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5 tips for sharing the Lenten story with children

Symbols of Lent

Children’s book author Glenys Nellist offers five tips on how to honor the season of Lent in age-appropriate, meaningful ways while still giving it the attention it deserves.

Dearborn: First UMC

The Lenten season can be difficult to approach with young children. Unlike Advent, when we happily anticipate the birth of Jesus, the Lenten season is a much more somber occasion as we anticipate his death.

In addition, many parts of the Lenten narrative are hard to explain to little ones, including the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday, the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert, and the manner of his death. But without the death of Jesus, we cannot reach the resurrection, which truly is the most celebratory event of all.

So, how do we, as nurturers of children, honor this sacred, important season in age-appropriate, meaningful ways while still giving the Lenten season the attention it deserves?

Cover of Glenys Nellist's newest book
The cover of Glenys Nellist’s newest children’s book. ~ image courtesy HarperCollins Christian Publishers

Here are five tips I hope will be useful as you tell this story to children at church and home.

1. Choose your language carefully.

Here are three simple explanations of key events in the Lenten story that might be beneficial as we prepare to share the narrative with young children:

    • Ash Wednesday: A very simple way to describe this event is: “In the past, people used to put ashes on themselves as a sign that they wanted to change and be better people. We want to be better people, too. Lent is a good time to try to do that.”
    • The temptation of Jesus in the desert: Rather than talk about the devil, or Satan, which can be very scary for little ones, use the word “tempter” instead. Here’s how I approached it in my new book, ’Twas the Season of Lent: “And whenever he heard a voice that tempted him to think about himself, Jesus closed his eyes and thought about God instead.”
    • The death of Jesus: We want to tell the truth to children, but for younger ones, we do not need to share any graphic details about the cross or how he died. “Jesus died, but it wasn’t the end of the story” is often the best way to phrase it. This article gives useful age-to-age advice on sharing the crucifixion with children.

2. Vet your resources.

There are a plethora of Easter books and related resources for children, but it is always wise to vet them carefully. If you’re choosing stories for younger children, pay attention to the language and the illustrations. Choose books that are gentle, inclusive, and thoughtful. Three recommended resources are:

3. Trust the adults.

Our job, as Christian educators and nurturers of children, is to present the Lenten and Easter narrative to children in careful, thoughtful ways. We must be truthful, but we must also leave space. This approach will allow children to wonder about the story and allow the adults in their lives to fill in the gaps. After all, they are the ones who know their children best.

4. Provide resources that help families count down to Easter.

Forty days is a long time, especially for children, and it can be easy to forget that we’re in the Lenten season at all! Finding meaningful, daily ways to count down the days to Easter will serve as a reminder. Three new resources I recommend are:

If you choose to use the Calendar Path, encourage families to think about practical service projects they could do with their children, such as making cookies for a neighbor or cleaning up someone’s yard. Families can then add these events to the calendar to remind them of their commitment to acts of service during Lent.

5. Trust the Holy Spirit.

How can we explain the death and resurrection of Jesus to little ones when we don’t fully understand this great mystery ourselves? The good news is that we don’t have to. Our role is to prayerfully prepare for this sacred season, sow seeds in the lives of the children we serve, and trust that the Holy Spirit, who leads and guides, will cause those seeds to grow.

Glenys Nellist is a children’s book author of over thirty titles, including her newest, ’Twas the Season of Lent, published by HarperCollins Christian Publishers. Learn more about Nellist on her website.

Last Updated on February 21, 2024

The Michigan Conference