As catechists and parents, we are keenly aware that there are a lot of ideas competing for our attention during Lent. When deciding on a focused Lenten practice, there are three questions to ask:
- Is this practice focused on God, others, or myself?
- Does this practice help me fast from something that I truly struggle with?
- Do I give, pray, and serve out of love or out of my own selfishness?
After speaking with parents across the country, I share here some of the most meaningful ideas for experiencing Lent with our children.
The themes of sacrifice and repentance are at the heart of Lent. Many families focus on giving up something during Lent, such as candy, chocolate, or other food-related items. These practices are fine, but beware of an overfocus on completing the challenge rather than growing closer to God.
Although not a holy day of obligation, Ash Wednesday begins our journey to Easter. Go as a family to receive ashes, and reflect on what it means to be signed with ashes in this way.
Consider a family service opportunity. As our family lives by the beach on Lake Michigan, one of our Lenten family projects is to remove trash from the beach. We talk beforehand about removing rubbish from our lives during Lent and the opportunity to spring clean our hearts for Easter.
Crown of Thorns Activity
Make a crown (using salt dough recipes easily found online), inserting toothpicks in the dough before baking. Every time a Lenten discipline is practiced or a good deed is done, a toothpick thorn can be removed from the crown. This activity teaches children about the pain that Jesus endured for our sins and how sin wounds us, each other, and God.
Stations of the Cross
Attend a Stations of the Cross service at your parish, or make your own with printouts easily found online. Have your children color or decorate the stations, and place the images throughout the house or going up the stairs. Find a Stations of the Cross booklet or reflections online, and take turns reading the stations while praying as a family.
Examination of Conscience
Consider incorporating an examination of conscience into your Lenten journey. Then make time for receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, going as a family and talking about the experience.
The Jelly Bean Jar
Set aside two jars at the beginning of Lent. Fill one with jelly beans. Leave the other empty. Paste a jelly bean prayer on the jar, such as this one widely available online:
Red is for the blood he gave. Green is for the grass he made. Yellow is for the sun so bright. Orange is for the edge of night. Black is for the sins we made. White is for the grace he gave. Purple is for his hour of sorrow. Pink is for a new tomorrow. A bag full of jelly beans, colorful and sweet, is a prayer, is a promise, is an Easter treat!
When someone in the family completes an act of love or a sacrifice for another family member, that person can put a jelly bean in the empty jar. Hopefully by the time Easter comes, the whole family will have filled the empty jar and can enjoy a sweet treat together.
We forgo meat on Fridays during Lent, so meatless Fridays are a simple way to mark the passage of time. “Fish-fry Fridays” are common in Wisconsin, where I live, and various parishes have different offerings, such as trout boils, smelt fries, and perch plates. Make a trip to sample different kinds of fish, and talk about Jesus and the disciples who went fishing. If fish fries aren’t available in your area, bake pretzels (another traditional Lenten food), or make a favorite meatless dish as a family.
Have you tried any of these Lenten practices? Which ones are your favorites? What Lenten practices have been most meaningful for your family?
These are such great ideas Julianne! So accessible and simple for families to do together. I especially like the idea of doing Stations of the Cross at home- a great way to lift up the domestic Church! And maybe once a family experiences this at home, they would be more likely to come and pray the Stations at their parish.