Reading Heather Sleightholm’s post about sharing Lent with young children made me nostalgic for when my grown children were little. I remembered the services, the stories, the projects and plans. And I also knew that Heather was right: getting ready to celebrate Easter is a whole lot harder than Christmas, at any age – especially, I would add, for the unchurched children among us.
Taken out of the whole context of Jesus’ life and death, Easter itself is impossible to explain — and because Christianity is so tarred with the politicized version of “faith” that shows up in the news these days, a lot of young parents don’t want their kids exposed to any kind of Christian doctrine (one of my sons is open to it, the other not). So we muddle through, doing the best we can, knowing that God’s love doesn’t depend on a child’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection.
Having said all that, I’ve slowly come up with a few small things that might at least plant the seeds of understanding “life from death” for our secular grandchildren – or enhance the story for those in the know.
I’m going to start with actually planting seeds. I live in Maine, where the grass outside is often buried under snow until long after Easter. One year when the spring snow was especially deep, I planted wheat grass seeds in a ceramic bowl and took it to school, where it spent a month on my desk. My high school students would walk by and touch the growing grass, pat it, run their hands over it. That small container of earth and green evoked such longing for spring in all of us that it seemed a sacred thing in a very secular place.
So I’ve adapted that practice as an early Easter preparation with the granddaughters who come to us twice a week: we plant grass in small containers such as paper cups or small bowls, and use them as nests for colored eggs to put at everyone’s place at the table on Easter. There’s something alive and lovely about growing grass indoors, even if you’re lucky enough to have the real thing outside.
The seeds themselves, of course, look like dry and dead things, but from them comes new life – and that makes a kind of resurrection story worth telling, even for the unchurched children with no reference point for Easter. “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground…” (John 12:24).
The fastest-growing seeds are wheat berries (available at health food stores) and cat grass (from your local pet store). A week or two before Easter, soak the seeds in water overnight, then plant them in your small containers of potting soil. Keep the soil moist – and in a day or so, you’ll see the first grass nudging its way up. In a week, it’s a mini-lawn! (Note: if you have cats, plant a big sturdy bowl for them, too – and keep the little containers out of reach until Easter.)
Before or after the children plant the seeds, you might teach them the first verse of “Now the Green Blade Rises” — or all of the verses if they are church-goers. Here’s a YouTube version that includes the lyrics:
Of course, coloring the eggs to put in the grass is part of the preparation, too, and it makes a good time to talk about the universal symbolism of eggs. Ever since ancient times, eggs have been symbols of new life. Even the big-bang theory makes it sound as though God birthed the universe from an egg, its pebble-sized origin expanding at incomprehensible speed into the vast complexity it is now, and continues to become.
Now, if your kids are okay with bringing Christianity into the conversation with their kids, you could explain to your grandchildren that Christians value seeds and eggs as symbols of new life. If the children are old enough, you could tell them that Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrated on Christmas, made a lot of powerful people angry when he grew up because he challenged the way they mistreated other people, and so the powerful people had him killed. But he didn’t stay dead. He came back to tell us that on the other side of death is new life. He even forgave the people who killed him.
Whether or not it’s appropriate for you to share the Easter story with your grandchildren, preparing for the resurrection is a good time to explore with them how caterpillars become butterflies, another symbol of new/renewed life. National Geographic has a great kids’ book Caterpillar to Butterfly (affiliate), and there’s always The Very Hungry Caterpillar (affiliate) for the youngest ones. This lovely time-lapse video shows the monarch butterfly’s metamorphosis:
And you can always make a hand-held butterfly kite for the grandchildren to “fly.”
I like to hope that if we’re gentle, careful, and upbeat in what we share with our unchurched little ones about resurrection, we can help nurture the seeds that God has already planted in their souls. After all, the most important thing they need to know is love.
How do you talk about Easter with young children?