Lent, just as much as Advent, is a time of waiting and preparing. Kids can learn about and come to appreciate this important season of the Christian year, but you have to be creative.
How can you mark the days of Lent in your classroom?
Use purple fabric, a purple plastic table covering, or tissue paper. Drape the worship table or your classroom door. Tape a purple streamer down the center of tables.
Let the children pin construction paper crosses each time they have a prayer to lift up.
Give the children purple yarn and beads to make a necklace to wear during class. Each week they may add a bead for each prayer thought they make to God.
Let each child make a paper chain for Lent in purple tones. Each link is to represent one day. Have the children mark Good Friday in black and end with a white loop for Easter. They can make Sundays a different shade of purple to make them easier to find. Each week invite children to write on the week's links their prayers for the days ahead.
Use a symbol a week to mark Lent. Let children make or collect each week's symbol as you talk about its meaning. Attach the symbol to your Lent chain or streamer; a paper cross cut from 12-by-18 construction paper; a windsock; or a purple poster folded accordion style, making a calendar to save for future years.
Take Time for God
Symbol: Praying Hands
Have each child do the following:
1. Place one writst at the bottom of a sheet of paper. Trace that hand.
2. Turn the paper and trace the same hand reaching from the opposite side toward the first traced hand so that the fingers touch.
3. Cut out the hands, leaving them attached at the fingertips.
Ask the children, "When you have something to say, how does it feel when the person you want to tell keeps talking and won't let you say anything?" Point out how important it is to listen as well as talk even during times when we're communicating with God. Say: "The praying hands we cut out remind us that during Lent we both talk and listen to God."
Children may list on the fingers of one of the hands the times they can talk to God (ex. bedtime prayer, in church and Sunday school, when they wake up in the morning while still in bed, before meals, riding in the car). On the other hand they might list times to listen to God (ex. at church, outside in nature, when they are sad, during naptime, when they are coloring or doing a craft).
Spend some class time in quiet: have the children take four deep breaths, one at a time, in and out, and tighten and release from foot to head. Say: "Tighten your feet, then let them relax. Feel your muscles tighten in your legs, then let them rest ... " and so forth. In the stillness, ask for God to be with you. (By practicing silence and breathing we teach children calming techniques but also how to be still in order to hear God. This practice works well with youth and adults too.)
Wait for God's Time
Have younger children pretend to be cocoons with butterflies in them or flower bulbs, waiting, hidden for the right time, and then growing up and out. Have older children talk about the times we wait for God's answer or action.
Look for God's time in spring. Walk outside and look for where spring growth is happening or will happen soon. Use old magazines or Sunday school material to cut out pictures of waiting and growing. Use the cutouts to fill in the outline of an hourglass. At the bottom attach a butterfly shape. Show children video clips of butterflies emerging from cocoons, or time lapsed photography of growing bulbs.
Not My Will But Thine
Tell how Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. Discuss with older children the times that we know what God's direction is but that we are afraid. Say: "As Jesus did, we wish that God would take away the hard situation; but we know that God's will is the greater good. In Lent we look at ourselves. Are we choosing our will and missing the greater good? It is hard to examine ourselves, and it was hard for Jesus praying in Gethsemane. We'll remember hard praying with the rock."
Hold a short Tenebrae service. Have nine lit candles, a cross, and black fabric. After reading each set of verses below, help a child extinguish one candle. When all of the candles are out, drape the cross with the fabric. Read the last Scripture and say: "There have always been people who did not want to hear the good news of Jesus and God's love. During Lent we remember people in the world who do not share the light of God." Scriptures: Luke 22:1-6, 17-23, 39-46, 54-62, 63-71; Matthew 27:3-8; Luke 23:1-5, 13-25; John 14:1-4; Luke 23:44-46.
We Are Forgiven
Give the children slips of paper. Have them write actions for which they feel they need forgiveness. (Write for younger children.) Burn the papers over a ceramic dish, saving the ashes. Use the ashes to make the sign of the cross on each child's forehead, saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven." The child responds, "In the name of Jesus Christ we are forgiven."
If you don't want to burn the slips of paper, tear them into bits, or use a wipe board and wipe off the sins. Then make the sign of the cross with olive oil, water, or lotion on each child's forehead.
Let the children make a cross shape and print their name on one side, Jesus on the other, and forgive down the length.
We Grow Closer to One Another
Symbol: Bread and Cup
Remember together favorite meals and what made them special. Talk about how our best meals remind us of sharing the bread and cup: we say thanks when we call Holy Communion the Eucharist; we celebrate being together when we call it Communion; we remember the blessings of our daily meals when we call the meal the Lord's Supper. Serve one another a snack.
Anticipate Great Things From God
Bring an Easter basket with these symbols in it: a cross, a lily, an egg, a butterfly, a heart. Ask the children what they think is in your basket. After they make guesses, pull out the cross and ask, "Why is a cross in my basket?" (for Jesus, because Jesus died for us) Pull out the lily, and ask, "What is this flower doing here?" If the children do not know that it is an Easter lily, tell them the name. Show how the Easter lily is shaped like a trumpet and is white, which is the Easter color. Have them form a trumpet with their hands and shout out, "Christ is risen!" Tell the children that the flowers themselves almost seem to shout that Jesus is risen.
Next pull out the egg. Say: "Here's the egg you were expecting in the Easter basket. There's a reason we use eggs at Easter. The egg looks like all is dead, but what comes from eggs? (baby chicks, other babies) The egg is a symbol at Easter because it's one of God's surprises. Lent and Easter remind us that God doesn't leave things closed up and empty. God is full of life and gives us life."
Pull out the butterfly and then the heart and continue: "The butterfly is another reminder that God brings new life from the cocoon, which looks dead and empty also. But in God's time a butterfly comes out. And the heart reminds us that the reason for all of Lent and Easter is God's love for us."
Let children decorate either construction paper or hard-boiled eggs. Make palm branch rubbings with crayons and paper. Remember together how the people welcomed Jesus. Cut out eggs on the fold of a piece of paper to make eggrams (egg-grams) to give one another to open at home. Help the children write inside about something exciting God is doing.
When Easter comes, decorate with butterflies, lilies, and a paper cocoon that you have prepared ahead of time. Open the cocoon. Inside is a butterfly on which you have written He is risen!
Making time for God and waiting for God's time, we find forgiveness and expect great things from God, who fulfills the promise. Jesus is risen!