These activities can be used both at home and in classrooms. They accommodate children between the ages of 2-8.
It really is a New Year
A New Year, A New Responsibility
Hope in the New Year
Saint John Bosco
Getting to Know Jesus
Taking Valentines Beyond Cartoon Figures
It Really is a New Year
A new year is upon us, but this fact may be lost on little kids. After all, the natural season doesn’t change and winter may go on for a couple of more months. It is not the beginning of a school year. So other than seeing that there is a new number on the calendar, or that a new calendar is needed, it is not obvious to young children that there is any thing new about this time of year.
In fact, they may be experiencing the winter doldrums. Here are some suggestions for helping children start anew:
Explain that it is a new year, and this new year should be started in a clean classroom. If at home, choose one room. Young children love to play at cleaning and it is a physical way to understand the symbolism of life anew. Give them cleaning supplies so they can wash dolls or toys, scrub tables and shelves, dust books, sweep the floor, take down curtains, wash bedding and stuffed animals, etc. In a classroom, depending on your time and situation, children can also help you take down any ‘old’ artwork or bulletin board displays and replace them with new ones.
If possible, bring in a bouquet of flowers after the cleaning is finished.
When everything is clean and fresh, have a talk about other ways to start a new year. Discuss what it means to have a clean and new heart. If necessary, help children understand you are not referring to their physical hearts, but mean experiencing new feelings and trying new actions. Suggest three ways they can ‘start clean and new’, such as telling someone you are sorry, saying a new prayer the child composes, making a new friend, helping someone who needs help, looking at a book never ‘read’ before, etc.
Have a simple chart ready: divide a large piece of paper into three equal parts. In each part, draw a symbol for each of the ways your class will be ‘starting clean and new’, such as two stick people holding hands, for ‘making a new friend.’
Each time you meet for the next few days or during the month, look at the chart together and ask if anyone has done one of the ‘starting fresh and new’ activities. Let them put a ‘new heart’ sticker on the chart for what they have done. This can easily be adapted for use in your home too.
This ‘new, clean heart’ activity will be a logical lead-in to loving each other for Valentine’s Day in February!
You will need:
Squirt bottles (with water only)
Sponges or damp cloths
Child –sized broom
Doll or toy cleaning supplies:
Small basin and water
Dolls and toys that can get wet
Large piece of paper
Fresh flowers and a vase of water
If redoing bulletin boards, have prepared what you want to put up
A New Year, A New Responsibility
Parents and teachers often comment on how suddenly, almost overnight, a child seems to mature. They notice an increase in vocabulary and sentence structure, and improvement in skills of drawing, cutting, etc. The child may even seem to be inch taller.
As a preschool teacher, I often felt that after Christmas vacation, the class as a whole seemed older. They settled more quickly into the routine of class time, the topics we discussed were a little more challenging, etc. This is not surprising, given that now the children had experienced about four months of the school year.
This maturing, coming at the turn of the year, offers a teacher an opportunity to show children that January can be a fresh start.
At group time, show children the calendar, explaining that while the school year is not new, our calendar year is. Tell them you feel that they are ready for something new too. Let them know that you have seen how grown-up they have become since September, and how proud you are of them. Then introduce some new routines, responsibilities and projects.
For new routines or responsibilities, create a chart that children can easily follow, even without being able to read anything but their names. For example, if you serve snack or lunch, on a Monday, write a child’s name and draw a simple cup, which indicates that child will help set the table by placing cups in front of each child.
Some suggestions of responsibilities you may want to add:
- If you have plants in your classroom, place some of these where a child can water them. Place saucers with small stones under the plant to avoid a mess and an over-watered plant from a zealous gardener.
- A child can be in charge of turning off unused lights (he or she should ask you first before turning them off.)
- A child can be in charge of standing at the doorway to give notes, newsletter, etc. to parents at the end of the class time.
- If you have visitors, have hospitality jobs, such as making sure they have places to sit, have a snack, etc. Similarly, if a new child joins the class, have several children welcome the child by offering to sit next to the new child at circle time, be partners at gym time, etc.
- Add individual tasks to clean-up: after clean-up of toys, have two children assigned to go around the room to make certain everything is put away; two children can wipe off the tables after snack; a child can keep the ‘library’ tidy by straightening book shelves, stacking floor pillows, etc.
