Lent is approaching; a time of penance, it allows us to prepare for the Pascal mystery in Holy Week. This can be a hard time for children to understand, particularly when they are young. Yet experiencing the change of season is an important part of spiritual development.

Some of the things that help children enter into Lent and Holy Week are church traditions, biblical images of Lent and the fact that it happens in real time. Here are some Church traditions that can be used at home.

Beginning Lent well is important. Shrove Tuesday is a very important way to start. Having a big feast of pancakes, savoury and sweet, emphasises the simplicity of Ash Wednesday, the following day. The traditional Lenten fast was giving up animal products, sugar, alcohol, and oil. Pancakes was a very of using up eggs, milk, cheese that was still in the house. Of course, Sundays are all feast days so even in days before fridges these things could be used once a week. It does underline what we are giving up. Our savoury pancakes have cheesey sauce, with more cheese on top!

Ash Wednesday is the first day of fasting. Mass contains the Ashing (a cross of ashes on the forehead). Going to Mass as a family helps sets the tone for the rest of the season and helps emphasis the contrast with Shrove Tuesday. The ashing, being physical and visual helps even young children begin to get a sense of this change.

Changing the food we eat is one way that children can start to experience Lent. We have friends who make sure that food in Lent is very simple. We give up sweet food.

We also have no use of the computer, except for homework. Not having DVDs or games suddenly frees up time to do other things and makes praying in the evenings easier as a result (there are also less arguments).

Cafod are doing a fast for water for Lent and Tearfund are promoting a carbon fast. Both these initiative can make whole families aware of the damage our consumption does and help them see life from the point of view of those who have very little.

For children any form of fasting helps deepen their identification with Christ in the desert. Sometimes fasting is hard. What Jesus did in the desert was also hard, and so was the journey to the cross.

As with any change in season and family prayers, take time to think about what might work and try one thing at a time. If children have never fasted before, you might want to start with one thing as a family. See what works and let children know that it is difficult and if they slip up it doesn’t matter, they can pick it up again.