My sister sends frequent Snap Chats of my three year old nephew in a continuing series she call “Rat or Toddler?” They are pictures of the messes my little buddy leaves behind. A clawed Babybel cheese, shredded paper, a trail of crumbs leading out to the yard – evidence of the little people we love learning, exploring, and growing.
Because their little hearts are so open and they want to be a part of our celebrations, especially this most important holiday of the year, I have been asking myself, “How do I teach my little one about Holy Week?” Her attention span is short at 22 months and the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is so complex. Or is it? The gospel is, after all, told in the easiest form to understand and remember – narrative. That is to say, it is told in a story form.
I ran into a beautiful board book for toddlers that covers Holy Week through the lens of exploring emotions:
|Holy Week: An Emotions Primer|
By Danielle Hitchen & Jessica Blanchard
My baby loves the “surprised” face of the women discovering the empty tomb on the next to last page. We are reading it every morning of Holy Week. I was introduced to this author and her series of board books by one of my favorite bloggers, Happy Home Fairy.
The great introduction to Holy Week for my little one, that she really connected with, started out with a booklet distributed by the children’s ministry at my church, adapted from the Holy Week in a Box idea at adventuresinmommydom.org. I knew that if I gave her a little meeple to play with, she would begin a search and destroy mission targeting all meeples in my teen daughters’ board games. So instead of the suggested meeple, I chose a plastic figurine. Don’t get all judgy on me here, but I thought Aladdin looked closest to Jesus. Prince Charming’s snazzy suit didn’t seem right. Jafar was out of the question. I pulled a little horse out of the figurine box and and a little silk flower branch to stand in for palm branches. I acted out the story for her, using the figurines. That was apparently the best thing I have ever done! She wanted it re-enacted 20 times. Each time I encouraged her to act out more of the story herself. We put the “Holy Week toys” in a gift bag and put them on counter for tomorrow.
The next morning I mentioned reading the Holy Week book after breakfast. My baby disappeared for a minute and came running back with the gift bag. She spread the toys out and motioned for me to sit and act out the Palm Sunday story again. Next I added another chapter for her. I gave her pennies and told her Jesus was angry that people tried to turn God’s house into a store. We mimicked Jesus’ face in the Holy Week book and told the people to “Stop!”
Following the temple clean up, Jesus healed all the sick people. I dragged my passing 16 year old down to the floor with us and told her to pretend to be blind. Jesus healed her and we all raised our hands to say “Thank you, Jesus!” Or “Praise God!” We tried it with my oldest daughter’s ears and arm, too. This was awesome to my little one. My oldest had to lay on the floor and be healed head to toe, over and over again. “Again! Again!” was all we heard.
I knew then that we had found a great method for teaching our baby some basic truths coinciding with Holy Week. First, Jesus deserves our praise. Second, Jesus heals. Wednesday we will play Jesus washing the disciples feet. I think the Jafar figurine might make a good Judas. I have a good tiny cup and bread for Thursday’s Passover supper in the Hobbit Lego set.
Play is the best learning environment for small children. Little ones naturally want to repeat whatever they enjoy. Similarly, I used this same concept to teach history when my older children were little: using paper dolls, little army men, Legos, play figurines, doll house people, and costumes. You can read more about that here. Play learning works every time, as I was reminded once again. Happy Holy Week!
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