Easter Centerpiece of Lenten Love
Preschoolers will best understand Lent through doing loving actions. A visual reminder of what they have done makes this a more significant experience. That the reminder becomes an Easter gift to take home makes it even better!

Each time you meet, discuss with children something they can do for someone else at school, home or daycare. Be specific and give them only one suggestion at a time.

Some possibilities:
  • Do a little job for someone, like putting spoons on the table before a meal.
  • Share a toy.
  • Say “I love you!” to someone you love.
  • Tell someone they did a good job at picking up, reading a story, cooking, etc.
  • Say a prayer for someone else, such as, “Jesus, please watch over ______”
  • Give someone a hug.

Then explain that each child can make a flower centerpiece to take home (see details below). Each time they do a loving action, they can add a flower. Show them a piece of Styrofoam and some flowers.

The next time you meet, ask them to remember what they did. They may not remember, or may not have done any of the suggestions, but may give you some example of a wonderful thing they did anyway! At this age, children live in the moment, and they usually want so very much to participate that they are not really fabricating a story.  Acknowledge their good deeds, and begin the art project. Each time you meet during Lent, discuss what they have done for others, and add to the project. At the end of the last class before Easter, have them take their projects home to be a centerpiece.

Making the Centerpiece
Give each child a piece of florist foam or Styrofoam. Write the child’s name on the bottom. Have an assortment of artificial flowers on hand, which the children can choose from. They simply push the stem into the base.

By the end of Lent, the foam should hold a collection of colorful flowers, a happy reminder of many good deeds and a wonderful centerpiece for the days of Easter!

Hints:
  • The stems should not be longer than 2 inches.
  • You want children to be able to fill the centerpiece gradually, so give them smaller flowers at the beginning of Lent.
  • Reserve some large flowers for the last weeks to fill out a skimpy centerpiece!
  • Some flowers have several blossoms on one stem. Cut the stems off to make numerous flowers.

Styrofoam and florist foam come in many shapes, such as cones, blocks, eggs, hearts, etc. However, Styrofoam pieces of packing blocks, etc. will also work.

Learning about Lent and Holy Week at Home
The following suggestions are for families and home day-care providers.

Lent and Easter are particularly difficult for young children to understand, and some descriptions may even leave them fearful and confused. However, they are masters at grasping the importance of symbols, and there are many for this time of year. Let the symbols be the first to “speak” of the Paschal Mystery to the children.

These intuitive little ones love to use their hands to create something. Use that desire too. Give the children a space to work with the symbols that reflect these two holy seasons.  This can be a prayer table in the kitchen or other room.

Then let them create! Given the length of Lent, consider adding new symbols each week, taking away some if necessary for the space you have.

Below are suggestions for materials to offer children. If necessary, briefly explain them, but for the most part, let the symbols speak for themselves.

LENT: The liturgical color is violet.
  • Tablecloth or other fabric, in a solid violet
  • Pretzels (you may need to have pretzels for snack to discourage the display from being nibbled away—or replenish the bowl!)
  • Cacti (use only if children are old enough to understand not to touch them)
  • Ashes (if you can obtain some from Ash Wednesday services; place in to a clear jar with a tightly fitting lid; however, consider having children touch them at least once.)
  • Containers of seeds the children have planted
  • A bare branch in a vase of water, which will send out leaves over the weeks or pussy willow branches.
  • A bulb dish garden
  • A cross

HOLY WEEK: To put the focus on the powerful symbols of this week, remove the Lenten symbols. Keep any growing symbols (bulbs, seeds, leafed branch) in another place and bring them back for the Easter season, with the exception of the cacti.

PALM SUNDAY: The liturgical color is red.
  • A red tablecloth
  • Palm branches
  • A statue or toy donkey
  • Ask someone who can do palm braiding to contribute some braided palms

HOLY THURSDAY: The liturgical color is white
  • A white tablecloth
  • Flat bread or unconsecrated hosts in a basket
  • A clear glass of wine or a wine-colored juice
  • A pitcher of water and a towel
  • A candle, lit during a supervised time; tell children it helps us think of Jesus being with us.

GOOD FRIDAY: The liturgical color is red
  • As the altar in church is stripped of cloth, candles, etc., you might choose to have children take off the symbols and cloth from Holy Thursday in a ceremonious way.
  • A red cloth, or do not use any cloth
  • The candle, left unlit
  • A crucifix

HOLY SATURDAY: The liturgical color is white
  • The candle, once again lit
  • Bells
  • Many flowers
  • A statue of the Risen Christ

EASTER SEASON:
  • If possible, keep the “Easter Table” up until Pentecost, refreshing it with new flowers
  • A statue or illustration of the Risen Christ
Observing Holy Week in the Classroom
Palm Sunday: Children can understand the joyful aspects of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.

