Put the Child Back into Children Services
Tips and tricks for making High Holiday Children Services engaging and interactive
As rabbis, educators, lay leaders, and parents we can make services an enjoyable and meaningful experience for our students (and ourselves). Although many congregations have a separate children service, many of us often fall into the trap of only making our kids’ services, shorter, instead of thinking outside of the box on new ways to engage our students. This year, put the child back into children services.
Here are a few tips and tricks to enhance your youth services:
1. Shiru L’Adonai (Sing Unto Adonai)
Music is an easy way to make services enjoyable for all ages—it can introduce movement and excitement. Bring instruments such as tambourines, maracas, or mini drums for students to use. If your congregation does not play musical instruments on holidays, you can choose lively melodies and upbeat tunes that the children will recognize and enjoy.
Additionally, the High Holidays are a great time to make use of your participants’ musical talents. Ask some of your older students to participate in a High Holiday choir or band! You can even have your students write a fun Rosh Hashanah parody, like this one, to perform
2. Make the service interactive.
Growing up, my rabbi performed an annual Yom Kippur science experiment that all participants helped create. The experiment starts with a jar of water (filled halfway). The service leader calls on students to share one sin they committed this year. As each child shares their wrongdoing, the leader adds a drop of food coloring to the water. Next, our scientist asks the students to apologize, as they apologize, the leader adds a drop of s’lichah (forgiveness) juice, also known as “bleach,” to the water. This simple, yet interactive way, demonstrates for our students that saying “I’m sorry” is extremely important, but it also does not erase what happened.
Another simple trick for making the service more interactive is High Holiday Human Bingo (see attached document). Pass out these bingo cards and have children and parents walk around the sanctuary to ask other service participants if any of the spaces on the bingo card apply to them. If they do, have that person place a sticker on their friend’s chart.
3. Skits & Stories
There are so many wonderful skits and stories that relate to the High Holiday themes. Invite older students or parents to perform one of these at your service. Some of our ISJL favorites include this skit about the story of Jonah (see attached document); this story which compares the impossible task of collecting feathers with the impact of gossip; or “The First New Year” from Does God Have a Big Toe? by Marc Gellman.
4. Age-Appropriate Prayer book
It is essential to think about the mach’zor (High Holiday prayer book) you will use. Using an age appropriate prayer book will make it easier for your students to follow along and understand the intention behind the special prayers we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Check out this option from Behrman House.