The 40 days of Lent can be a long time for any Catholic. It᾽s even longer for third graders. I’m not one to take any number at face value, so I always ask my class to count the days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday. They are shocked to learn that there are actually 44 days! That seems to make Lent even longer.
Working with younger students, I always include some fun activities in our classroom to keep the students focused on the meaning of Lent. Because each class is different, I like to switch activities from year to year. However, there always seem to be two activities that I include every Lent.
The first activity is an Ash Wednesday video. I᾿ll take a quick digital photo of my students᾽ foreheads, showing their ashes after our Ash Wednesday Mass. I add the photos to Animoto along with a song by Nick Alexander. (Nick’s parodies of popular songs have earned him the reputation as the Catholic Weird Al Yankovich.) I used Nick’s song called “This Time of 40 Days,” which is set to the tune of a popular Police song.
I originally got this idea in 2011 when the website Busted Halo asked people to send in photos showing their Ash Wednesday ash-y forehead. I sent in our video and my class was thrilled to learn we got the prize for the “Best Class Ash.” Not only were they excited to get our prize (a bag of Swedish Fish), but peals of laughter came from our classroom as they had to carefully say the title of our prize.
The other Lenten activity I routinely include is the Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl. This organization supplies my classroom with an easy-to-follow curriculum that focuses on the theme: Pray, Fast, Give. Our school sends home the materials with the families, which include a cardboard rice bowl, an informative handout which features the countries where CRS works, and a recipe from some of those countries for a Lenten meal for families to try. Then at school, I show a video that explains the work done by CRS. Last year they added a video with Fr. Leo Patalinghug, the Cooking Priest from Grace Before Meals, making the weekly meals. Our class always has a spirited discussion after watching the videos. On the final school Mass before Easter, the students bring in their filled rice bowls.
I remember one activity we did for Lent in 2009. My partner teacher thought we would have our class “walk” to Jerusalem. We used Google Earth to determine the distance between our classroom and Jerusalem (which was 6,457 miles, in case you were curious). We then brainstormed a number of activities that were meaningful for our students and assigned a number of “miles” for each activity. We posted a bar graph in each classroom and watched the miles add up. We finally made it to Jerusalem on Holy Wednesday!
With meaningful, engaging activities like these, I have found that the Lenten season really flies by. I believe picking an activity that works for your classroom and your own personal style will help you and your students have a holy—and fun—Lent.