Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Celebrating Lent with Children

While the idea of celebrating Lent (in German “Die Fastenzeit” = “The Fasting Time”) may seem an oxymoron to many, it is actually a beautiful time of year where we again invite God’s grace into our lives, reflect on His love and sacrifice for us, and respond by actively loving others.  With sensitivity and a little planning, we can help our children learn the process of drawing near to God and experience the sorrow of the cross and the wonder of Jesus’ resurrection.  Easter then becomes a true celebration rather than the anticlimatic let-down of a one-day event and too much chocolate. 

As children’s pastors and parents, we seek to instill in our children values (from which habits and behaviours stem!) that will serve them a lifetime. One important value is setting aside special times to concentrate on God.  And these special times then lead us to action:  for example, changing patterns in our own lives, or considering how we can serve our city.  Lent and Advent are such seasons.  Learning as young children to genuinely approach God in these seasons can have a life-long effect on their spiritual formation and identity.

Here are some ideas:

1) Stations of the Cross for Children – This is a sensitive and well done website for children that you can use to explain the story of the crucifixion to your children.  Each of the 15 stations has a child-appropriate picture with an explanation of what is going on in the picture (“Look at Jesus”) and is followed by a practical response to the picture (“Look at your heart”).  My own children were deeply impacted by this website last year. 

From the website "Stations of the Cross - Especially for  Children" by Lucille Perrotta Castro.

I would also recommend visiting a Catholic church or hospital where the children can view the Stations of the Cross in person and parents can explain the pictures.  We did this last year as well and my children talked about it for months afterward. 

(One last thought:  Many Protestants are put off by the story of St. Veronica, because it is not in the biblical text.  If this is an issue for you, I recommend explaining that the story is not in the Bible, but is in the Stations because it is considered a part of church history.)

2) Tell the Godly Play or Young Children in Worship Lent/Easter stories. The Godly Play story called “The Mystery of Easter” features a 6-piece puzzle that forms a cross.  The six pieces represent the six weeks of Lent.  I absolutely love how this story communicates the necessity of taking time to draw close to something as precious as Easter. Even if you can’t afford or don’t have the expensive wooden materials, you could easily make the puzzle for the cross out of poster board. 

Wooden puzzle pieces for  the Godly Play story, "The Mystery of Easter"
3) Use symbols of Lent in your nature table: water, sand, a candle, a cross, a beautifully written portion of Scripture.  Symbols in Our Home from Creighton University has wonderful ideas and the meanings behind the symbols. 

4) Make a sculpture garden.  Your children can make figures out of clay or recycled items that respresent aspects of the life of Jesus and the Christian faith.  See my blog entry Godly Play Outside of the Church: Part 1 for ideas.

5) Make a Prayer Pot.  This is a great sensorimotor worship activity to help children think about the meanings of Lent and Easter.

6)  Take part in a social project.  Lent is also about compassion and loving others as a response to Christ's love for us.  Think of something to do for a neighbor, your school, or your city.  Sponsor a child in a third world country and pray for him/her.

What ideas do you have for celebrating 
this wonderful season?

Update 2014: See here for all the Lenten ideas on this blog!  


  1. Thank you so much for this post! There's so much to respond to, but for now I'll keep it at this - I was underwhelmed by the "Mystery of Easter" lesson, but you have encouraged me to consider it again. I've never seen it presented, only read it from the book. I was tempted to give our children the Church Clock lesson instead (which they have not had either yet), but now I wonder if I should reconsider.

    Thanks for so many ideas to think about.

  2. great post I've book marked so I can read it and check out the links later

  3. Not sure whether to post this comment here or back at the linked sculpture garden post. I LOVE all the pictures there!

    But I'm also interested at how close together you all are in your circle there. I'm still too nervous about participants distracting each other and/or wanting to "help" move the materials while I'm storytelling, so we sit in a very wide circle. Maybe we are missing out.

  4. Thanks, Butterfly Wishes! Your blog looks quite interesting as well. I look forward to reading it more.

  5. Storyteller, It was quite an adventure at times having 18 children sitting that close together! Because I usually did not have a door person, I had to interrupt the stories frequently to ask children to keep their hands to themselves. If there were children who were talking instead of listening, I would remain quiet until peer pressure from the others in the group allowed me to continue. I tend to have rooms with limited space to work in, be it my kitchen or a classroom at school, so that is one reason why we sit closer together. But it may be cultural as well. Berliners tend to stand closer together to talk to one another than most Americans.

  6. You've inspired me (again). The Lenten puzzle may be our jumping off point. It's something my father-in-law could (relatively) easily make. I'm going to ask him if he has the time right now.

  7. Mideast Mom, I'm so excited that you are going to try it! Let me know how it goes and what your kids experience.