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13 Ways to Make Shabbat Fun for Kids
There’s a song in Hebrew that goes, “So why isn’t every day Shabbat?” That’s the sentiment we want to instill in our children, so that they’ll look forward to Shabbat as the week progresses.
How do we do this? How do we make our kids appreciate the holy day and not begrudge giving up some activities that they are used to?
The answer is: Make it entertaining, make it special, make it geared to them. Frankly, there’s no day that lends itself to more fun than Shabbat.
Here are 13 surefire ways to make Shabbat everyone’s favorite day of the week:
1. Special Food and Treats
Traditional Shabbat food is delicious in its own right, but children should also have some of their favorite treats on this day. Starting with grocery shopping, buy food your family loves. If it isn’t practical to have all the kids’ favorites every week, let the kids take turns planning the menus, or at least choosing special desserts. Make a bag of kosher goodies for each person to nosh on during the day, or set out a table of sweet, salty and crunchy treats for a late-afternoon Shabbat snack.
2. Give Even the Youngest Members Jobs
Delegate jobs for the kids to do in preparation for welcoming the Sabbath Queen. It might seem counterintuitive, but kids take pride in their work and will enjoy pitching in. Let every child pick the thing he or she enjoys doing most, whether it’s setting a festive table or preparing a salad or polishing the candlesticks. Let your kids show off their talents, and be sure to praise their work.
3. Get Dressed Up
People feel special when they get dressed up, and that includes little people. Getting dressed up in their Shabbat finery is one of the perks of celebrating the weekly holiday. Girls especially like dressing up in pretty hair accessories and jewelry, and boys like grown-up-looking suits.
4. Special Food and Treats
Consider buying your girls their own shiny candlesticks and have them light them every week, making Shabbat something that is special and connected uniquely to them.
5. Focus on the Kids
At the Shabbat table, let your children tell you what they learned about the Torah portion or sing you the new song for the upcoming holiday. Listen more than talk. Each child should have time in the spotlight to talk about their week or something that they enjoy.
6. Prepare a Game
Prepare a game about the weekly Torah portion and let the kids win small prizes for each score. (There are ready-made ones you can download.) You can also play a game that asks questions to get them to talk about their week and experiences.
7. Keep a Journal
Record the kind and wonderful things your kids say and do during the week in a journal. Read it out loud at the Shabbat table, making sure that each child is mentioned. Your children might even enjoy making their own journal during the week, writing about each other’s (or their own!) kind deeds.
8. Relax the Rules
Shabbat has enough rules without adding your own. Try to relax the usual rules about bedtime and food consumption, and let the kids feel the joy of a day of rest from too much parental restriction.
9. Find a Kid-Friendly Synagogue
A synagogue that welcomes children gives the youngest congregants things to do to participate in the service and makes them feel valued. Some synagogues also have special kid-friendly programs in a separate room during services.
10. Give Your Full Attention
What kids need, want and crave more than anything else is their parents’ love and attention. On Shabbat, we relax from all the running around during the rest of the week and the hectic pace of trying to get everything done. Make sure to spend one-on-one quality time with each child so that they feel special and loved—reading, learning, walking, playing a game. A child’s relationship with their parents is reflected in their relationship with G‑d. If they feel secure in their parent’s love, they’ll feel secure in G‑d’s love too.
11. Invite Guests
Invite guests that your kids like who won’t take your attention away from them. Also allow your children to invite their own guests—friends from school or camp to have a Shabbat sleepover or, if they live nearby, to come over for a meal.
12. Let Shabbat Linger
Don’t be quick to say goodbye to the Sabbath Queen. After Havdalah, take a few minutes to sing; take out whatever instruments your family may play and have a family sing-along. Have something sweet to eat so that you have a sweet week ahead.
13. Speak Positively About Shabbat
Anytime Shabbat comes up in conversation (and certainly, during the day itself), smile and tell your children how much you enjoy the time spent with them on this holy day . . . and how you can’t wait for next week!
Rosally Saltsman is a freelance writer originally from Montreal living in Israel.