I didn’t grow up in a church that did much to celebrate Lent. We had Ash Wednesday services, but there wasn’t much to mark the rest of the season leading up to Easter as any different than any other time of year. (At least to my memory. I’m sure there were members of my church congregation who did more.)
As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered how much I love following along with the church calendar. It’s a way of ordering my time and seasons around remembering and celebrating our faith.
With this is mind, I wanted to begin some traditions of Lenten activities with my children to mark the season. We took Peanut and Pip to the Ash Wednesday service; who knows what they actually took in, but that’s something that’s in their memory bank now, at least. (And we managed to keep most of their squeals of delight and out-of-place comments to a dull roar…)
But I wanted something to sustain an interest, a conversation, and an anticipation through the next weeks until Easter.
Enter good ole Pinterest. 😉
I scoped out clever kid-friendly Lenten traditions on Pinterest, and these are the two I settled upon because a) they weren’t too involved or complicated and b) they seemed age appropriate for my three and one-year-old children. There are many other great ideas out there, and I hope we can incorporate them into our family’s observance of Lent at some point, but not until my kids are older.
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1. Lenten Prayer Chain
First, I wanted us to have some kind of countdown to Easter; we have an Advent calendar and Peanut loves doing that. A tangible object like that is a frequent reminder that builds up the anticipation and sparks conversation about the upcoming holiday.
I settled on a prayer chain
because it was easy and cheap because it is deeply symbolic and spiritual.
Eh, okay, maybe not. It very well may be deeply symbolic and spiritual, but it was also cheap and easy. I did really like the idea of incorporating prayer into our Lenten activities and using this as a springboard to teach our kids about prayer and all the different things we can pray for. I wrote something on the back of each strip of the paper chain that we could pray for on that day.
Here are some examples:
- family members (obviously, you can fill up as many or few as you want, combining or spreading them our over many days)
- our neighbors/town/city
- state/country/world/specific other places in the world
- people in power/leaders
- people in poverty/illness/oppression/lonely
- people who are strong/healthy/brave
- people who work to provide our food/water/power/clothes
- people with families/who are alone
- animals/material goods
I was trying to decide what color to make the chain, when I remembered this Lenten devotional for kids that we’d picked up at our church. (We attend a congregation that’s part of the Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod, so these materials come through them, I believe.) It’s all about colors of Lent and goes through the forty days of Lent, breaking it up into three days of the same color at a time, ending with a rainbow of color on Easter.
I decided to coordinate the colors of the chain to correspond to the color of the reading we were supposed to do each day. At one point, I wondered why on earth I was bothering with all that, but honestly I’m really glad I did now. If the prayer chain wasn’t matching up with the readings, I would have no idea what day and which chain we were one! Every night, I’d be looking at a calendar and counting days to Easter, skipping all the Sundays and counting paper chains… It’s much easier this way.
So, the paper chain is just made out of construction paper, it’s stapled together, and the final chain we painted rainbow colors (and decorated it with plastic “jewels” that we took off of an old Sunday school project. Reuse and recycle 😉 ).
We take one chain off, read the prayer prompt, and pray together every night from Ash Wednesday to Easter, except for Sundays and Good Friday. (I found different ways of doing the “40 Days” of Lent, but this is the one that seemed the most standard. Feel free to correct me if you know more about it.)
And that’s it!
2. Kindness “Bean Jar”
Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m not quite sure what this one has to do with Lent. This is an activity you could do any time leading up to something, but Lent is a good time to pick, nonetheless.
We started a “Bean Jar” where we get to put a bean in the jar for different positive actions. (Some people call it a Sacrifice Jar, or other names, but everyone has a slightly different purpose for it.) For us, it’s a way to focus on recognizing behaviors that we want to encourage in our children. For example:
- being kind or considerate
- listening and obeying the first time
- controlling oneself and not throwing a fit
- cleaning up
- being calm or quiet when asked
- playing together nicely and having fun
- using kind and polite words
- being helpful
We will keep adding beans to the jar through the Lenten season and then something special will happen to the beans on Easter. Peanut is SUPER excited to find out what will happen to them; she is speculating that it will be an edible treat, and she’s right. Any guesses? (Answer: jelly beans. What a shocker. 🙂 )
Like I said, I’m not quite sure what the symbolism or significance is for Lent or Easter, but I’m not too worried about it. I am SO GLAD I started doing this because it has really helped reverse some bad attitudes around here, particularly mine. I feel like I’ve been stuck in a rut of criticism and frustration with my kids, and this gives me a way to reinforce what I expect and reminds me to praise my children for the positive behaviors I’d like to see them exhibit. Now, we’re all noticing kind and considerate actions, looking for ways to help, and ready to praise and encourage each other.
Also, this activity fall in the “cheap and easy” category. Folks, that’s just a plain, old canning jar and that little bag is left over from a Christmas present. You can use a paper sack for all I care. And beans are beans.
A few pieces of advice I will offer: I would highly recommend keeping it positive and not using the jar as a punishment; so, for example, don’t take beans out for bad behavior. If they’re behaving badly, they just don’t get beans and they’ll get a smaller treat. Focus on the positive things they’re doing and leave it at that.
Also, start with a small jar. You can always upgrade (with lots of fanfare about “Wow! Look how kind you’ve been being! We need a bigger jar. You’re going to get a really big treat on Easter if this keeps up…). But better to upgrade than have discouraged kids who keep looking at a huge jar that looks empty no matter what they do.
So, those are the two activities I’m focusing on for the whole of Lent this year with my preschooler and toddler. We may sneak in a few extra Holy Week activities, but we’ll see 😉
What are some of your favorite ways to observe Lent and celebrate Easter?
For more more ideas, check out my Lent and Easter Board and follow me on Pinterest!