Create a ‘Jesus tree’ to teach your kids about the Lord during Lent
In our busy lives and hectic world, sometimes it takes a stark reminder like Lent to shake us up and reorder our priorities, to remember that our earthly lives are about preparing for eternal life.
As adults, we take steps to increase our prayer life, “fast” from things that distract or turn us from God and learn new ways to welcome God into our lives.
But for children, Lent can seem like the longest 40 days, and dreary ones at that. As parents, we have the responsibility of teaching our children about eternal life and a life centered on God. Lent provides us a joyful opportunity to help our children develop a deeper relationship with Jesus by learning more about him, his life and why he gave it up for us.
One way to do that is using a “Jesus tree.” It’s similar to the Jesse tree activity of Advent that focuses on the Old Testament people and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The Jesus tree uses New Testament readings that highlight Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection.
While adults or older siblings read aloud daily Scripture verses, younger children color an “ornament” drawing that corresponds with the Scripture. Afterward, they attach the ornament to a tree branch - real, artificial, or made of paper or fabric. By the time Easter arrives, not only is the “tree” full, but so are the children’s minds.
(If your family’s weeknights are busy, color a week’s worth of ornaments on a Sunday. Then, after the daily Scripture verses are read, that day’s ornament is ready to be hung on the tree.)
Photo: Janis Olson
Ellen Bollard, Northwest Catholic’s presentation editor, has used the Jesus tree for years - at home when her children were young, and also as a take-home activity for faith formation families in her role as religious education coordinator at Assumption Parish in Seattle.
The tree helps children get to know Jesus better by focusing on his life throughout Lent, Bollard said, and helps them anticipate Easter. “It builds excitement in the children counting down the days to the feast,” she said.
Bollard originally purchased a felt kit (similar to one at leafletonline.com) for her family. Later, inspired by the kit, she drew ornaments and symbols to photocopy for her religious education students to use at home with their families. (You can download and print your own copies of her drawings at NWCatholic.org/ornaments.)
One idea for hanging the hand-colored ornaments comes from Bollard’s childhood. She remembers her mother always had an indoor “Easter tree” - branches from a cherry tree or forsythia that looked dead and lifeless, but by Easter were full of blooms. “I think that would be a great way to do it,” she said.
Or cut a tree or branch shape from paper and affix the ornaments. You can also cut the ornaments from felt and place them on a felt cross - the “tree” on which Jesus was hung.
I am excited that my family will have a new activity and catechesis tool to explore this year. We’ll enjoy using our creativity to make a colorful countdown to Easter. These 40 days won’t seem quite so long while we are busy learning, crafting and, most importantly, focusing on Jesus!
May you enjoy this Lenten season to the fullest.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam! All for the greater glory of God!
Northwest Catholic - March 2019