- Have children take turns leading the snack or lunchtime prayer. They may use a memorized prayer or say a spontaneous one.
In short, assign jobs that help children feel that now they are capable of greater contributions to their class.
Some suggestions for projects:
- If your parish has a group of adults who send out get well cards to shut-ins or hospitalized parishioners, start a project where once every two weeks your class draws pictures to be included in these cards. Have one child check the calendar to see when the drawing day is coming up and announce that to the class. Another child can be in charge of setting out the supplies, and another can collect the pictures and place them in a large envelope. If your school and parish office are connected, perhaps a child could deliver the drawings to that office.
- If you celebrate birthdays or saints’ feast days, create a table setting committee and a table decorating committee (provide this group with silk flowers and vases, paper placemats, saint statues, etc). Assign a birthday crown-maker, and other to make a poster (“Happy Birthday Kayla!). Include one child who can write in this group, but the others need only decorate with crayons.
Then enjoy watching your ‘grown-up’ kids rising to the challenges!
Hope in the New Year
Young children are among the most hopeful people in a society. Perhaps it is an unconscious understanding that they have all of life and its possibilities before them, or perhaps it is that they tend to find hope and pleasure in small things, which happen frequently. Children are intuitive, and it is with intuition that they understand hope. This may be because they “are so fresh from God”, as Charles Dickens put it!
A New Testament story that young children can identify with is that of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). For adults, it is about a man seeking forgiveness and a fresh start, a good story for starting a new year. For young children, though, it is a story about someone short like themselves, who, in his excitement, runs and climbs a tree, hoping to see Jesus. It is hope that is emphasized in the version of the story below. Read it to children. If you have a picture bible, show them an illustration of Zacchaeus as you read this story.
Hoping to See Jesus
One day, Jesus was in a city called Jericho. Many, many people there hoped to see Jesus. Crowds lined up where they knew he would soon come.
One of these people was a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus hoped very much to see Jesus, for he had been selfish. Perhaps he wanted to tell Jesus he was going to change his ways. Maybe he was hoping to really have a chance to talk with Jesus, or even to have dinner with him.
People kept coming. Zacchaeus realized he could never see Jesus in the crowd, for he was very short. All around him were taller people. So, quickly he ran down the road and climbed a sycamore tree. There he sat high up on a branch, hoping he would see Jesus.
Soon, Jesus arrived. When Jesus and the crowd of people reached the sycamore tree, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Zacchaeus climbed down from the tree as fast as he could. He was filled with joy!
Discuss ‘hope’ with the children after reading the story:
- Do you ever hope you will get a treat at the grocery store?
- Do you ever hope you can have a friend come over to play?
- Zacchaeus was hoping he would see Jesus. Let’s paint pictures about Zacceaus’ hope.
Provide various colors of paint, brushes, and large sheets of paper for each child. If paints are not available, provide many colors of markers, but paint will allow children to best express themselves. Stand back and allow children and their intuition to create works of art! Display these with the title “Zaccheaus’ Hope” where guests or parishioners will see them.
Saint John Bosco
January 31 is the feast of Saint John Bosco (1815-1888). As he was a clever child with particularly high energy, there are many stories of his antics that would entertain children. He became an exceptional priest, working tirelessly for justice for homeless children in Italy. Introduce children to this fascinating person to celebrate his feast day.
Below is a story of his life. Each section contains suggestions for having children mime the actions in the story as an adult reads it. They do not need props. Consider choosing several children for each section of the story to do the acting, so everyone gets to act and to be the audience.
Long ago in Italy, there was a wonderful little boy name John. His family worked very hard on their farm. Still, they were poor. His mother was a kind and holy woman. She loved her children and taught them that God loved them too.
John was an especially happy boy who cared about others. He was full of energy, and he was very smart. He could also juggle! He taught himself to do magic tricks! And he could walk on a tightrope!
SUGGESTION: Have three children pretend to work in a field; one to juggle, one to do magic tricks and another to walk a tight rope.
When John was eighteen years old, he wanted to study to become a priest. When he left home to go to the school, he wore hand-me-down clothes because his family could not afford new ones. Of course, he had to work so he could afford school. But with all his energy and talents, and his big smile, John found many jobs. He made candy, managed a restaurant, fixed shoes, and his favorite: he put on one-man shows with juggling and other things.
SUGGESTION: Have children mime these jobs.
