Keeping the season of Advent Holy
The story of baby Jesus is one that resonates deeply with preschoolers. They are constantly surrounded by babies in the preschool hallways as moms and dads wheel their little ones through. They may even have a baby brother or sister themselves. Waiting for the baby Jesus to arrive is something they can relate to in a concrete way and look forward to with eager anticipation.
But, waiting is hard work! They do a LOT of waiting in their everyday lives: waiting to take a turn on the slide, waiting for someone to help open their yogurt container, waiting for an answer to a question. Here are some ways to engage your children in the Advent season and encourage the true spirit of joyful anticipation:
Make an Advent Calendar
We all know the “open-the-door” type Advent Calendars or the “hang-the-ornament” on the tree style, but those kinds are not very engaging. In addition to those family traditions, we have added a “good-deed” paper chain. Take 25 two-inch wide strips of colored construction paper and arrange them in a basket with markers or crayons, tape or a stapler. When your child/ren perform an act of kindness, assistance, forgiveness, generosity or faith, have them write the deed or their name on the paper and form it into a circle to tape or staple in place. After the first ‘good deed’ link, add new ones on every day and soon you will have a beautiful representation of your children’s meaningful and pure gifts to the newborn King.
Make cookies together
Making cookies is a hallmark of the Christmas season and working with your little ones is very rewarding (albeit very messy!). But don’t stop once you have made cookies for your family – you can bake cookies for the Ronald McDonald House, for the firefighters in your local firehouse, for the elderly neighbors around you who cannot bake like they used to years ago. There are many eager recipients of your hard work and your children will be able to see how their handiwork brings joy to someone else!
Advent Giving Tree/ Wreath
Choose an ‘ornament’ off the Advent Giving Tree or Wreath at church with your children. We encourage our children to choose someone on the tree who resonates with them — whether it be someone their own ages or gender or someone who touches them by their request. Then take your children shopping with you and allow them to help choose the gift. If it needs to be wrapped, allow them to help and make a card wishing the recipient a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
My favorite memories come from sharing stories with my children. They each have their favorite books of the season, but if you need additional resources, check out your local library. Put aside the stories of Santa and Rudolph until Christmas day is at hand, but spend this time reading stories of the Nativity and the birth of our Lord. Start with the bible – Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1-21. Here are some other wonderfully told and illustrated versions of the Nativity story:
Make an Advent Wreath
A traditional Advent Wreath has 3 purple and one pink candle. On occasions when we do not have the correct configuration of candles, we have used white candles with purple and pink ribbons tied around them. The first week of Advent is marked with a purple candle. Light it each night when you sit down for dinner and say a prayer. These prayers are from cptryon.org
O Jesus Christ,
Emmanuel, come and dwell with us.
Desire of all nations;
Gift to every generation,
Come, make your home with us.
Jesus, come to us.
Prince of Peace,
teach the lion and the little lamb,
teach the cat and the mouse,
the the hawk and the tiny bird,
teach everyone who doesn’t get along
to live in peace.
King David was a mighty king
who built a city long ago.
Key of David, Jesus Christ,
open heaven’s gates for us.
Jesus, come and teach me,
how to sing and play,
how to learn new words;
tell me what to say.
Teach me how to be a child,
for you know the way.
Gratitude in Children
Gratitude is one of the trickiest concepts to teach toddlers and preschoolers, who are quite self-centered. Yet, it is one of the most important. Grateful children are not only more pleasant to be around, but gratitude helps them to become sensitive to the feelings of others and to look outside themselves.
It isn’t difficult to instill a sense of gratitude into our children, but it does take patience and consistent and constant input from us, their parents. Here are some ideas, adapted from Parents Magazine:
Work gratitude into your daily conversation:
- Around the dinner table, talk about the good things that happened to each of you during the day and end each day with a prayer of gratitude.
Have kids help
- Even little ones can do small chores to help out around the house, like bringing dishes from the table to the sink or setting the table or picking up their toys. It helps them to appreciate the work that goes into making the house run smoothly.
Insist on ‘Thank You’ notes
- Notes do not have to be elaborate or lengthy. Children can draw themselves enjoying the gift, or can dictate the sentiments to you.
