This week, we are offering many suggestions of things to do as you prepare to, then lead, your family through Great Lent. We will begin with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “ Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. Used by permission.
Take your child to Church!
Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.
Explain the service that your family will be attending.
Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.
Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe, it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.
Prepare your child for Lent.
The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.
Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.
It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.
You may find it helpful to have a daily calendar for the Lenten Fast. Here is a printable Lenten family calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent, that features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together during the fast.
The goal of the calendar is to offer ideas that can help you live a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast.
Here are additional suggestions for preparing for Great Lent with your children:
Create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” for each child to fill with “coins” of REAL value, as shown in this free printable page: http://www.annunciationakron.org/phyllisonest/pdf/LENTEN%20TREASURE%20CHEST%20%2B%20coins.pdf
Find an awesome blog on starting a Lenten fast with kids here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/14/living-our-faith-its-too-hard-for-my-kids/. Also, here is a great variety of packed fasting meal ideas: http://www.illumination-learning.com/blog/2013/03/lenten-staples-meals-on-the-go/
Here is a creative way for a family to experience Lent (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need) easily explained and tracked on the fridge: http://www.antiochian.org/content/family-activities-lenten-journey
Here is a printable coloring/activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week: https://www.scribd.com/doc/49025598/Lent-Workbook-English-2
Here’s an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities, here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/48101187/Lent-HolyWeek-Chart
Overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action for teens: http://www.antiochian.org/content/lenten-message-all-orthodox-teens
Begin to prepare learning boxes for your children to explore during Holy Week: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html