Preparation:
  • Have one palm branch for storytelling
  • Each child must have something for waving during the procession, such as ribbons, crepe paper streamers or more palm branches. (They will be less likely to hit each other with streamers and ribbons than palms!)
  • Have ready a cd player, a cd with appropriate music, or be prepared to lead the children in an appropriate song.

Story: Jesus made many friends and taught even more people. When they heard he was coming to the great city of Jerusalem, a crowd of people went to meet him. They wanted to show their love and respect for him. One way was to wave something. They did this by cutting branches off trees. The trees were called palm trees and this is what a palm from a palm tree looks like. They waved the branches (wave the one you hold) and sang a song as Jesus, riding on a donkey, moved through the crowd.

Now let’s make our own procession, thinking of Jesus and how much we love him and he loves us.

Process: Offer each child a palm branch, crepe paper streamer or long ribbon. Begin the music and lead a joyful procession around the room several times.
***
Holy Thursday: Young children can begin to understand the tremendous significance of the Eucharist.

Preparation:
  • If possible, use a small table that children can gather around.
  • Prepare the table so children will sense it represents reverence and a special event. (a tablecloth, small vase of flowers, lit candle if possible, etc.)
  • Add a plate or basket containing a loaf of flat bread, such as pita.
  • Add a clear glass, preferably a goblet with a small amount of wine or wine-colored juice.

Story: Jesus and his friends met to have a special dinner together. Jesus knew that soon he would die. He wanted his friends and all people to remember him. He wanted all of us to know that he would always be close to us, even if we couldn’t see him.
At this dinner, there was bread on the table. (pick up  the bread). Jesus said a thank-you prayer for the bread. Then he broke the bread (do so) and said, “Whenever you eat this bread, think of me.” On the table also was some wine. (pick up the wine/juice glass). Jesus said a thank-you prayer again. Then he said, “Whenever you drink the wine, remember me.”
When you are at Mass and people go up to receive the bread and wine of Communion, they are remembering Jesus and feeling close to him. Jesus is our friend who loves us all very much.
***
Good Friday: Children can appreciate the serious nature of this day through symbols.

Preparation:
  • Choose a corner or space in your classroom that is out of the line of traffic or loud play.
  • Place a small table there.
  • Have ready a purple cloth, a plant, a stone (somewhat flat, about 2 inches long), and a simple cross.

Story: Sometimes we get sad. There is one day in our Church when we are especially sad. It is the day that we remember that Jesus died. Today is that day. Even though we know Jesus came back to us after he died, we take a day to think about Jesus dying.
To help us think about this, we will make a quiet place in our room. (take children to the corner or space). We will use this cloth and plant to help us. (place the purple cloth on the table and the plant on it). Here is a cross. (put the stone on the table and then place the cross so the upper part rests on the stone).
Now we will sit here quietly and think of Jesus and be with our sad feelings for a few minutes.
***
Holy Saturday or Easter: As these two days are often filled with preparation and celebrations, incorporate the children’s experiences into knowledge of the symbols of Easter. In this way, they can develop a spiritual appreciation of the feast. It will be helpful to them in a few years when they are more capable of grappling with the death and Resurrection of Christ.

For now, simply point out the symbols and explain ‘what they help us think about.’

Children attending the Easter vigil will see the lighting of the Easter fire and candle, the blessing of the water, and participate in singing ‘Alleluia’ for the first time since Lent began.
  • Fire: We say Jesus is the “Light of the World” and on this holy night, the special fire helps us celebrate that.
  • Water: God gives us water so we can live. Water helps us think of the life and the love God gives us.
  • ‘Alleluia’: This word means we are very, very happy. All during Lent, we do not say it until now, when we celebrate that Jesus with back with us again. Then we say it and sing it with greater joy than any other time!
  • Eggs: Eggs contain yellow yokes.  The yoke helps us think of the sun. Without the sun, we cannot live. We say that Jesus is also the great Light. Eggs also give us new life—such as a little chick. At Easter, we celebrate the New Life that God gives each of us.
  • Lilies: People like to use lilies to remember that Jesus is with back with us again. These are beautiful flowers and help us make our church or home be lovely for Easter.