John was a young man now. He discovered there were many children in the city who were poorer than he had ever been. They were hungry, lonely and cold. John felt so sad. He knew in his heart that God wanted him to help these children.
But how? First he had to get them to trust him. So, he juggled. Some children came to watch. He did magic tricks. More children came. He walked on a tightrope. And more children came. John gave them a picnic, and prayed with them. He talked with them about Jesus. Sometimes they went to Mass with him. Soon there were many children ready for John’s help.
SUGGESTION: Some children can mime hunger, others mime being cold; one child can be John, doing his tricks and praying with the children, the first children can watch him and pray with him.
John finished his studies and became a priest. Working very hard, he found places for the children to live. He took care of them in many ways: he taught them to read, he played ball with them and he showed them that he knew each one was smart and good. Fr. John sang with them, helped with homework, and cooked. He even cut their hair! Most importantly, he taught them what he had always known: that God loves us and wants us to come to love God too.
SUGGESTION: Have children mime John’s actions and have some be the children with him.
Who taught John that God loved him?
What were some of the things John could do? Which is your favorite?
Why did John help the hungry children in his city? How did he help?
Getting to Know Jesus
Pope Benedict wrote, “May Lent be for every Christian a renewal experience of God’s love given to us in Christ.”
For preschoolers, experiencing God’s love through Christ may be more of a first time event than a renewal. Many know the Nativity story well, but are less familiar with the loving adult Jesus. Help children prepare for Lent by getting to know the “grown-up Jesus.”
As Valentine’s Day approaches, the subject of love comes up. Use this to help children understand that Jesus himself is the ultimate example of love. Listed below are suggested Scriptures, and how each shows Jesus’ love. You can paraphrase them for young children to understand, or use a good children’s bible to read them.
Jesus shows his love by healing people:
- Matthew 14:13-19, the miracle of the loaves and fishes: Jesus sees the crowd waiting for him, and ‘his heart was moved’. First he cures the sick among them and then, concerned about hunger of everyone, performs a miracle to feed them.
- Mark 1: 40-41, the cleansing of a leper: Jesus is ‘moved with pity’ when the man approaches him.
- Mark 7: 53-56, Jesus goes to Gennesaret: there many sick people are brought to him and he heals them.
Jesus’ story that teaches us to love each other:
- Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan: This is perhaps the easiest parable for young children to understand, and it is all about loving and not loving.
Jesus’ story about how God loves and watches over us:
- Luke 15:3-6, the parable of the Lost Sheep: Children seem to intuitively understand Jesus’ analogy of people as sheep and God as the loving shepherd.
Jesus shows how to forgive:
- Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus: Preschoolers love the story about the short man who was bad sometimes! Help them understand that Jesus loved him and forgave him.
Jesus loves children:
- Matthew 19:13-15, the blessing of the children: Perhaps the Scripture that most reaches children is the one in which Jesus himself reached out to little ones.
Taking Valentines Beyond Cartoon Figures
Young children love to make and give valentines. Indulge this delight while helping them learn about Christian love.
You will need:
- Large heart shapes cut from paper (preferably in red, pink or light purple), one for each child (and a few extra in case of rips, etc.)
- Supplies for decorating the valentines: stickers, markers, glitter crayons, bits of ribbons and lace, paper lace doilies, etc.
- Glue stick
- Several copies of each of these quotes:
You learn to love by loving.
St. Francis de Sales
Be not afraid to tell Jesus you love Him.
St. Therese of Lisieux
Let us love one another, for love is from God.
1 John 4:7
Everything you do should be done with love.
1 Corinthians 16:14
Dear One, if God loved us so much, we also must love one another.
1 John 4:11
To make the valentines:
Show the children that you have large valentine hearts ready for them to make into cards. Ask each one to think of one person (outside of class) for whom they want to create a very special valentine.
Explain that on one side, they will decorate the card with stickers, ribbons, etc. For the other side, they will get to choose special words about love for this special person.
Gather the children around the table and let them begin creating their valentines with the supplies.
As they work, sit down with each child and read the list of quotes. Help the child think about which quote might be the best for their special person. Then help the child attach the quote on the undecorated side of the valentine, and help the child write “to _______ from _________.”
When the glue is dry and the glitter has settled, send the valentines home. Remind the children to ask their special person to read the quote out loud and talk together about the words.
Use these same quotes as a snack time prayer throughout the weeks around Valentine’s Day.