"I've been curious as to how you're going about teaching Shira the traditions of your faith at her age. I know the celebrations of your faith are serious things, and require strict adherence, but how do you handle that with a active toddler? I know she's still very young, but do you read the scriptures to her? Do you do little lessons that are easy on her short attention span? What do you do when one of your traditions requires silence, or quietness, or prayer? Does she participate, or is she allowed to play quietly while the adults participate in the ceremony?"
… I got this question in the comments, and thought to write a bit about it, as time permits. Since we’re talking about traditions, I’m going to use quite a lot of Jewish terms in the post, which might not be understandable to my non-Jewish readers – however, you can Google them if you are interested.
No age is too young to learn, and I believe children soak up their parents’ values and beliefs from babyhood. I think it’s important to keep children involved in the spiritual life of the family from the start, and not just leave them out of it until they are “old enough”.
Shira learns as we go about our daily and weekly routine, and can understand simple concepts which are explained to her along the way, such as “don’t touch the markers, we don’t draw on Shabbat”; “Daddy is going to say a blessing and we’ll reply ‘amen’” – she now often does that on her own without being told to; “the food on the table is for the Kiddush, don’t take anything right now”; and so on. It’s not too early to start saying the “Modah ani” in the morning and the “Shema” before bedtime with toddlers.
That said, it is understandable that children are children and sometimes, being quiet and sitting still for too long is too much to ask. If I see her particularly antsy during the Birkat Ha-Mazon, I let her out of her high chair and she can play quietly until we’re done. In synagogue, she will usually enjoy herself during the kabbalat Shabbat songs, but I won’t keep her inside when there are bits of prayer or reading of the Torah which require silence. Some times are great for bringing toddlers to synagogue, such as Purim when everyone are expected to make a lot of noise, or on Simchat Torah when everybody is dancing with the Torah scrolls; others, not to great. A wise parent will know to make the discernment :o)
As a rule, synagogues don’t have nurseries so often the mother either brings her young children with her to service or remains at home. Women are not required to participate in public prayer but of course it’s a shame if they can never come. So sometimes there are interruptions by young children and no one makes a big deal of it.
As children grow, they are gradually required to take a greater part in the mitzvoth. Little girls begin to wear skirts and longer sleeves, little boys get their first haircut at age 3 and start wearing a kippa. Children begin to learn the basics of prayer, more emphasis is put on waiting between meat and dairy, and so on. There are many intricacies to Jewish life and the guideline is to teach children what is age-appropriate and what they are able to grasp, to avoid frustration.
But again, the greatest part of learning, I believe, is providing a Jewish home. Children do what their parents do; they learn by example. If they see their parents are happy, proud and excited to fulfill the mitzvoth, they will feel happy, proud and excited about being Jewish and living as Jews, too. So right now I’m focused far more on self-improvement than on teaching.