These activities can be used both at home and in classrooms. They accommodate children between the ages of 2-8.
Easter Season and Creation
Jesus and Water
A Play about Saint John the Baptist
Saint Paul Story and Booklet
Helping young children come to appreciate Mary is not difficult. They can easily understand that she was a loving mommy to little Jesus. You can speak too of Mary being a mother to us all, whom we cannot see, but nonetheless watches over and loves us.
There are many delightful and tender traditions surrounding our blessed Mother. One is the use of flowers to symbolize different aspects of Mary. Below is the text for a booklet about some of these flowers. Make a copy for each child. They can illustrate the pages themselves, or use photos of the flowers to paste into the booklet and then assemble it. Craft stores may carry at least one of these flowers in silk. Bring in these (or real ones if possible) to place on the table when children are making their books.
The booklets can be just a lesson in a Catholic tradition, but can also be given as a mother’s day gift. Consider too having the children making booklets to give to older women in your parish.
PAGE 1: COVER/TITLE:
(text) MARY’S FLOWERS
PAGE 2: Flower: Forget-Me-Nots
(text) Some people call these tiny flowers “Mary’s Eyes”, for they are like Mary’s eyes, looking at us with love.
PAGE 3: Flower: Lily
(text) Beautiful lilies are often used to celebrate Mary’s feast days. In paintings of Mary speaking to the angel Gabriel, he is often holding a white “Madonna Lily.”
PAGE 4: Flower: Morning Glory
(text) Some call this ‘Our Lady’s Mantle’, meaning Mary’s cape. She may have used her mantle to keep Baby Jesus safe and warm.
PAGE 5: Flower: Cornflower (also called Bachelor Button)
(text) This flower looks like a tiny crown, so they are called Mary’s Crown, for she is the Queen of Heaven.
Page 6: Flower: Rose
(text) The glorious rose is a sign of Mary herself. She is called the ‘Mystical Rose”. The word ‘rosary’ first meant a rose garden.
(text) This is an herb used in cooking. An old story tells that when Mary laid Baby Jesus’ clothes on a bush to dry, its white flowers turned blue! People started calling that little bush “rosemary”, for Mary.
Many Catholic adults, particularly women, have fond memories of the May Crownings of their childhoods. This is a beautiful tradition to pass onto young Catholics. In doing so, why not tap into a resource of people who already know and love this custom? Invite to your classroom people from the parish who are interested in participating in a May Crowning with your young students.
Before the event, gather materials:
- A statue of Mary
- Blue cloth (if possible, velvet, satin or spangled with stars)
- Several vases (size dependent on the size of flowers you use)
- Crown (if time permits, have one of your guests and students make the crown of silk flowers)
- Flowers (real or silk); or potted flowering plants such as African Violets, or potted bulbs such as hyacinth
- Table or other surface to hold the statue
- Picture book of Mary
Mary, the Mother of Jesus by Tomie de Paola is readily available and has wonderful illustrations of Mary at different points in her life; if time is limited, you can just look at each illustration and paraphrase the text;
Be aware that there is one small illustration of a mother weeping over a child slain because of Herod’s order. It is not explicit by any means and it is with a much larger and assuring illustration of Mary and little Jesus in Egypt but if you choose to show that picture, be prepared for questions.
If your event can be more elaborate, consider obtaining:
- a small pillow for carrying the crown
- streamers of blue ribbons for children to wave
- small flowers to put into children’s hair or to clutch.
- Refreshments, such as cookies or cake
- Icons or illustrations of Mary to be held high during the procession
If possible, find a musician to lead the songs, or play piano or guitar at the May Crowning. There are traditional songs for May Crownings. Two examples are Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above and Immaculate Mary. Look in a parish songbook or online. Some of your guests may remember the melodies if you supply the words.
On the day of the big event, have all materials ready. However, keep fresh or silk flowers back. As people arrive, inquire of a few guests if they would be willing to talk briefly about their memories of May Crownings from their childhoods. Find one adult open to be the crown bearer and another to crown the statue. This takes away any competition amongst the children for these honored roles.
When all have arrived, gather children and guests together and read the picture book. Hold the statue for the children to see and explain that to honor Mary, you will be creating a beautiful prayer service, called a May Crowning.
Next, encourage everyone to begin work on setting up. Some can spread the blue cloth, others can make the crown, get the refreshments set up for later, etc. If you have real flowers, an adult and children can get water for the vases and place the vases near the statue when the altar is ready. Take time to create a pretty setting.
When all is ready, assemble as a group, modeling a reverent but joyful attitude. Say the ‘Hail Mary” together. Then give children the flowers and have them process to the altar, bringing flowers and placing them in vases. Toddlers, accompanied by an adult or older child, will love to march along. Encourage adults to sing as they do this. After all the flowers have been placed in vases, have the chosen adults process to the altar for the actual crowning.
Sing another song, wave streamers and enjoy the beauty. When finished, celebrate with a bit of a feast!
