Keeping the Children Entertained on Chol Hamoed

Q: It’s true that I enjoy being with my family during Yom Tov. I love seeing the excitement of the children trying to help build the sukkah, and the enthusiasm and warmth of our family being together. It just gets difficult for me when my husband has to work on Chol Hamoed and I have to somehow keep everyone entertained throughout the week. There are a limited number of amusement parks that my budget (and patience) can afford. There are also times that I want to cook for the last days of Yom Tov, and I don’t want to go out at all. And yet, I truly want my children to enjoy our time together. Any ideas?

A: Your predicament is a common one among mothers. And yet, as you are concerned and want to try to continue the sense of warmth and excitement that the Yom Tov has sparked in your family, your aspirations are admirable.

In reality, most childhood memories that we cherish as adults deal with feelings of warmth and joy and are not necessarily related to specific external events outside one’s household. There is a certain excitement in going out with one’s family, but memories of going to Central Park are not usually in a less significant category than those of going to “spectacular” events with a high entrance fee. If parents convey the message that they are “inadequate” parents due to their lack of financial resources and sufficient child care to permit an extensive family outing, this is, indeed, what the child will experience. If one conveys the idea that the family’s being together is the ultimate joy within Chol Hamoed, this is what one’s children will feel. It is truly the loving attitude of one’s parents and siblings that helps to create memories of warmth, security and a sense of belonging. These feelings can even be transmitted through a family party — be it for Rosh Chodesh or a child’s birthday.

An appropriate way to use time at home is by making a Yom Tov party. One can invite over one’s family or invite children on the block (those who have returned home from their daily outing, or have also remained at home). One can be creative and play games with a Yom Tov theme to keep the spirit of the day in mind, for “Hamevazeh es hamo’ados … ein lo chelek la’olam haba” — One who disgraces the festivals … has no share in the World to Come” (Pirkei Avos3:15).

Though a party is usually considered an idea for younger children, it can also be a creative outlet for older ones. A family can create its own “icebreaker” or communication game. An icebreakeris a type of communication game that causes its members to feel connected to one another. When played with family members, it helps reinforce a sense of belonging and unity. In order to create such a game, one or two family members need to write a series of general questions pertaining to family members. Examples: “If Shloimi had one day to do whatever he wanted, what would he do?” “What’s Ima’s favorite Yom Tov recipe?” “What’s Tatty’s favorite saying?” “What’s Miriam’s favorite song?” Of course, if family members are very sarcastic, this game could lead to undesirable speech, but one has to have ground rules to avoid any type of disrespectful or slanderous speech. The fact that family members are cognizant and aware of each other’s likes and interests causes each individual family member to feel validated and cared about.

Other at-home family activities could include putting pictures in picture albums.

In relation to costly financial outings, one needs to more thoroughly investigate the possibility of visiting large parks and nature preserves in order to enjoy a day of Chol Hamoed. Though children might complain that it’s boring, if a parent brings a ball along and plays with the children, the atmosphere becomes one of simchah.

The ideas mentioned above are just examples of working with Chol Hamoed in keeping with the spirit and feelings that you would like to instill in your family. Each family can use its own individual approach to help enhance the coming days of Yom Tov and help increase its joy.