A few Lenten seasons ago, my friend Amara posted this question on her Facebook wall:
Hey friends, what are some good resources to discuss Lent and the Lenten season with my preschooler? Most of what I’ve seen is geared for older kids, and just beyond his level of understanding. Thanks for your help!
This question got me thinking:
How would I have explained Lent to my boys had we celebrated it diligently when they were younger?
And the answer I came up was this.
I would explain along it along the lines of a journey.
I would it explain it as A Wild Adventure.
A Noble Quest.
Like going camping in the forest, or on an African safari, or on a space trip to Mars, or stowing away on a ship with bunch of pirates or searching for a golden ring.
I would have related it to whatever kind of adventure would have enticed them most.
Then I would have told the story – probably several times, because they would interrupt me quite often with the most random comments – about the wild adventure that the Israelites went on for 40 YEARS! 40 YEARS!
And how they made a lot of mistakes.
But how God loved them. Period.
They couldn’t lose God’s love no matter how many bone-headed mistakes they made, because God found them – and finds us – absolutely delightful. Even when God is frustrated God is still LOVE.
And I would also tell the story of the wild adventure that Jesus went on into the wilderness for 40 DAYS! 40 DAYS!
And we could talk about the sort of things he gave up. And how bad he must have felt.
But how it was part of his quest.
And how he did it out of Love.
And we would talk in the car, and at dinner, and while coloring, while I gave them baths and we played with pirate boats, about what it would be like to go on that sort of adventure, and about the sort of mistakes we might make on a big quest. And about how great it is to know that God is always with us no matter how hard things or how many times we get in trouble – like he was with Jesus and the Israelites during their adventures.
Then I would teach them that we should always say “thank you” to God for always being with us, for always being LOVE – even when we make bone-headed mistakes. And I would teach them (and remind myself) to say “thank you” to Jesus for teaching us that we can do hard things, like apologizing for making mistakes, or going to a new school, or telling the truth.
And then I would tell them that we are in a season called LENT, and that this season is an Adventure Journey that lasts for 40 DAYS! 40 DAYS! And that we get to be part of the Adventure!
Then, because I am the crafty sort, we would make an Adventure Pack for our wild journey.
A Lent Adventure Pack would include:
This is a free printable one that has the 40 days marked but not the dates, so it works any year! (My boys would have turned this into a pirate map in a heartbeat.)
I think a REMEMBER banner or sign could be useful – you could talk about how it’s important to Remember Christ’s Adventure, that we are on a Adventure, the Israelite’s Adventure, etc.
Light is always a big hit with kids. You could give them a big flashlight to decorate with stickers, or together decorate a large candle that you could light each night at dinner.
You can make the connection about how the light helps us find our way when we are lost, that God is that Light in our hearts. You can also make the connection to the Israelites who were led, in part, by a pillar of fire as they searched for the Promise Land.
And ask questions like, “How could we should share the light when we find someone who is lost along the way?” Remind them that even during a Quest and an Adventure it is important to keep our eyes open for others who may be having a hard time on their adventures, and to see how we can help them out – people who are hungry or cold or lonely.
For this I would pack a small hobo pack – do you remember those? A handkerchief tied to a stick? Or maybe I would just give them an empty pillowcase to pack.
I would help them pack a few things that they think they would need for their adventures but tell them they can only take what would fit in a hobo pack or pillowcase. Ask them what would they choose to take? What would it be hard to leave behind? Remind them that the Israelites had to make hard choices too, but that God was always with them through it all, and always provided for them (Manna! Quail!)
This could also be a good way to talk about the disciplines of fasting and sacrifice for Lent. Remind them that Jesus didn’t eat for 40 Days. Ask, “What is something you can leave behind, aka “give up,” for your 40 Day Adventure? A favorite toy? TV Show? Sweet Treat?”
By age 4 or 5 this idea of leaving one thing behind for those 40 Days would be something a child could comprehend. If they give up a toy, perhaps it goes to live somewhere else for the 40 Days?
And then of course there will have to be some actual Adventures and Quest along the way – some times when you gather your flashlights and pillow case packs and go off in search of Adventure!
Possible Adventure Outings:
- Going in search of 40 canned or dry good items that you could then deliver to a food pantry.
- A hike where your Quest is to Clean up the trail – helping keep a recreational area litter-free.
- Baking Manna (aka Bread or Cookies) for an older neighbor or single parent.
- Camping Out and remembering the Israelite’s camping journey.
- A Nighttime Scavenger Hunt, where we remember the Light of Christ is always guiding us.
As I wrote to Amara then: These are just a few of my ideas, I don’t know if any of them will work for you, but maybe they will spark an idea or two.
And maybe they will help you too.
How do you observe Lent with little ones?