Easter Season and Creation
Easter is a joyful season that lasts for fifty days of our liturgical calendar—taking us well past March and April. While it may be challenging to maintain a sense of celebration that long, you do have help! The warming spring weather and resultant greening of our yards and neighborhoods often contribute to this sense of joy. As your children are reveling in the springtime, help them connect God’s gift of nature to them.
On a sunny day, go outside with a beautiful picture book about Creation. (Two older but still excellent books are The Story of Creation by Jane Ray, which is also included in a newer book called Let There Be Light, and The Creation by poet James Weldon Johnson.) Read the story and then have children start looking around and naming things they can see, hear or smell that are part of God’s Creation.
If you plant seeds in cups or in the ground, talk about the gift of seeds from God. In digging in the soil, if you find bugs or worms, talk about God creating even these tiny creatures that have important work to do in the world. Discuss what this work is.
Watch clouds. Feel the wind on your faces. Take a walk and search for trees and bushes that are budding. Look for ants. Compare textures of tree barks. And always refer back to these things as God’s gifts.
And back inside, place a statue of Jesus on the table and remind children that God’s greatest gift to us was Jesus.
Pentecost is a feast day rich with symbolism. This will speak to young children long before they understand the events described in the Acts of the Apostles. Give your little students ample opportunities to explore the symbols of fire, dove and wind in a variety of ways. Add a prayer that hints at the meaning of the symbols too.
On a table, place several pillar candles, preferably red. After gathering the children around the table, explain that everyone will use caution when the candles are lit. Encourage silence as you light the candles. Then quietly tell children that one of the names we have for God is the Holy Spirit. While watching the flames, pray together:
[All] Come Holy Spirit!
[Adult] Come fill our hearts with the warmth of your love.
[All] Come Holy Spirit!
[Adult] Come to us like the gentle dove flies to its nest.
[All} Come Holy Spirit.
[Adult} Come to us like the wind and bring us wisdom.
[All] Come Holy Spirit! Amen.
At the art table, offer large white paper cut into flame shapes and paints in fire colors of red, orange and yellow.
Another day, give children small amounts of self-hardening white clay (the equivalent of about ½ cup) and suggest they form doves. Have photos or books with illustrations of doves to help them, but accept whatever they can make. Consider giving them white feathers (purchased in craft stores) to add to their creations for tails or wings.
Make prints of doves: purchase stamps with dove imprints, cookies cutters in this shape, carve simple dove shapes onto a cut potato or cut a dove shape from a sponge. Provide dark paper if you have white ink or tempera paint, or else white paper if using dark ink or paint. Get ready for a plethora of doves!
Repeat the prayer before or after these projects.
In an outdoor play space, tie red ribbons so they will catch the breeze—onto a climber, fence, bushes or trees. Stand near the ribbons and repeat the Holy Spirit prayer.
If dandelions are nearby and in seed, have children use their own wind to blow the fluffy seeds off the stem;
In a large indoor area, such as a gym, have children lie on the floor and give each one a feather to blow to a designated point in the room. Like wiggly worms, they can crawl to keep up with their feathers.
At a table, place painting paper onto trays or cookie sheets. Give each child a drinking straw and a choice of two colors made of thin tempera paint. Put 2-3 teaspoons of paint on one end of the paper and children can use the straws to blow the colors across the page. Point out what happens when the colors mix.
Jesus and Water
Warm weather and water play go together for young children. This summer, use this love of water to introduce children to stories of Jesus. As he lived near water, and used water imagery in his teachings, it is a common topic in many Christian scriptures. Suggestions for stories are listed below. The children will not fully grasp the scripture meanings as they might understand the Nativity scriptures, but the aim here is to familiarize them with these scriptures. This is not a formal lesson, but a way of keeping Jesus in mind on a warm day.
Draw a simple fish outline on a piece of cardstock or construction paper, about 6 inches long. Cut this out and use it as a pattern for six more fish. On each fish, write a scripture citation:
Mark 1:9-11 (Jesus’ baptism)
John 2:6-10 (changing water into wine)
Matthew 4:18-22 (Jesus meets and calls the fishermen to follow him)
Mark 6:45-51 (Jesus walks on water)
Mark 9:41 (Jesus talks about giving a drink of water)
Luke 5:1-11 (the miraculous fish catch)
John 21:2-11(Jesus appears on the lake shore after his Resurrection)
Attach a paper clip to each fish. Make a fishing pole out of a dowel or stick and a length of yarn for line. Tie a small magnet to the end of the line. Experiment with sizes of paperclips to make certain the fish can be ‘caught’ with the magnet.
Spread a blanket on the floor and scatter the fish on this. Allow the children to go ‘fishing’ from the ‘shore’. When it is story time, choose one child to catch that day’s ‘story fish.” Read the scripture story listed on the fish (Read from a children’s bible or paraphrase the scripture). Mention that Jesus lived near water and many people worked to catch fish for their jobs. Then offer water related activities, and refer back to the stories as children play.
- Fill a water table or several dish pans with water and marine life plastic animals, small boats, etc.
- Bring in three or four cardboard boxes, each big enough for a child to sit in. These can become ‘boats’. Designate an area of the room or playground as the sea; suggest they fish like Jesus’ good friends.
