For Catholics, today, Ash Wednesday, is the start of Lent—40 days of accompanying Jesus Christ’s journey to his passion, crucifixion and resurrection. It is a time for prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
Despite having been exposed to Lent all our lives, some are still overwhelmed. Imagine how much more for a child.
But there is now a plethora of resources and activities that can help parents teach children about Lent.
I found a number of suggested activities online and added traditional practices many have grown up with in the Philippines.
Here are 40 activities for Lent to try with the whole family.
1) Go to Mass together and receive your cross for Ash Wednesday.
2) Decide on a family sacrifice/act of self-denial that everyone will participate in. Doing something together as one family will give everyone the chance to encourage one another—when one feels like giving up.
3) Allow each member of the family to choose one’s own unique sacrifice for Lent. Refraining from sweets is still the most popular for children, but in this modern age, it can be refraining from social media, cursing, gossiping, buying unnecessary things, gaming, etc. Anything that keeps us from having a better relationship with God, leads us to sin, or takes too much time that we are left with none for God, should be given up.
4) Memorize the Act of Contrition or a prayer that children may still be unfamiliar with.
5) Make a Lent Countdown Calendar so the kids can plan little acts of mortification.
6) Have a purple day when everyone will wear the color of penitence.
7) Study the Saint of the Day so that kids can have models of sacrifice and sanctity to whom they can pray and after whom they can pattern their lives.
Act of mercy
8) Do a corporal act of mercy—as simple as preparing sandwiches at home to give to the hungry, or visiting a home for the aged, or a correctional facility.
9) Go to your parish when there is no Mass, and just look around exploring the church.
10) Introduce kids to the Act of Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament. Instruct them on the teaching behind the prayer. Perhaps you can teach them to meditate or pray silently before the tabernacle.
11) Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. The rosary is a recollection of key events in the life and passion of Christ in the Bible and a summary of the mystery of salvation.
12) Plant a flower or small plant and take care of it, watch it grow and use it to discuss new life.
13) Do volunteer work together as a family.
14) Make a mosaic cross out of good deeds. You can cut out a large cross from an illustration board and small squares from different colors of art paper. Every time someone does a good deed, he or she can pick up a “tile,” glue it to the cross, and the family could have a beautifully colored cross in time for Easter!
15) Have your children come up with meatless menus for the Fridays of Lent. Explain why people refrain from meat on these days.
16) Create a sharing box where all the family can put money everyday to be donated to a charitable institution at the end of Lent.
17) Use this time to declutter and simplify life so that everyone can be less attached to material things.
18) Make kids light a candle in church for a loved one who has passed away.
19) Write a letter to your parish priest or any member of the church (liturgy reader, Eucharistic minister, etc.) to express gratitude for their contributions that make Masses more meaningful.
20) Choose one intention for your family that you can all pray for everyday.
21) Choose other intentions you can all pray for, such as the Pope’s or the local church’s.
22) Let your children see you making sacrifices, too.
23) Read a spiritual story for bedtime.
24) Bless your children every day before they leave for school with a sign of the cross on their foreheads. All parents are given the power to bless their children and say a prayer to keep them safe during baptism.
25) Pretzels actually originated from Lenten practices of Christians many years ago. Since butter, eggs and milk were not allowed, people had to create something from only flour, water and salt, and they chose to create a shape where the arms appear crossed in prayer. Find time during which you and the kids can bake some pretzels to share with the family.
26) Have daily or weekly quiet time, even for a few minutes when all members of the family can put TV, gadgets and distractions away and have time to be alone with your thoughts.
27) Create a Lenten box where your kids can put in a few items they enjoy—with the intention of not opening the box until Easter.
28) Do some arts and crafts activities related to Lent such as those from www.catholicicing.com.
29) Watch an Easter or religious-theme movie. There’s quite a number to choose from—ranging from the classics to new blockbusters.
30) Do one positive action everyday of Lent.
31) If your children are older, encourage them to serve at Mass as often as possible.
32) Teach kids to refrain from one negative action per day—be it whining, fighting with a sibling or complaining.
33) If you regularly eat out on Sundays, skip one Sunday and give the money saved to a soup kitchen.
34) Pick a nice outfit for the Easter Mass, something little girls will surely enjoy! Explain why we save our best for Jesus and why Easter deserves special treatment.
35) Find a park or garden and walk around while telling kids what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane.
36) Read the story of the Last Supper from the Bible and have a special dinner as well where you can discuss the details and story as you eat.
37) For Maundy Thursday, do Visita Iglesia at seven churches you have gone to, or seven new churches. It will be a good chance to bond as a family.
38) Do the Way of the Cross together but don’t forget to explain the significance of each station.
39) On Black Saturday, color Easter eggs together and take it as an opportunity to explain how the eggs are part of Easter and how they represent new life.
40) Go on an Easter Egg hunt! If you bury the homemade Easter eggs, add some fun by putting chocolates next to it.
You don’t have to do everything on this list, but taking time and effort will help your children understand and appreciate Lent more. Or, at the very least, give them an alternative to skipping chocolates. As I once had to explain to my children: No, Jesus does not hate chocolate!