But while I’m starting to feel like I understand this Lent thing, I’m still a newbie at observing Lent with my kids. So here’s a few things we’ve tried and a few things I aspire to do this year!
1. Change the decor.
During Advent we have an Advent wreath on the table, during Lent we switch to a simple grapevine wreath, light a candle each night, and use the grey-ish-purple tablecloth. We also cover our crucifixes and sacred art with purple cloth. In the past we’ve done this on Ash Wednesday, but I read that it should actually be done on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We make a game of finding all the crucifixes in the house when we veil them and then the kids LOVE unveiling everything on Easter morning when it’s time to celebrate!
2. Fish Fridays.
We typically don’t eat meat on Fridays all year long simply because if I plan to do a different Friday penance I inevitably forget to do it. So this isn’t a big change for us, but it’s a good weekly reminder to explain why we won’t be eating bacon with breakfast on Friday mornings. Kids notice changes in the meal plan. Especially if the change involves a lack of bacon.
3. Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries as a family.
For a long time we were too intimidated to try to pray the Rosary as a family, but a spiritual director encouraged me to nurture this tradition in our home, so we gave it a shot. Our kids are ages 6, 3, and 1. And the six-year-old and one-year-old are of the wiggly/climb the walls persuasion. Our three-year-old is of the three-year-old persuasion (AKA emotional volcano of insanity…it’s just how three is).
- Everybody has their own special rosary to hold.
- We gather in a corner of our living room that has our sacred art on the wall so there are things to look at.
- Sometimes we light a candle to set the mood.
- We make a big deal over good behavior during prayer (obviously different expectations for different ages).
4. Learn about Jesus’ life and ministry together.
While it makes sense to focus on stories of God’s redemption that lead up to Jesus’ birth during Advent, Lent is a great time to focus on the life of Jesus and his ministry. We love reading the New Testament section in Tomie de Paola’s Book of Bible Stories as well as his The Miracles of Jesus. I also love to pull out the Ministry of Jesus Coloring Book by Holy Heroes (which is free with any purchase for Carrots readers, more on the details at the end of this post). I’m kind of a coloring book snob, but I find the pictures to be really attractive and I’m a little obsessed with all the Holy Heroes coloring books.
5. Give kids a sense of Lent as a journey.
Last year we used this great printable from Catholic Icing and the kids lost their minds over coloring one square each day (what can I say, they’re easy to please?). For older kids (like Benjamin who just turned 6) Holy Heroes has a free Lenten Adventure that arrives in your email inbox every day. (We loved the Advent Adventure, so we’re really looking forward to the Lenten one.)
6. Bury the alleluia.
Easiest liturgical crafty thing ever for this uncrafty mama. Rock, write alleluia on it, bury it. (But seriously, don’t forget where you buried it or else Easter Sunday’s a little anti-climactic…lesson learned.) Then I try to point out to the kids when the alleluia is missing from the Mass during Lent.
7. Learn a new prayer and hymn together.
During Advent we learn an Advent song together as we light the candles at dinner (O Come, Divine Messiah) and I’d like to do the same thing during Lent! Any recommendations for favorite lenten songs? Last year we learned the Memorare as a family and now it’s my three-year-old’s favorite prayer. Not sure which one we’ll learn this year!
8. Have a “Bits and Pieces” Meal/Meatless Meal.
In our most recent Fountains of Carrots podcast, Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life was telling us about an idea she read at Like Mother, Like Daughter about having a bits and pieces meal of leftovers once a week. That way families can learn not to waste food and be good stewards, and also simplify mealtime during Lent. She also recommended adding a second meatless dinner (maybe Wednesday?) and then letting the kids put a dollar or two in a bowl or jar on the counter to be given to a charity at the end of Lent. I think this is such a great idea! Especially since children often don’t get to participate in raising money and this way they really are sacrificing (by going without meat) and can think about sharing with children who are hungry. We do a lot of soups and simple slow cooker meals from this cookbook during Lent. For more great advice about Lent (and just a general good time) check out the latest episode of the Fountains of Carrots podcast featuring Bonnie:
9. Go to Stations of the Cross.
It is such a beautiful service and we would like to go more often this year. The thing is (at least in our experience) Stations is much harder to get through with small children than Mass. So, I’m REALLY excited about practicing with the Holy Heroes Stations of the Cross CD and booklet that we can use at home. I tried it out on the kids already and they love listening to the CD and looking at the booklet. I’m also going to have the box of Stations objects for little hands to hold (I made it last year after seeing Bonnie’s tutorial. It’s super easy to put together!)