For a child, the first night of Passover can be one of the most engaging nights of the year. From singing the Four Questions to searching for the afikomen, the Passover Seder beckons children to participate. However, some families can find it a challenge to make sure that children with special learning needs can take part in their family’s rituals. But with preparation, creativity, and materials tailored to their abilities, children with special learning needs can become full and active participants in the Seder. Boston-based Gateways: Access to Jewish Education has spent years creating resources to help children and their families engage meaningfully in Passover rituals, with the goal of ensuring that every Jewish family can include every one of its members at the Passover table.
The Gateways Haggadah, published by Behrman House, was originally designed with the needs of pre-readers and visual learners in mind. But it can enlighten and delight family members both with and without special learning needs, including pre-readers and those unfamiliar with Jewish traditions. The text includes step-by-step directions for every element of the Passover Seder illustrated by photographs. Additionally, the meaning of each Hebrew prayer and song is brought to life with Mayer-Johnson™ picture communication symbols, which are used in special education classrooms around the world. The text of the Haggadah is clear and concise, resulting in a 30-minute Seder in which all participants can gain an understand of both what is happening and why.
Anyone interested in creating an inclusive and accessible Seder can also find an array of free resources on the Gateways website.
The double-sided downloadable Passover Activity Placemat features the order of the Seder, illustrated with Mayer-Johnson™ picture communication symbols, on the front. This schedule can help participants keep track of what they’re doing, what’s coming next, and (most importantly) how much longer they have to wait before the meal! Schedules can also reduce anxiety by showing Seder participants what to expect, so they don’t feel lost in an unfamiliar ritual. Additionally, schedules also help participants to ration their energy and attention by helping them see how much longer they need to focus. Place a sticker on each step of the Seder as it’s completed for a fun way of celebrating a job well done!
The back side of the placemat illustrates the Ten Plagues. Families can laminate the placemat or put it in a page protector to make it waterproof, so Seder participants can place a drop of wine in each box as the plagues are recited.
How many times have you read a prayer without understanding what it meant? Prayers aren’t just meant to be parroted, but recited with intention. Therefore, Gateways has carefully translated a large number of Passover prayers and songs into Mayer-Johnson™ picture communication symbols. These symbols illuminate the meanings of each word or phrase, and also provide pre-readers, struggling readers, or those unfamiliar with Hebrew with a way to follow along.
Additionally, Gateways offers a variety of templates that help parents and teachers create a collection of Passover-themed file folder activities. Students can separate bread from matzah, put the parts of the Seder in the correct order, match pictures of the ten plagues, and more! These file folder activities take advantage of the visual strengths of children with autism and many other developmental disabilities. Playing with file folder activities before the Seder helps prepare children for the symbols they will see and the activities in which they will take part. And keeping a small pile of file folder activities on the Seder table provides restless Seder participants with a way of staying engaged.
We hope that these resources will help you and your families enjoy a meaningful and inclusive Passover!
For more information, please visit www.jgateways.org.
To see a sample of Jewish symbols Gateways has created in concert with Boardmaker, please visit https://goboardmaker.com/blogs/news/pcs-february-25-2019-boardmaker-online.
Rebecca Redner is an Education Specialist for Gateways.
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