Suffer The Little Children: Helping Kids Understand Easter
As a mother of two young children, I often find myself using my theater background at home. (After all, on some level, theater is just the grown-up version of "pretend" isn't it?)
So I was frustrated when my three-year-old daughter's Sunday school class wasn't keeping her interest. Of course, I asked myself, "Is it my daughter? Is she just not listening? Why is she bored?" And I soon found my answer. The materials the teacher was using were simply above the students' heads. The stories were long and drawn out and had little or no action to them. In short, there was no drama.
The teacher (a volunteer) quickly came to the same conclusion I had, and she knew something had to change. She desperately wanted these children to know about Jesus Christ and all he has done for us. But she needed a way to make the stories sink in.
Her first attempt came during Advent, the preparation for Christmas. She wanted the children to understand the Christmas story before Christmas so they'd "get" the Christmas services. So, one Sunday morning, she split the class into Mary and Joseph pairs. She had a hobbyhorse that served as a donkey. Parent volunteers were enlisted to play innkeepers.
Each Mary and Joseph took a turn riding the donkey around the room to the different innkeepers. At each inn, they'd knock on the door (pretend, of course) and repeat the line, "Any rooms?" To which the innkeeper would reply, "Sorry, no rooms." When they got to the final innkeeper, he replied, "I don't have any rooms, but you can stay in my stable with the animals." After each pair had their turn, the teacher told them the rest of the story. And she held their attention. They had participated in the storytelling through simple drama. It was on their level, and it sunk in. For weeks afterwards, my daughter had us act it out at home. She would knock (on the dinner table, on the wall, on air) and say, "Any rooms?" My husband and I would each be an innkeeper, one denying her entrance, the other allowing her to go to the stable. Then, with a little prompting, she'd tell us the rest of the story. The drama had struck a chord with her like no other lesson plan could.
I told the teacher what an impact she'd had; she said she had another drama planned for Easter. This time, she made the students "Resurrection Eggs" - tangible props to help them tell the story. She brought plastic eggs and materials to put in them and had each child bring an empty egg carton. The first week, she discussed the first six eggs and had the children fill their eggs with the props. The second week, they finished the last six eggs. Armed with their props, the students helped her tell the story of Jesus' Passion. At the end, to drive the point home, she had the children stand up. Together, they said that Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. (A hard concept for three-year-olds to grasp.) She had them crouch down and bury their heads in their knees. Then they counted to three (to represent the three days Jesus spent in the tomb) and jumped up, shouting, "Then he rose out of the tomb! Alleluia!" Again, their own participation in telling the story sunk in. The teacher was able to focus on explaining some of the harder concepts of Easter and what the word "Alleluia" meant, and the children found it fascinating because they had taken part in it.
Now, weeks after Easter, my daughter continues to play "In the Tomb, Out of the Tomb" at home. And each game ends with "Alleluia!" It warms my heart.
When parents were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed, the disciples dismissed them, saying the Master didn't have time. But Jesus rebuked the disciples, saying, "Suffer the little children to come unto me. Suffer them and do not hinder them." We're often guilty of dismissing children's ability to understand, so we just tell them the stories of Jesus without making sure our format is appropriate. By using simple dramatizations, we can open the world of Jesus and his love to children of all ages and build a foundation that will last a lifetime - and beyond. Alleluia indeed!