The excitement of Advent’s preparation for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus is hard to replicate in a season of penance. Plans for Christmas parties and gifts and family get-togethers automatically give Advent an exciting flavor that Lent and Easter don’t quite have for children. Though prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are an integral part of Lenten practice, I believe that a family or class can integrate these into their Lenten activities in ways that arouse imagination and desire, touching affections, mind and memory, and intention. You could look at the Lenten Season as a time of renewal and rejuvenation in faith (which it is), a true preparation for the renewal of our baptismal vows on Easter. So here are six ways to get kids excited about Lent and renewing themselves in ways that are educational and fun.
- Go places. There are events you can participate in that are closely associated with the meaning of Lent.
- Take kids to a baptism in your parish during the Lenten Season and talk about what their baptism was like, the promises you made for them, and how Lent is a time to prepare to renew those promises. Show them pictures or videos of their own baptism if you have them.
- Choose service projects you can do together as a family or class throughout Lent.
- Plan to participate in a parish fish-fry or a Seder meal.
Identify a number of possibilities and schedule them together. The key here is to provide a choice and do what the kids would like to do, then to explain the meaning of the events in which you participate.
- Target goals. Talk together as a class or family about how you could become more like Jesus.
- What are the two or three things about the way your class or family communicates or behaves that you all would like to change? Make simple but clear and verifiable goals that you’ll all work on together. It’s more fun when you work at something as a group.
- Encourage each other: Put up a sign on the refrigerator or bulletin board, write each other encouraging notes and emails, say a prayer asking for Jesus’ help at the beginning of a meal or before everyone leaves for their day. A little bit of competition could make reaching the goal more fun!
- Explore the experience of Catholicism. Identify a cultural experience that would immerse you in the experience of Catholicism in a different way.
- Museums are a great place to start.
- Visit a monastery where the nuns or priests would be willing to take you on a tour.
- Participate in a celebration specific to a different culture.
- Visit a Eucharistic adoration chapel.
- Spend a day shadowing a priest as he carries out his ministry.
- Eat your way through Lent.
- Learn about the origin of Lenten pretzels here. You’ll find an easy recipe to make them yourself here.
- Try some Mexican Lenten meatless meals here.
- Something sweet that’s not chocolate: Croatian-Serian Sweet Cheese Palacinke Recipe here.
- Lenten recipes from Germany might have been what Benedict XVI ate as a child. See here.
- Italian Lenten recipes can be explored here.
- Swedish Lent buns are a tasty treat usually served on Tuesdays of Lent. See here.
- Traditional hot cross buns for Lent are always a simple favorite here.
- Simplify and give away some of your treasures. Lent is in the spring, so spring cleaning would be in order!
- Choose where you’d like to make a donation of items, clothes, toys, extra furniture, books, etc. Then provide everyone with large bags and boxes. Walk around the house together and see if you can find 40 things you can give away.
- Commit to declutter and choose simplicity so that someone else can have some of your unneeded possessions.
- Take up this challenge for Lent: to not buy anything that you don’t actually need.
- Strengthen your family’s bonds with prayer. Identify as many of these ideas as you can do in order to help your kids be “surprised” by the power of prayer:
- Tuck a prayer note in their book bag or lunch.
- Start a calendar where anyone can add daily prayer intentions. Post it in a visible place and refer to it often.
- Choose a simple prayer or spontaneously pray for these intentions aloud. Let your kids see you praying when you want to thank God or need the Lord’s help.
- Introduce your kids to favorite psalms.
- Create a small prayer corner in your house where you can go with your kids to ask God’s help.
- Make sure there are symbols of faith and prayer in each room of your house. These can be crucifixes, beautiful icons or images of religious belief, pictures of Jesus or Mary.
- Teach kids a very simple prayer to the Holy Spirit that they can memorize.
- Encourage your kids to tell you what they need you to pray for that day: a test, a relationship struggle, a teacher they can’t get along with, a challenge with homework…
- Ask your kids to pray for special intentions of your own and talk to them about how prayer helps us in our life’s journey.
By letting your kids choose a few of these ideas for the Lenten practices of class or family, they get used to taking responsibility for their spiritual growth and personal development as a Christian within the wider community of the Church.