My oldest daughter is only five, so I don’t expect her to draw up a long list of sacrifices. However, it’s my firm belief that even the smallest children can begin their journey to the cross with Jesus during Lent. Here are a few ways I make this liturgical season come alive for my little ones (and I’d love to have others share how they approach Lent with their kids as well):
1. We give up sweets as a family except on Sundays and special saints’ feast days. I know this is cliche, but it’s an easy sacrifice for kids to understand. It’s also a good way to detox from all the sweets we scarfed down back in December. Now I consider myself an understanding mother, so I allow my children to savor their last treat on Fat Tuesday. (Who am I kidding? I NEED the last hooray for myself.) So on Tuesday night we’ll be eating ice cream for dinner. It’s our feast before the fast, and Madeline looks forward to it every year (I score some serious cool points for serving ice cream for dinner).
2. We have a tradition of making Lenten Sacrifice Mice. We tie a knot in each mouse’s tail for every act of kindness my children perform during Lent (without Mom’s prodding, of course). By Easter, the mouse should have a short, knotty tail. Since young children are tactile and visual, telling them to do good deeds or make sacrifices in honor of Jesus may not be enough. A visual reminder they can touch is helpful. Plus, you have to admit these little guys are pretty cute.
In the past, we’ve made two-dimensional, felt critters. This year I got a little more creative and helped the little ones in our homeschooling group make these mice. All you need are baby socks (now you have something to do with all those lonely socks that lost their mate), stuffing (you can find this at a craft store), googly eyes, pink felt, yarn, small pink pom-poms, and a permanent black marker. Let little hands fill the mouse with stuffing. Then tie a tail around the end to close it up. Allow kids to glue on the eyes, pom-pom nose, and ears, and draw the whiskers.
3. We also plan on making another Lenten Lamb to countdown the days until Easter. This idea is courtesy of Karen Edmisten. She has a great post with other ideas on how to make Lent more meaningful for young children.
4. Last year we started praying the Stations of the Cross at home every Friday. Here’s what we’re doing to bring the stations into our home: I light a candle and then I read a brief description of each station, say a prayer, and finally ask my daughters to find an object from a small box. The small objects symbolize each station and provide something visual and tangible for the girls to hold in their hands.
I’m using the following objects to represent each station:
Pilate condemns Jesus: A red string (because Jesus’ hands were bound)
Jesus carries his cross: A cross made from two Popsicle sticks
Jesus falls for the first time: A Band-Aid (to remind us of how much Jesus was hurting when he fell)
Jesus meets his Mother: A rosary (to remind us of Our Blessed Mother, the pain she endured watching her son suffer, and that she remains close to Jesus even now and can bring our prayers, joys, and sorrows to him)
Simon helps Jesus carry the cross: A small piece of white felt with the letter “H” drawn on it (“H” stands for “help” and is a reminder that we should always seek to help others)
Veronica wipes Jesus’ face: A cloth with a drawing of Jesus’ face on it (here we discuss how we must reach out to others and see Jesus in all things)
Jesus falls for the second time: Another Band-Aid
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem: A tissue (to remind us that Jesus is always here to comfort us and to wipe our tears away)
Jesus falls for the third time: a cutout of my daughter’s hand made of cardstock (serves as a reminder for us to lend a helping hand to those who fall since we could not be there to lift Jesus up when he stumbled)
Jesus is stripped: A piece of purple felt (the piece of cloth represents Jesus’ garments. I chose purple since this is the liturgical color for repentance and preparation. We talk about how Lent is a time to prepare for the joy of the resurrection.)
Jesus is nailed to the cross: A nail
Jesus dies: A small crucifix
Jesus is taken down from the cross: A postcard of Michelangelo’s Pieta (we talk about the sorrow Mary must have felt holding her dead son in her arms and yet, she remained faithful, believing in God’s eternal promise)
Jesus is buried: A stone (to remind us of the sealed tomb that enclosed Jesus’ body)
Christ rises from the dead: A picture of our Risen Lord resplendent in his victory over death!
*UPDATE: My aunt, a former homeschooling mom whose kids are grown up now, shared this idea with me and I adapted it for my family. I was unaware that a father came up with this idea and his family shared it over at the 4 Real Forum. Here’s a link to it. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. :) Also, one of my fave bloggers, Michelle of Rosetta Stone, wrote a great Stations of the Cross for Kids.
5. Other plans: We’re signed up for the Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure. This is more for my five-year-old, but both girls enjoyed watching the videos and making the Jesse Tree ornaments during the Advent Adventure.
I’d like to incorporate some ideas from Pinewood Castle’s Lent Circle Time, too.
Muttering Mother passed along this helpful website (based out of the United Kingdom). I downloaded the children’s Count Your Blessings program, and plan to help my oldest daughter rise up to the challenges like giving up television for a day.
I think this is a good start, no?
More resources for celebrating different seasons in the liturgical year can be found in this great book.
Anyone else have any good ideas or resources to help children embrace the season of Lent?
This is an older post, but I’m now linking it to the wonderful Lenten Link-Up over at Catholic Icing. There are tons of great ideas over there on how to make the most of this liturgical season with your family. Be sure to check all the posts and resources over there.