Easter is coming and the stores are filling their shelves with bunnies, eggs, and Easter baskets. The items are bright and inviting with themes from Disney characters to superheroes. But as Christians we often wonder, “What does this have to do with the real meaning of Easter?”
Bunnies, eggs, and baskets point us to new life. For the very young child this new life can be seen in baby chicks pecking their way out of eggshells, baby bunnies, and blooming flowers. God plans for Spring to be a season of rebirth. It can be a time of wonder for young and old alike. Our job is to help young children experience that wonder and then relate it to remembering Jesus.
Here are some ways to help young children experience new life:
- Plant a flower and watch it grow.
- Go to a feed store or farmers supply store that has baby chicks or baby ducks and enjoy seeing the newborn animals. (Do not buy them and bring them home unless you are willing to care for them for their lifetime!)
- Visit an animal shelter and admire the baby puppies, kitties, and bunnies.
- Dye eggs.
- Look in picture books and online to discover what animals hatch from eggs—it’s not just chickens!
- Look for butterflies. Go online or to the library to find out about the life cycle of butterflies. Visit a butterfly garden. Plant your own butterfly garden.
In the midst of your experiences, remind the child that God plans for new life. God plans for eggs to hatch, for baby animals to be born, and flowers to grow. Then simply state something like, “God’s plan for new life at Easter time helps us remember Jesus.” Or “Easter is a special time to remember Jesus and new life.”
As children grow they are ready to discover more about Jesus and the Resurrection. You don’t have to eliminate Easter baskets, instead help the children see the connection between new life in God’s world and new life in Jesus.
Older children will still enjoy experiencing new life in God’s world. But now we can add to the children’s understanding by layering more details about the life of Jesus. In educational terms this is called scaffolding. We’re building on information the children already know.
For instance eggs point to more than new life in nature. When dying eggs talk with the children about the egg as a symbol of Jesus’ death and resurrection: The hard shell of the egg reminds us of the tomb. The cracking of the egg reminds us that Jesus was resurrected out of the tomb. Even the colors have their own symbolism: red reminds of Jesus’ great love for us, purple is the color of lent, blue reminds us of Jesus’ birth.
Eastertime also gives us the opportunity to talk with children about death. For young children, it’s enough to hear that Jesus died. If asked why you can respond that some people did not like the things Jesus taught about God so they had him killed. At this age you do not need to go into the details of how Jesus died. If you want to bring in the cross, keep your information simple. The cross helps us remember that Jesus died.
Again, as children grow they are ready for more information. Early elementary children can understand the cross as the way Jesus was killed. They do not, however, need to hear the frightening details. Older elementary children can handle more of the details leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross.
Always remind the children that God was with Jesus as Jesus died.
Children of all ages can celebrate the joyous news that Jesus lives. Easter worship is often filled with wonderful sensory experiences such as the smell of flowers, the sounds of trumpets, and the sight of everyone dressed in their best clothes. Encourage families to let their children participate in the celebration and feel the joy that surrounds this holy day.
Remind your children that Easter is a special day to remember Jesus and how much God loves each one of us.
Daphna Flegal is the lead editor for children’s resources at The United Methodist Publishing House and proud grandmother. She is also the author of From a Deep Blue Night to a Bright Morning Light.