Ways to help your students see their way through the season of Lent
By Sheri Wohlfert
The goal of Lent is to grow in holiness, and my students started to experience Lent in a more prayerful and meaningful way when there was something new to “see” in the classroom each week.
I’m one of those people who needs to “see” things to better understand them. We know, as teachers, that if we can connect learning to more than one of our five senses, impact and retention are often the result. To students, six weeks is a long time and it’s hard to think about doing something, especially something hard, for that long.
The goal of Lent is to grow in holiness and my students started to experience Lent in a more prayerful and meaningful way when there was something new to “see” in the classroom each week. Each Wednesday beginning with Ash Wednesday, I change the object in the prayer corner. We study scripture about the object, talk about how it relates to Jesus’ journey to the cross and our journey to Jesus during Lent. We end each week by writing about it in our Scripture Journals during Eucharistic Adoration. Here are a few ideas about items you could put in your room to help students “see” Lent.
Ash Wednesday – A bowl of ashes sitting on purple cloth. We talk about the words that will be spoken when our foreheads are marked with ashes. We talk about where the ashes come from and some years we even participate in the burning of the palms to prepare for Ash Wednesday. Let the students feel, smell, and touch the ashes. (Yes, you’ll probably have one or two who would like to taste them too!) Begin to unpack the readings from Ash Wednesday.
Week 2 – Platter with sand and rocks sitting on burlap. Talk about Jesus’ time in the desert and the desert times in our own lives. We focus on the dryness and colorlessness of the desert and the absence of pretty things in creation we take for granted. It’s a great reflection on the way Christ pulled away from comforts so he could focus on his Father’s Will. Jeremiah 29:11 is a great prayer and study verse for this week. God’s plan for our life isn’t all gardens and sunshine. Jesus was not abandoned in that desert, it was a time of fasting, prayer and meditation on the Father’s will. We can all use that in our life. The burlap is symbolic of the sackcloth mentioned in Scripture. We talk about it as a sign of outward penance and repentance. It’s the perfect week to focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I often have enough rocks in the display for each student to hold on to one as they sit in quiet prayer and reflection. You can have them paint or decorate the rocks to take home at the end of the week to use as a centering object in their own personal prayer time.
Week 3 – Live fish in a fishbowl. The focus of Lent is not death, it is about growing in holiness which leads to life…Eternal Life! Scripture is full of references to fish; everything from the ichthus fish to Jonah and the whale. You can study the miracles of the full net and loaves and fishes or the sorting of the fish and Jesus feeding his disciples cooked fish on the shore. The most powerful lesson in the fish however comes from our call to discipleship in Mark 4:19. The symbolisms and lessons are endless, compliments of a few cheap goldfish! It’s also a great reminder about our fast and abstinence obligations during Lent.
Week 4 – Crosses and daisies. I have students go outside and find two sticks about 4 inches long and we lash them together with purple yarn to make individual crosses to remind us of the cross Christ carried for our sins and the crosses Christ asks us to carry each day. I make a larger version of the same cross to place on the prayer table along with a bouquet of daisies. You can use craft sticks instead of twigs but the ruggedness of sticks has a beautiful Lenten feel. The daisies are a reminder that there is always beauty along the way. The daisies are the blessings and graces we receive even in the midst of our suffering.
Week 5 – Bread, salt and light. A simple loaf of french bread, a bowl of salt and a candle will do. These three items lead to great discussion about the temptation of Jesus, our call to be salt of the earth and to let the light of Christ shine forth. A lesson on using our gifts and talents to build the Kingdom of God on Earth and not hiding our light or talents under a basket fits perfectly with these images. It’s a great time to do some study about the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Week 6 – Bowl of water. Scripture is so packed with references and conversation starters about water. It’s a great time to focus on the Sacrament of Baptism and renew Baptismal promises. We talk about the significance of our call to be servants issued by Jesus during the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. We often do a symbolic washing of each others hands prayer service with the bowl of water in our prayer corner. The hand washing is followed by a reflective writing assignment about ways we can serve others. Refresh, renew, purify and cleanse are perfect words to think about, discuss and write about. If you have a small running water fountain to add to your prayer corner, that would really add to he power of the discussion, reflection and silent prayer.
HolyWeek – (This display changes Monday instead of Wednesday) – Palms, crucifix, bread, coins, spikes and a crown of thorns. You can add any images you can think of to illustrate the richness, the power, the suffering and the sacrifice of the week. Take time to go through the Gospels and talk about each item and the way we will hear about them in the Holy Week Liturgies.
Easter Season – Don’t forget the happy ending! When the students return the day after Easter, the prayer corner is decorated with white and gold cloth, strips of gauze, fresh flowers and a picture of Divine Mercy Jesus.
As you help your students “see” Lent this year, may you be blessed with the grace and goodness of God.
Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic wife, mom, speaker, and teacher who writes from Michigan. She uses her sense of humor and her deep faith to help others discover the joy of being a child of God. Sheri also writes at JoyfulWords.org.