Parents and educators often face a bit of a dilemma at this time of year. We want to include our children and students in every part of the liturgical year, but how can we explain Lent in a way that is comprehensible to little ones?
The concepts that define Lent—self-sacrifice, abstinence, penance—can be confusing for young children. One thing to focus on is that this is a special time to grow closer to God. The USCCB explains this time of year in this way:
[Lent] is a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter. During Lent, we seek the Lord in prayer by reading Sacred Scripture; we serve by giving alms; and we practice self-control through fasting. We are called not only to abstain from luxuries during Lent, but to a true inner conversion of heart as we seek to follow Christ’s will more faithfully. We recall the waters of baptism in which we were also baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.
This “inner conversion of heart” includes all Christians, regardless of age, and our children can be part of it too.
There are all kinds of ways to encourage them to “turn their hearts to God,” but perhaps the most straightforward is through a great picture book. Reading and discussing a book is a simple but reliable way to educate.
Fortunately, there are plenty of good picture books to help children understand what Lent is all about. Check out these 10 engaging stories to introduce little ones to Lent and its meaning.
A new book from Ascension Press is just perfect for teaching little ones about the meaning of Lent. Louie’s Lent encourages children to participate in Lent and understand that it is not just sacrifices of candy or toys, but of ourselves, that can please God.
When little Louie sees his classmates giving something up for Lent, he’s stumped on what to do himself. While the other students undertake their Lenten resolutions, he embarks on a different course of action – giving of himself to support his classmates in their sacrifices.
Stations of the Cross for Children
This wonderfully illustrated version of the traditional Stations of the Cross contains new meditations by children’s author Regina Doman, along with Scripture verses for each station, traditional prayers attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Alphonsus Ligouri, and much more. Children can follow Christ and his Mother as they make their way through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Calvary.
The Jesus Garden
This book is a gem that weaves the best-loved legends surrounding the Lord’s death and resurrection into a story of love and selflessness. In this story, the animals and plants who love Jesus sacrifice to help Him during the Passion, inspiring children to make their own gifts of love to Our Lord.
The Little Rose of Sharon
Another parable of selfless love, this book tells the story of the little rose of Sharon, who sacrifices her beautiful red petals to save a baby dove. She hears the Creator say that her love is like that of His Son, helping children to understand Christ’s gift of Himself for us.
This tale of a rooster who meets Jesus as a boy, and later witnesses the Crucifixion and Resurrection, conveys the joy of new life and the caring gentleness of Christ. It’s an elegant and serene introduction to the Easter story for little readers.
The Tale of Three Trees
Based on a traditional folktale, this book tells of three young trees who dream of becoming a treasure chest, a royal sailing ship, and the tallest tree in the world. Their dreams seem dashed for a time, but God fulfills their longings through incredible encounters with Christ. It’s a really lovely introduction to the Easter story.
The Story of the Cross: The Stations of the Cross for Children
This book gently tells the story of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, with a short prayer to accompany each station. Although the way of the cross is not easy, this book shows that God gives us strength for the journey and new life through his love.
Little Colt’s Palm Sunday
For the littlest readers, this cheerful yet moving book tells the story of Palm Sunday through the eyes of Jesus’ donkey.
The Saving Name of God the Son
Drawing from the rich treasure of biblical language and doctrinal understanding of our Catholic Faith, and using the luminous art of Fra Angelico, this book briefly depicts the life of our Lord from conception to the promise of his final return. The stunning artwork and elevated language make this one appropriate for all ages.
The Colt and the King
The events of Palm Sunday are told through the eyes of the donkey who carries Jesus. This book gently weaves in themes of Christ as the long-promised Messiah, Jesus’ gentle kindness, and the hope of the Second Coming.