On Ash Wednesday at the end of our simple super, Mark, our two-year-old, excitedly asked: “Is tomorrow Easter?!?!”
The Hubs and I shared a chuckle. Our son’s enthusiasm for the first day of the season of Lent was adorable. He loved getting to go up and receive ashes on his own forehead during mass. And he seemed to get the concept that Ash Wednesday was the start of the journey to the greatest day of the year: Easter Sunday.
He just didn’t understand that we have kind of a long ways to go to get there.
Last year, my eldest was 20 months old when Lent began. As a first-time mom, I must admit I felt very unsure of myself when it came to including my child in the great penitential season of the Catholic Church. I surely wanted to teach my son about Jesus, but I wondered: was I ready to teach him about the Cross? About suffering? About sin? About sacrifice? About the gift that Jesus gave for my son’s eternal life?
I just wasn’t sure he was old enough.
But then, the words of the Prophet Joel that are read in every Catholic Church around the world on every Ash Wednesday really resonated in my heart:
“Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment… Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast. Call an assembly. Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber…” – Joel 2:12-16 (emphasis mine)
Gather the children and the infants at the breast. Truly, the penitential season of turning to the Lord and preparing our hearts to be His home is not something reserved for priests, for ultra-religious people, for adults. It’s a calling for ALL of us, including the littlest in our midst.
The Prophet Joel’s words encouraged me to find some creative, fun, and productive ways to teach even my very young children about prayer and sacrifice and preparing for Jesus at Easter during the 40 days of Lent. Last year I had some good success with the few Lenten projects and prayers I worked on with Mark. I’m excited to see where this year leads my children and I.
Here are some of the ways we’re living Lent in our home. I hope these ideas will be helpful to other young moms of toddlers (i.e. especially those of us who are short on time and short on creativity, but want to make a big impact on our kids.)
1. Stations of the Cross for Toddlers
Last year I made my own poster of the 14 Stations of the Cross for my kids. I used a poster-sized frame, two pieces of purple poster paper for the background, glitter numbers and letters – all purchased at Michaels. For the pictures of the stations, I bought two copies of the book Stations of the Cross by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik. They run about $2 per book. I use one of the booklets to pray with Mark, so he can follow along, and the other booklet I cut up and put on my poster, so he can match each station in his book with each picture on his poster.
Last year we just focused on learning his numbers, 1-14, and learning the prayer “We adore you O Christ and we praise you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” I’m not sure how much more involved we’ll get with the Stations this year, but both of my boys love their poster.
2. Catholic Icing Lenten Printables
I love Lacy’s ideas for toddler and pre-school activities at Catholic Icing.
This is our second year doing the Lenten countdown calendar on our fridge. Printable PDF here. Mark and I each colored one this year:
3. Resurrection Eggs
Hands down, this was my son’s favorite activity during Lent last year. He LOVED his Resurrection Eggs. These little eggs are filled with different symbols of Holy Week and Christ’s journey to the cross. My mom made her own when we were little, and her eggs are filled with WAY cooler symbols than the ones you can buy in the pre-packaged set I have. One of these days I’ll have to pick her brain for how she came up with her egg collection. In the meantime, your little ones will love these pre-packaged eggs. They’ll be occupied for hours of busy work (which is GREAT for busy moms!)
The Resurrection Eggs are available online or in most Christian book and gift stores.
4. Holy Heroes (www.holyheroes.com)
Holy Heroes is a wonderful resource for kids of all ages throughout the year, but they do an exceptional job during Advent and Lent of sharing free video stories and lessons about the Catholic faith with kids.
At first I was thinking my kids were too young to get anything out of the videos this Lent, but other mom friends encouraged me to give it a try – my boys love watching other kids, so I bet they actually will pick up a few good lessons this year.
We also use the Holy Heroes coloring books. My little artist loves them!
My kids are young and these are just simple ways of introducing them to the season of Lent and preparing our hearts and our lives for Christ, but I think for real little kids, these things are just enough to introduce them to the story of the Faith. Their story.
Happy Friday y’all, and I hope you all have a blessed, fruitful Lent.