For the Christian soul, it is a time of intense preparation as your inner self gets a thorough looking over and you make commitments to be more diligent in your prayer life, in fasting and sacrificing, and your in alms giving. As an adult these requests made of you are demanding to say the least even though deep down we know it is for the ultimate good of our soul, but how do you translate these three major parts of Lent for a young child?
We thoroughly believe young children are able to comprehend Lent to some extent, but to bring it to their level and make the Season tangible to small minds has required our family to rework just how we present it to our kids. My boys are 2 and 4 this Lenten Season, and this will be Dom's third Lent where we have made specific effort to help him make simple choices in learning to discipline his spiritual life.
To Pray, Fast, and Give are the calls of Lent, and these can so, so easily be brought down to a young child's level with a little effort. I encourage you to include your children in any fasts your family might be doing. For instance, as a family, we give up all meat during the whole of Lent. For the boys, I often still give them a little meat with their Lunch, but they join in the fast for dinners. If you're giving up movies, make it a family deal. With older children (6 or 7 and up) they might choose that for themselves, but for a toddler or preschooler, sometimes it is easier to have it be a House-wide fast.
From there add some child focused activities that help your little ones count down through the days of Lent until the joys of Easter. Pick a few things they can work on as their own Lenten sacrifices. Remember that the more interactive you make it, the more they will grasp! Visual reminders, activities, and even just verbal reiterating the importance of the Season is a great start.
And mamas, don't overwhelm yourself or your kids. Do what you know you can handle. Think of this as a way to bless your children, and don't let it be something that wears you down too far.
Here are a few ideas we have found work wonderfully for our family as well as a few that are part of our plans for this coming Lent!
- A visual calendar or countdown is a great start. We absolutely love this one from Catholic Icing. It can be colored in daily or if you're lazy like us, we just stuck a sticker up each day. A simple paper chain like the one we make at Advent could be made in all purple to tear off one link per day, too.
- A Sacrifice a Day Bean Jar - Probably not my most creative naming job ever: this is our plan this year. We'll be making it this week, so look for instructions later on in the week, and thank Conversion Diary that I am so committed to actually fulfilling my 7 posts in 7 days goal.
- Pretzels - always a fun and easy activity to make during Lent. Here's a story from Catholic Culture as to their relation to the season, so you can use this not only as simple Home Ec, but also as a liturgical teaching moment.
- Memorize a new Prayer. This is another we do every year. You can easily add the prayer after a meal or before bedtime, and saying it every day for 40 days will bring you a new prayer the whole family can say. Never done this before? The Guardian Angel prayer is a great starting one - Blaise is 2 and can already say the whole thing. We have also done the Prayer to St. Michael and the Anima Christi, which are a little longer.
- Give away some unused/extra toys. This is one of the simplest ways to show a small child almsgiving. I don't know about your preschoolers, but mine has little understanding of monetary value. He does, however, understand the value of a favorite toy. Find a local shelter or crisis pregnancy center that you can physically hand over your "once loved now ready for a new home" items to.
- Cover your crosses and crucifixes with purple cloth. A new tradition for our household but one I've seen carried out by many faithful families that I look up to: on Ash Wednesday go through your house, have your child find the crosses and crucifixes throughout, and drape some plain purple material over them. This is not a requirement by any means, but it is a wonderful visual reminder. A little more on that practice here.
- And lastly, bring them along! Ash Wednesday mass for ashes? Yup. Attempting to attend a daily mass? Yup. Adoration? Maybe (Not sure I'm ready for that, but if you and your kiddOs are - go for it!). Keep them connected to what the Church is doing during Lent by participating fully as a family.
Other ideas we've done in the past:
- A sheep that we added one cotton ball to daily - Following the depiction of Christ as the good shepherd or as the Lamb of God, we glued one cotton ball each day onto a sheep I had cut out of construction paper at the beginning of Lent
- Create a caterpillar on Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday out of recycled egg carton and decorating supplies, wrap him in brown paper bag on Ash Wednesday, and during Easter week, unwrap him and create a butterfly to signify new life.
For more ideas that I will update throughout the Season of Lent, follow my Pinterest board: Domestic Church: Lent + Easter. Also check out this wonderful gathering of great ideas for Lenten activities, all from Catholic Icing.
Also, join me daily this week as I post something each day today through Sunday, March 2nd while joining up with Jen from Conversion Diary and over 200 great bloggers in writing 7 Posts in 7 Days. My being the FIRST ONE to sign up might show some unhealthy overeagerness or just a love to connect and finally a challenge to do so. Pray for my sanity either way. And I look forward to hearing from you, so comment away!
Have more ideas for mamas to enrich their children's Lenten journey in simple ways? Please share in the comments! It's always wonderful to glean from each other.
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This post Walking Through Lent with Small Children first appeared on Two Os Plus More on 24 February 2014