Five years ago, I put together a list of ideas for an amplified synagogue Youth Program. The goal was to create a program that would be more than babysitting, stories and social activities; I wanted a program that would make our kids comfortable and competent in a shul environment.
Looking back at the list - as my oldest child is now 13 instead of 8 - I'm not sure how I feel about parts of this. Some of it strikes me as naive. But I'd be interested in hearing from you.
For younger children (age 2-6, perhaps):Storytime sessions with the rabbi, as well as with other leading players from the shul and community.
tour of the shul, including the bimah, the aron and the rabbi’s office,
giving the kids something specific to do at each site, and some measure of
control of their environment, as they hear about what happens at each
For older children (age 7-12, perhaps):
Beyond Junior Congregation, training children in
different parts of davening, including those which are somewhat
esoteric. The schools will take care of daily davening, hopefully, but
there’s a lot more they can learn, whether about Geshem and Tal or about
the proper methods of Hagbah and Gelilah. (I’d leave it to the
individual shul to decide whether that last is for girls as well, but my
inclination is to teach them.)
Have Junior Congregation start when the Torah reading begins, and encourage parents to have their children with them beforehand, for psukei d'zimra. Having children see their parents daven can be very positive - and it can also help the parents focus on davening.
For early teens:Youth
programs that bring kids into partnership with adults – Volunteering at
a kosher food pantry, working on maintenance projects at shul, helping
coordinate a shul-wide social event. All of these introduce children to
the mechanics of the Jewish community, as well as to some of the
players. Specific adults should also be invited to participate in youth
programs, toward the same end.
Giving the oldest kids a position on the shul Youth Committee, both for program planning and budget analysis.
So I ask you: What would you change or add?