excitement of a new season.

2. Snuggle up with books — and a game of Passover bingo!

Image via With Love, Ima

Grab a stack of age-appropriate Passover books (check out “A Seder for Grover” by Joni Kibort Sussman and other titles on this list from Read Brightly) and this Passover reading bingo challenge sheet from With Love, Ima.

Simply follow these tips to have them mark the spaces on the bingo sheet as they come across Passover symbols (like the seder plate, the 10 plagues, a burning bush) in a book. Of course, the game will probably get easier as children get older and books tend to include more details of the story. (Also, note that this creative Passover book box that holds the materials for this challenge is an activity in itself!)

3. Turn Passover into a pajama party

Image via MatzaPajamas.com

Whether they’re worn during the seder or while winding down after the big meal, these two-piece matzah-print pajamas — created by Rabbi Yael Buechler of Midrash Manicures — have Passover written all over them. (And, yes, there is more than one way to spell matzah.) 

“Last year I bought my kids PJs for the seder because we weren’t having guests and my younger son [pictured here] called them his matza pajamas — so I decided to create actual matza pajamas,” she explains of her idea born out of cautious COVID times. 

Clever children might even tell you that we lean on this night (Jews ask why they recline as one of the traditional Four Questions) … because they’re wearing their pjs! (Psst, they’re also available in adult sizes.)

Where to buy: Matza Pajamas ($36; MatzaPajamas.com) 

4. Choose a Haggadah with kids — and kindness! — at its core

Image via The Haggadah Collective

Make your seder different from other seders by keeping kids as the focus. Children will likely see themselves in “Hug-It Out”— a “li’l Haggadah for kids” created by mother-daughter duo Pearl and Maxie Richman. It is intended as a direct companion to The Haggadah Collective’s main text, but it can, of course, be used on its own for a seder that caters to a younger crowd.

“We wanted to give kids a voice at the table,” explains Pearl Richman of the book that follows adorable characters Annie and Arnie who playfully appear on the pages alongside the blessings, story and rituals of the meal. Modern and inclusive details are intertwined in all that tradition and presented in a kid-friendly way, which might even encourage little ones to want to lead the seder.

There’s a special cup of water for Miriam to celebrate women, an orange on the seder plate meant to represent equal rights, a moment to remember the children who did not survive the Holocaust and a prayer to honor refugees across the globe

Where to buy: “Hug-It-Out” ($25; Jewish Museum Shop)

5. Connect to the refugee experience

Image via the HIASRefugees/Instagram

HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) also reminds us of the obvious connection between the Jewish people’s escape from slavery and persecution in the Passover story and throughout history and today’s refugees and asylum seekers — as well as to Jews who have repeatedly and are still suffering in the face of antisemitism. 

To discuss these concepts with kids, download this printable activity to reimagine the traditional seder plate with ideas that not only symbolize the story of Jewish exodus but also their own family’s migration story and that of others seeking safety. Children of all ages can offer words (such as hope and resilience) and pictures of meaningful objects to understand both the Passover story and the plight of those around the world searching for refuge today. 

6. Tell the story through songs

Image via Kar-Ben Publishing

Every seder usually includes a rousing rendition of “Dayenu,” the name of which translates to “it would have been enough.” But my favorite recollections of the family dinner involve some (particularly out-of-tune) children’s songs from the coloring book Haggadah my family has used for decades. 

Tunes like “One Morning” (to describe Pharaoh waking up during one of the plagues with frogs in his bed) and “Listen King Pharaoh” (with lyrics that beg him to “let my people go”) not only help retell the story, but they keep seder participants singing throughout the festive meal. (Also note that this children’s book leaves out the super-dark elements, like death, that are part of the Passover tale.)

Of course, a quick Google search for Passover tunes will also lead you to plenty of playlists and more modern parody hits, like this catchy Justin Beiber Passover Mashup by the Maccabeets and “Uptown Passover,” a parody of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” by the group Six13. The toddler and preschool crowd might especially appreciate Six13’s Sesame Street Passover performance

Where to buy: “My Very Own Haggadah” ($4.99; Kar-Ben Publishing)

7. Make a menu of sweet treats

Image via Jewish Together

It might not be easy to get kids excited for the bitter herbs (one of the six symbolic foods on the seder plate), but chocolate covered matzah and coconut macaroons will likely make it onto their must-have Passover menu. 

Take a cue from this eight days of Passover coloring page from pattern designer Jewish Together, and spread these yummy treats out over the holiday or incorporate them all into the seder meal. (Kids can drink grape juice instead of wine.) You might also turn those sheets of matzah into matzah brei, which is a yummy Passover breakfast, or even matzah pizza! Plus, kids will love coloring in the treats as they eat.

Where to find: JewishTogether 8 Days of Passover Countdown page (free with newsletter subscription email sign-up) 

8. Set up an afikomen scavenger hunt

Image via Make It Jewish

Well, maybe it does all begin and end with matzah. At the start of the seder, a sheet of matzah (the second in a stack of three) is usually broken so that a piece called the afikomen (based on a Greek word meaning “dessert”) can be wrapped and hidden for the children to find at the end of the meal. (Part of the pre-seder fun can be making a homemade afikomen bag, like this colorful paper bag creation from Make It Jewish.)

For a creative twist on the ordinary task of afikomen hide and seek, take a cue from Shanna Silva’s “Passover Scavenger Hunt,” and create a collaborative game using clues that lead the kids from one Passover symbol to the next. Final destination? The coveted piece of matzah and usually a prize!

Where to buy: “Passover Scavenger Hunt” ($5.09; Amazon)

9. Involve the kids in holiday cleaning — and in giving back to others

For many Jewish families, spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning before Passover. It’s customary to clean the kitchen of chametz (foods like bread that contain leavened grains that are not supposed to be eaten during the holiday) to make room for matzah and other kosher for Passover staples. Have the kiddos help pack unopened bread and grain products to give to local food pantries. 

It’s also a good time to clean out closets and drawers and donate no longer needed items to help families nearby and around the world, like those fleeing war torn areas like Ukraine

After all, while Passover is a celebration of the Jewish people’s initial freedom from slavery, it is also a reminder to teach and embrace the Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam (or repairing the world) and help those who are still suffering. 

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