Keeping the Next Dor in the Door: Kids in Adult Services
By Rabbi Matt Dreffin, ISJL Associate Director of Education
Virtually every piece of research will tell you the same thing: kids need a certain amount of exercise and high-energy activity every single day. Unfortunately, the High Holidays don't have many commandments that include running, jumping, and playing games. If we have the resources, we may use a classroom for babysitting, but what about the kids that are too old just to be locked in a room and should start spending time in the "real" services. However, there are ways we can think about setting them up for success when we have them sit in services.
Create a safe zone. At some point, kids need to say something random, to fidget, to fuss with their friends. Do you have a lobby that can accommodate those older children? Have a check-in and check-out system. Hand out ticket stubs before the service (like the kind you find at the arcade). Kids can use their tickets to spend a limited amount of time, taking a break from the regular service. They can talk to a friend, walk around, or let their ears rest from organ and cantorial soloist.
Add kinesthetic options to the service. Yes, we stand up and sit down, but we're mainly staying in one place for the entirety of the service. Have the entire congregation switch sides, or rows, during these moments when we stand up and sit down. Assign kids to open the ark doors, or invite everyone under a certain age to join you for an alternative Haftarah reading or presentation. Additionally, sermons are usually longest at the High Holidays, so this is an excellent time to have someone take all the children in the service out to do an activity together.
Snacks! Snacks! Snacks! This one is easier on Rosh Hashanah than Yom Kippur. But even on the holiest days of the year, it's important for kids to eat at regular intervals. Denying them proper nutrition can lead to losses of concentration, irritable behavior, and potential tantrums. Have healthy snacks ready and available for your kids to enjoy. Make sure the wrappers are quiet, or removed altogether, so as not to distract other worshippers.
Reduce fidgeting with fidgets. Occupy your youngest participants brains with something to keep them from acting out. Knowing that not all communities can draw or write on holidays, have fidgets available can be an invaluable asset. Tangle Therapy can engage the brain quietly for a good amount of time, while Bendeez can be an inexpensive way to accommodate every child.
These are just a few ways to work towards better inclusion of our kids in adult services. If you have something that's worked really well in the past, we'd love to hear about it!