Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Lent is a season my family chooses to participate in as a means to focus an extra amount on the stories and truths behind Jesus' path to the cross.  Obviously we live every day of our lives "near the cross," but Lent is a good time to focus our studies, decorations, and family traditions around Jesus' path to the cross, and his subsequent resurrection on Easter. 

For young children, they need to connect the stories to things they can touch and see.  I like to use a seasonal table as a tool for this.  This is actually a square chair (the wooden kids' kids kinds that won't tip over--a cargo chair).  We turned it on its side and draped it in purple cloth.  We've talked about how the souldiers put a purple robe on Jesus to mock him, but they didn't know he WAS the king.  We look for crosses as we're out and about driving--most of them are draped in purple, and when we see them we point them out and say, "KING OF KINGS!"  Quinn and I have had some great conversations on why Jesus is the king ABOVE all kings--and she's very into kings and queens and princess, etc., right now, so this is very meaningful to her.  She is learning to connect the color purple to Jesus' royality. 

Our little table has a metal cross the kids can put the purple fabric on and off of.  This one works well because it's steady and doesn't tip well.  I want to get a wooden crucifix to add, so I am keeping my eyes open for one for them to hold and touch.  There are also two candles.  We talk so much about Jesus being the light of the world.  I hope my kids leave this home someday and aren't ever able to look upon a candle without connecting it to Jesus' words. 
There is also a grapevine wreath.  We have a real "crown of throrns" but because Beck is only 18 months, I keep it on our kitchen table so he is safe--because it is REALLY sharp.....the grapevine wreath reminds us of the crown of thorns.  There is also an illustration I took a photo of and printed out from our JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE that Beck is particularly drawn to.  We locate all the "boo-boo's" on Jesus' body and the crown on his head and make the sign-language sign for "hurts."  We also have taught him the sign for Jesus, and he knows are fingers are nails going in Jesus' hands.  These two signs are great ways to introduce toddlers to the crucifixion story in a developmentally appropriate fashion. 
Next year I will likely include a nail on this table, but Beck likes to walk around with things sticking out of his mouth, and I know he'd be very drawn to a nail, so for now that will stay put up in our "Stations of the Cross" kit, which comes down when Mommy is helping. 
All of the items at our seasonal table are meant to hold, touch, and explore.  The kids like to clip Jesus' picture off and on the wreath. 

Additionally at our table we have a candle liturgy we do at dinner.  Basically we lit all the candles and light one less each week leading up to Easter, when they will be all dark.  Easter morning we'll light them all.  Q and I have talked extensively about how Jesus' followers did not understand his words that he would leave them but come back, so as it got closer to the time for the cross, they were sadder and sadder.  When he did die, the earth went dark.  But the best news of all is that he arose on Easter morning and the light was in the world--and now can be inside our hearts.  Q gave Daddy a mini-sermon on this last night at the dinner table.  :)
Candles are such an allure to children, and finding ways to connect routines and traditions to spiritual concepts are very powerful tools when teaching preschoolers and toddlers. 

I made the crown with some horribly thorny vines I found in the woods.  And yes, I did bleed making it.  Making a crown of thorns is definitely a holy experience as you think through what it meant and the pain it caused.  Next year it may go on our seasonal table as Beck will probably be old enough to learn how to touch it safely. 
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