While preschoolers have little concept of death and resurrection on a cognitive level, they can understand things symbolically. This Lent, offer them symbols and the words through activities.
Lent comes from the word lencten, meaning spring. What better way to symbolically understand Jesus, the Light of the World, than to observe spring, with its increasing light? What better way to observe death and resurrection than through the death of a seed resulting in a plant?
Light: This requires a bit of ‘homework’ for the teacher. At least once a week over the course of Lent, record the hours of daylight. This information can be found in the daily weather report in many newspapers.
1. Create a visual prop to help children understand the increasing daylight. It can be very simple and need not be scientific: Make several small, construction paper suns (or have children make them). Hang up a dark-colored piece of paper on the wall or bulletin board. Tell the children that each sun represents 1 minute of daylight. Explain that as we get closer to Easter, we get to see the sun a little more each day. To give them a better understanding of the amount of time you are speaking of, you may want to have children try to sit quietly for one whole minute.
Once a week, calculate how many minutes have been gained during that week. Tell the children, have them pick out the appropriate number of suns and hang them on the dark paper.
2. As you near Easter, the number of suns should create a bright color over the dark colored background. Talk about this. Then tell children that one of our names for Jesus is “the Light of the World”. Together, create a large sun. Make it ‘fancy’—use glitter and glittery ribbons, metallic streamers, etc. Soon after Easter, replace the small chart with the large, beautiful sun. Tell children it is there to help you all remember that Jesus is the Light of the World.
3. If you have some children who understand numbers and their values, you can work with them on this in a more detailed way: make a simple bar chart where they record the increased minutes by coloring sections in yellow to represent the minutes of sunlight.
Death and New Life: A very common activity in preschools is watching a bean seed grow. Use this to symbolize the words of ‘dying’ and ‘new life.’
1. Place 3 or 4 bean seeds on a wet paper towel in a pie plate. Keep moistened. As the seeds begin to sprout, have children observe that the seed diminishes and dies, so that the ‘new life’ of the bean plant can begin.
2. Then take this one step further into a Lenten theme. Provide a container that is like a window box. Fill it with potting soil and place in a warm and sunny place. Near it, leave a bowl of bean seeds. Tell the children that every time they do a good deed, they can plant a seed.
3. As beans tend to grow quickly, you will soon have a garden of ‘good deed seeds’ growing into new life. The children are bringing ‘new life’ to the classroom by their kindnesses. And of course, this is how Jesus teaches us to treat one another!
4. When the children are not present make certain to keep the seeds moist but not too wet. If a seed is not totally immersed into the soil, poke it further in. If some plants appear to be dying, pull them up and replant another seed. You do not want common gardening problems ruining your symbolism!
Another way to help children equate new life with Lent is by creating a paper garden. Explain to children that the word Lent means spring, and the class will take the days of Lent to create a spring time scene which will result in a wonderful Easter decoration.
• Provide construction or other colored paper, scissors, glue, glitter, ribbons, etc. Encourage children to create large (2-4 feet tall) flowers. On an open wall, hang these flowers, adding to the ‘garden’ each week.
During Advent and Christmas, young children hear the wonderful stories of Jesus as an infant. Lent is good time to now offer them stories of the adult Jesus, his healings and teachings. Some suggestions:
- Jesus heals the blind man (Luke 18:35-43)
- The catch of the fishes (Luke 5:1-11)
- Calming the storm (Luke 8: 22-25)
- The lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7)
- The sower (Matt. 13:3-8)
- Jesus and the children (Luke 18:15-17)
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