Should We Nudge Toddlers to Learn the Four Questions?

March 24, 2011

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. 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 has been 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 is heavy for a 3-year-old, but page after page, Simon is fascinated by the animals. And he seems enchanted when my husband starts singing the Four Questions in Hebrew. Maybe it’s the melody. Or maybe it’s the fact that when you turn the book upside down to read the four questions in Hebrew, more animals appear.

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.

Passover is less than a month away. The book no longer tops Simon’s reading list. He’s more interested in dinosaurs at the moment. But every so often, he spontaneously bursts into song with the Four Questions. In the car with Simon, I occasionally slip Debbie Friedman’s The Journey Continues album into the CD player and purposely stop on the Ma Nishtana track. Simon joins in and belts out what he remembers. Not all the words are clear, but it does not matter. The Four Questions have seeped into his consciousness.

So what to do? Passover is closing in on us. Do we start more formal instruction with Simon? Nah. I figure we should use our usual parenting philosophy. Take cues from our child. He’s showing scattered interest at the moment. 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: The Passover graphic is from

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One Response to Should We Nudge Toddlers to Learn the Four Questions?

  1. Pingback: Should We Nudge Toddlers to Learn Passover's Four Questions? | Tiferet Journal

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