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Shabbat Fun for Kids

May 9, 2009 | by staff

Tried-and-true ways to make Shabbat great for kids.

Let’s face it. Shabbat has a lot of don'ts and can'ts.

The challenge for parents is to convey how all the “restrictions” actually open up an exciting new dimension of fun. With the right approach, Shabbat becomes the kids’ favorite day, which they anticipate with excitement all week long.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to make Shabbat great for kids:

  1. Buy special Shabbat clothes for the kids – Shabbat shoes, Shabbat hair ribbons, etc.

  2. Let the week lead into Shabbat – "Only three more days till Shabbat!"... "Tomorrow is Shabbat!"

  3. Get the kids involved in Shabbat preparations: cooking, setting the table, tidying, shopping. Let each child "help" make his favorite Shabbat dish and then let him bring it to the table. Or give each child the choice of pre-cutting things like pickles. Even the smallest child can place napkins at each place setting. Find what they like to do and give them a task within their means.

  4. If you are having guests, get the kids involved by having them make handmade place-setting cards, making up the guest room with fresh sheets, towels, flowers, etc. Tell the children who is coming and encourage them to learn the guests' names ahead of time so they can greet them properly.

  5. Offer to serve fresh challah or chollent on Thursday night or Friday, to give them a taste of Shabbat coming.

  6. Serve the kids special Shabbat-only treats – e.g. soda, ice cream. (Of course these are only special if they're "only on Shabbat.") Even if you don't normally let the kids eat sugary cereals or junk food during the week, on Shabbat let them have it all. (It’s a good way of avoiding it during the week – "Treats are for Shabbat!")

  7. Keep a collection of toys and games that are exclusive for Shabbat. Put away the ones they can't use on Shabbat (musical instruments, crayons, etc.) and take out the new ones.

  8. Before or after lighting candles, depending on the season, you can serve the smallest kids (who won't be able to sit at the table too long) a meal of the things they really like – hot dogs, soda, french fries. Before they eat, have them make Kiddush and eat a small challah. This enables the young children to get special attention, even before any guests arrive.

  9. At candle-lighting, small children like to stand beside their mother to help say the blessing and enjoy the whole mitzvah.

  10. When you bless each individual child before Kiddush, don’t rush it. Especially if you don’t have guests, you can really take your time and spend a few precious minutes with each child.

  11. Children like to imitate by saying their own Kiddush. (They love getting a full cup of grape juice!) Have little inexpensive wine glasses for the kids, so they can feel special and grown-up.

  12. If you have guests, remember that your children and family come first. You are not expected to alter your normal Shabbat environment. More than anything, your guests will appreciate joining in the activities, and absorbing the family atmosphere.

  13. Encourage children’s involvement by assigning special Shabbat responsibilities. One child can be the "dessert waiter" and help serve the dessert; another can be the "towel person," handing the hand towels to the guests after they wash for bread, etc.

  14. Ask the kids if they’ve heard any new jokes. This gets everyone in a good mood.

  15. At the Friday night meal, tell personal stories of Divine providence (hashgacha). It adds a very powerful dimension. Guests can tell a story from their whole life, not just the past week. People routinely have amazing stories. Give candy incentives for those who participate. It forces everyone to pay attention during the week to see God’s hand in our lives.

  16. Let each child take a turn choosing another song. Sing at least one extra-fast song with rowdy singing, banging on the table, and circle dancing. Kids love it.

  17. When singing songs, hold the note at the end for as long as you can, and have a contest to see who can sing it the longest without taking a breath. It becomes a lot of fun and everyone joins in.

  18. If your children attend Jewish schools, they often bring home sheets with questions on the Torah portion of the week. Ask these questions at the table, each on their own level. The guests also love getting in on the action! Have special treats as prizes for right answers or "good tries." If they don't have such sheets, talk about the parsha with questions. If you don’t want to make up your own, try The Little Midrash Says.

  19. From about age 8, children can say their own Devar Torah or short story (that they learned in school or looked up). It gets them used to public speaking and they look forward to their turn. It also makes for a lot of Torah around the table, leads to sharing, etc. You can also encourage them to type it out first, which get them accustomed to using the computer in a positive Torah way.

  20. Show off the projects they made that week in school. Each child really looks forward to his turn for “show and tell."

  21. Do things on Shabbat that you don't do during the week – play games, cuddle up, have uninterrupted talks.

  22. After the meal, tell a long story with a powerful message, either historical, contemporary, or an allegory. The most important part is the end where you discuss the message. (One source: Stories My Grandfather Told Me.)

  23. Read special Shabbat books with Jewish themes, which can be purchased at Jewish book stores. Go through's Family Parsha, which is a great way to discuss the parsha and meaningful ideas as a family.

  24. Ask questions about the parsha, targeted for each child’s specific age. Hand out candies (chocolate chips, jelly beans) for every correct answer.

  25. Mention the various mitzvot in the parsha, and have the kids choose one mitzvah to discuss.

  26. For Shabbat lunch, try starting the meal with a "salad bar." Everyone gets a bowl and the table is full of all sorts of choices – sunflower seeds, soy beans, ground flax seeds, cranberries, olives, croutons, sprouts and vegies. They make their own according to taste, add their favorite dressing, and it becomes a whole nutritious course!

  27. Do family activities such as visiting neighbors, an afternoon outing at the park, etc. Board games are great for the older kids. The Shabbat “family focus” is easier to achieve in an atmosphere of no phones or computers.

  28. Arrange to have their friends stay over for Shabbat or to visit on Shabbat afternoon.

  29. When Shabbat is over plan a Melaveh Malkah party – with hot cocoa, popcorn, milk shakes and music. Bring out the crayons they couldn't use on Shabbat and let them color to their heart's content. It will prolong your special family time even more.

  30. After Shabbat is over, when you're tucking them into bed, review all the highlights of Shabbat. "Remember how yummy the challah tasted?"... "Oh, you were so quiet while Daddy made Kiddush!"... "Wasn't our Shabbat outing fun?"

  31. Most of all, set a good example. If they see you enjoying the preparation and fulfillment of Shabbat, that will be the greatest influence on them.

Add your own idea in the comment box below!

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