Pray together, volunteer together
- When children see their parents participating in a food drive, collecting coats and mittens for the needy, or making cookies for the Ronald McDonald House, they see faith and gratitude in action. Explain to your child why you are doing this and ask them how they might feel if they had little food or warm clothing. Pray together for those in need.
Celebrating Pentacost & the 7 gifts of the Spirit with your child:
Wisdom: play a game of Chutes and Ladders together and talk about making good choices.
Understanding: look at ordinary objects through a magnifying glass and talk about how different they look – everyone has a different perspective and things won’t ‘look’ the same to each person.
Counsel: advice is nice, but truly listening is better. Sit out in the evening and listen as the day animals head off to bed and the night animals start coming out. Listening is an art!
Fortitude: hold your very own Spirit Olympics to show your fortitude, or your ability to use your strength to help one another: 3-legged races, relay races with water balloons or spoons of water carried to fill a bucket, wheelbarrow races… anything that involves a partner will do.
Knowledge: keep reading all summer long!
Piety: come to mass and share bible stories together.
Fear of the Lord: together as a family, pray for those in need.
Ideas for Celebrating Lent with Young Children
Chocolate bunnies and jellybeans are a common sight in our children’s Easter baskets, but for a treat that is tasty AND helps to make the Pascal Mystery real for little ones, try making these simple and fun Resurrection Rolls. A marshmallow is wrapped in pastry and once it is baked, the ‘tomb’ is made empty.
You can find the list of ingredients and the directions on how to make them on the Catholic Icing site: http://catholicicing.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-make-resurrection-rolls-aka.html
Pretzels are the perfect Lenten food and it is an easy and concrete way to share the meaning of Lent with your children. In the days of early Christianity, people would observe a strict fast throughout the 40 days – no meat, butter, cream, milk, eggs or cheese. They would, instead, make little loaves of bread from flour, water and salt and form them in the familiar crossed-arms pretzel shape. Early Christians used to cross their arms over their chest when they prayed, just as we ask the young children who have not made their First Communion to do when they come with their families to the Eucharistic Minister.
They made these pretzels to remind themselves that Lent was a time of prayer as well as sacrifice. When we see a pretzel in this shape we are reminded to pray and fast and prepare our hearts for Jesus!
Go to catholicicing.blogspot.com/2010/02/pretzels-for-lent.html to find a recipe on how to make your own Lenten pretzels together.
40 days is a long span of time for small children. Here is one popular idea from Catholicmom.com which engages young children in both conversion and preparation:
Set out a glass jar for each child with a small copy of the jellybean prayer taped to it. Determine a behavior to go with each jellybean color (corresponding with the prayer). Each day children can earn a jellybean of any color they followed through on. Jellybeans will not be eaten until Easter. White jellybeans are not earned, these represented the Grace of Christ, which is a gift freely given by God. On Easter morning, the kids wake to find their jars filled up where they were still empty (lacking) with white jellybeans (Christ’s grace)!
- Red is for the blood Christ gave (red jellybeans are earned for giving up something – treats, TV time, video gaming, etc.)
- Green is for the palm’s cool shade (green jellybeans are earned for good deeds. It was a good deed to provide shade for Jesus with the palm)
- Yellow is for God’s light so bright (yellow jellybeans are earned for sharing God’s light through kindness to others)
- Orange is for prayers at twilight (orange jellybeans are earned for attentive behavior during bedtime prayer time and night time bible story)
- Black is for sweet rest at night (these are earned for going to bed nicely – use dark blue if your children are not fond of black jellybeans!)
- White is for the Grace of Christ (these cannot be earned, as mentioned above)
- Purple is for His days of sorrow (these are earned through apologizing to anyone we hurt with our words or deeds that day)
- Pink is for each new tomorrow (pink jellybeans are earned when we forgave those who apologized to us for hurtful behavior)
Stations of the Cross for Young Children
The Stations of the Cross are a powerful way to pray and remember the sacrifices Jesus made for us on his tormented journey to Calvary. But the Stations can be a bit overwhelming for young children. Here is an excerpt from a thoughtful and meaningful website dedicated to bringing the mystery of the Stations to our children. The pictures are child-friendly and the text asks that we first look at Jesus and gives us some thoughts to contemplate. Then we look at our own hearts and examine the meaning of that Station in our lives. http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/child/stations/