DIY death toys….
I’m rather fond of plague toys and their power to make the Exodus story more hands-on, real and memorable. I love that they are open to interpretation. You and your child can decide what represents each plague, and you can limit choices based on any criteria: age, mess, breakability, and squeamishness.
I often get asked about toys for the Tenth Plague: death of the firstborn. Everyone should go with what they can handle, but the uncomfortable question remains:
How to represent Death of the Firstborn in toy form for kids?
Here are some quick homemade suggestions, based on a progression from simple to scary:
• The gentlest version I’ve used is just a round Avery label with an unhappy face drawn on it. (The Ancient Egyptians were so sad that Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go.)
After that: skeletons. I’ve noticed that a plastic skeleton is so instantly creepy, it does not invite deeper insight. I don’t want deep insight into death at this moment of a seder, I just want a quick representation of the tenth plague so we can get to the Exodus. Worried that a skeleton is too creepy? Thanks to Hallowe’en’s influence, skeletons are spooky in a familiar, I’ve-seen-that-before kind of way, which dulls the creep-factor should you wish it to be dulled.
• I started with skull rings: cheap, small, fun to wear.
• Then, I went to wee skeleton party favors.
• Then, I found larger, stretch skeletons that no one could stop playing with.
• And this year, I found small skeletons encased in plastic coffins of blue slime. Perfect.
Well, perfect in theory. In reality, the blue slime will stain the damask napkins and leave grease marks on the living room walls (we throw plagues at a designated Pharaoh). Now that I think about it, we might save the goo-encased dudes for a gentler show and tell. Or, perhaps they will go home as afikomen prizes and ooze upon someone else’s painted surfaces.
Give me a toy skeleton any day. A skeleton is downright cuddly and abstract when compared to some 10th plague toys in commercial plague kits. I do not like the small jigsaw puzzle of an Ancient Egyptian mother holding a dead baby. The puzzle idea and the artwork are good, but the image of a grieving mother is far too concrete for comfort. The “real” plague, of course, was hardly comfortable, and I get that, but I choose not to use this representation. I doubt it would bother my children, but it bothers me. (As a teacher, I can see using it in a classroom of older kids, to stimulate discussion.)
Or even the felt finger puppet of a child with his arms folded, eyes closed. That’s a dead kid on your finger, folks, and that IS creepy. Still, I own these puppets and they will be used at the seder. Everything about a seder is designed to stimulate questions and conversations, so a dead kid finger puppet will fit right in.
The bag of plush plagues, available a few years ago, might be out of production by now, but I love it. What’s not to love about a plush drop of blood? For the 10th plague, they made a plush sad face.
There are several kits available now, and I don’t own them all. Masks, paper bag puppet kits, plastic toys, and bowling sets. What are some of the best and worst 10th plague versions you’ve seen?
I still assert that the best plague toys are the ones you and your child repurpose from stuff already lying around the house. It means you’ll need to walk around with a list of the plagues (perhaps in your favorite haggadah), and then make decisions about how best to represent each one. Result: time spent together, imaginative leaps of abstract/concrete goodness, and a bunch of crap that will make the seder that much more fun.
I operate on the assumption that playing with plagues is okay at all. Some people are concerned that the activity makes light of the suffering of others. I already talked about that in the post, here.