Should We Nudge Toddlers to Learn Passover’s Four Questions?

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Why could this Passover be different for my family this year than last? Our son is now 3. He can speak in complete sentences. He can sing several Hebrew prayers, and he mimics well. Maybe, maybe our little boy will chant some of the Four Questions at our seder. But how far should we nudge him?
Neither my husband nor I grew up chanting the Four Questions at Passover. I was a Sunday school dropout at age 12. My family did a Cliff Notes version of a Seder, much shorter than the 30-minute Seder I could pick up for $5.99 at my local Stop & Shop.  I don’t need my child to become the Passover Poster Child to make up for what I never did in childhood. So what to do?

By no grand design of his parents, Simon began learning some of the Four Questions the last few months. We stacked all Jewish-related children’s books in one book box in his bedroom, and one day, he picked a book entitled, The Four Questions. The 1989 book, illustrated by Ori Sherman and written by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, has an obvious allure for a toddler. On the book cover illustration, an elephant, a lion, a hippo, an alligator, a rooster, a giraffe, and several other animals gather around a table set for Passover. The text was heavy for a 3-year-old, but page after page, Simon was fascinated by the animals. And he seemed enchanted when my husband started singing the Four Questions in Hebrew. Maybe it was the melody. Or maybe it was the fact that when you turn the book upside down to read the four questions in Hebrew, more animals appeared.

I stood outside Simon’s door one night as my husband sang the Four Questions. Simon watched my husband’s mouth intently, but did not sing that night. The next morning, though, he played with some toys in the kitchen and began singing the Four Questions. Several nights in a row, Simon demanded that either my husband or I read him the book. And oftentimes, he started singing the Four Questions with us.

As Passover approached, the book suddenly no longer topped Simon’s reading list. He became more interested in dinosaurs. But every so often, he spontaneously burst into song with the Four Questions. In the car with Simon, I occasionally slipped Debbie Friedman’s The Journey Continues album into the CD player and purposely stopped on the Ma Nishtana track. Simon joined in and belted out what he remembered. Not all the words were clear, but it did not matter. The Four Questions seeped into his consciousness.

So what to do? Start more formal instruction with Simon? Nah. I figure we should rely on our basic parenting philosophy. Take cues from our child. When my husband likely starts singing the Four Questions, Simon may join in. Or he may not. And yet, this Passover will be different than last year’s, I predict. Simon may not be ready to learn the Four Questions. He is, though, starting to ask questions. He will, on this Pesach, let his sweet, curious voice be heard.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Jewish Muse blog a few weeks before Passover. So what happened at our Seder, held last week? I’ll post a reflection soon. The Passover graphic used with this blog is from Jewishlayout.com.

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