- Serve cold water to thirsty children and together say a thank-you prayer for the gift of clean water.
- Using an eyedropper, drop a small amount of food coloring onto absorbent paper (coffee filters work well). Have children drip water onto the paper with eyedroppers, watch the color spread and become less intense.
- Have children help you name all the ways they use water in the classroom. Suggest they do this at home with family members.
- Spread a length of blue paper on the art table and suggest children create a mural of underwater life with paints or markers. Provide a book or magazine with pictures of a variety of fish and other marine life.
- Cut clean sponges into fish shapes and have children make fish prints with paint and the sponges.
A Play about John the Baptist
Of all the feasts in the Christian year, there are only three celebrations of births: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist, each filled with the Holy Spirit before birth.
Consider putting on a simple play about John’s nativity, observed June 24th. This often has a greater impact than listening to a story. Adults and children can participate with little preparation. No actor speaks but should be encouraged to mime.
- Narrator: an adult to tell the story
- Crowd: at least four people
- A doll
Story: Based on Luke 1:5-25; 39-45; 57-80.
Scene 1: Zechariah, Gabriel, and the Crowd
Narrator: Zechariah and Elizabeth were good people, but they were sad because they had no children.
Some people were praying at the temple. Zechariah was praying there too, in another room. Suddenly, the great angel Gabriel was with him! Gabriel said, “Zechariah, you and Elizabeth are going to have a baby boy! Name him John. God says John will grow up to be a very holy man!”
Zechariah was shocked—first an angel, now this news! He wouldn’t believe it. “Well now,” said Gabriel, “you won’t be able to talk until John is born!” Gabriel went away. Zechariah tried to tell the people what happened, but he had no voice!
Scene 2: Elizabeth and Mary
Narrator: Gabriel was right: Elizabeth was going to have a baby. She and the silent Zechariah were very happy. Mary, Elizabeth’s cousin, came to visit. Mary was expecting Baby Jesus. “Mary!” cried Elizabeth. “My baby is so happy you’ve come! Both babies are gifts from God!” They hugged and visited.
Scene 3: Elizabeth, doll, Zechariah, the Crowd
When John was born, friends came over. “What’s the baby’s name?” they asked. Zechariah wrote down, “John.” Right away, Zechariah could talk! And he talked and talked, thanking God for John and all God’s blessings.
Saint Paul Story and Booklet
June 29 is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the most influential saints of all 2000 years of Christianity. Here is a story and an activity to introduce your children to Saint Paul.
This story lends itself to many actions on the part of the storyteller. Enjoy being animated and encourage the children to join you in the actions. Some examples are: displaying a determined facial expression, shaking a finger when Saul disapproved of Christians, shading the eyes from the bright light, act out writing when Paul writes his epistles, swaying from side to side while speaking of the shipwrecks.
A Determined Man
Long ago, there was a man named Saul. He was very smart. He was also very determined.
(Discuss the meaning of the word ‘determined’ (someone who does not give up) so children truly get a picture of a determined individual)
Saul heard of Jesus and about what Jesus had taught. He didn’t like what he heard.
“This is not a good idea!” Saul said. “I must do something right away!”
Remember, Saul was a very determined man!
Saul decided to go see Jesus’ friends. He’d tell them to quit talking about Jesus!
But as he traveled, he suddenly saw a light so bright, he had to cover his eyes. He even fell down!
“Saul! Saul” a voice called. It was Jesus!
Saul couldn’t see anything, but he now understood that Jesus was calling him to teach others the good things Jesus had taught.
So Saul changed. He even changed his name to Paul. Now he understood that Jesus was good and what he taught was right. Paul became a teacher and a writer.
But in one way he did not change: he was still determined!
Paul traveled for years, teaching others about Jesus. He had some amazing adventures!
One time, he had to escape from people who disagreed with him. He hid in a big basket and his friends snuck him away.
Sometimes people who were against Jesus put Paul into jail. Still determined to keep teaching, Paul wrote letters to people about Jesus’ teachings while he was in jail.
He traveled on ships and three times the ship got wrecked! But determined Paul kept going!
So Paul went on for years, teaching and showing hundreds of people how to live as Jesus taught. For Paul was a very determined man!
Older children may enjoy creating their own booklets of this story. Here is the text for the story, with page breaks. Refer back to the earlier story for ideas for drawings for each page. After they have written a version of the story and drawn the pictures, assemble the pages in the correct order and staple together.
A Very Determined Man: A Story of Saint Paul
PAGE 2 and 3 (spread):
Paul was a smart and determined man. One day he saw a bright light and heard Jesus calling him to be a great teacher.
PAGE 4 and 5 (spread):
Paul was determined to be a great teacher. Certain people didn’t like this. They put him in jail sometimes. There he wrote letters so he could keep teaching.
PAGE 6 and 7 (spread):
When he was out of jail, Paul was still determined to teach. He went on dangerous trips to see people and introduce them to Jesus’ words and love for us.
PAGE 8, BACK COVER:
Over many years, Paul told hundreds of people about Jesus, for he was a very determined man!