Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent for Pre-schoolers: Almsgiving

Our three-year-old is at the age where she's paying attention to everything, learns just by watching and listening, and wants to feel like she's contributing.  So this is the perfect time for family Lenten activities that she can be involved in!

I signed us up for Ginny's weekly writing prompts over at Not So Formulaic, and for the first week's prompt she was able to draw a picture for us and then I wrote down her description on the back.  We're going to keep our family letters in a nice little binder and look back on them when she's older as a fun way of remembering how much she's grown.

But I'm also trying to get her more involved in the three tenets of the Lenten season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  These are pretty big concepts for a pre-schooler- she only knows two prayers, she's exempt from the regular fast, and she doesn't own anything she could give away.

Still, we've come up with some ways to make this season more meaningful for her.

Every parent is familiar with the ritual post-Christmas purging of the old toys.  Every January finds our house stuffed to the brim with things she just doesn't need- it all seems to come in a rush since her birthday is in November and then Christmas comes right after.  I don't necessarily save this purging for January, either- pretty much after every gift-giving occasion I'm culling our inventory of unnecessary plastic objects.  (And since, on my side of the family, Chief is The First Grandbaby, any given Tuesday could be a gift-giving occasion.)  I've always been able to go through her things and decide what can be kept for future babies, what needs to be thrown out, and what could be given away while she's distracted by the Shiny New Thing (let's be honest- Things).

This year, though, I want things to be a little different.

For Christmas, Chief received a big, beautiful doll castle with a few dolls, and it just so happens to be a good size for a collection of little princess dolls she already had, too.  She's played with it probably every day since she opened it; it's definitely one of her favorite new toys.  For a couple of weeks, it sat on the floor next to the doll castle she'd gotten for her birthday last year.  At first, the little princesses held parties in both castles and visited each other and their new friends.  Pretty quickly, though, the princesses set up a permanent residence in the new castle.  As the old castle was kind of in the way, it was moved up on top of the toy box, where it remained, untouched and unnoticed, for about a month.

At the beginning of February, I asked Chief if she still played with her old castle.

"No, I like my new one."

I suggested that maybe, since she has a new castle for her princesses, she didn't need the old one anymore.  Maybe there were other little girls who might like to play with it.  She was initially pretty horrified at the thought and didn't want it taken away from her, so I dropped the subject.  She didn't return to playing with it, but we didn't talk about it, either.

I could have donated the castle without asking her, but she would have noticed- even though she doesn't play with it, it's huge, and had been a fixture in the playroom for just over a year.  I didn't want her to think she was being punished, or that it was being taken away from her, though.  I wanted her to come to the conclusion that she didn't need it anymore and that it could make someone else happy.  For a few weeks, I would periodically talk to her about it, probing to see if she was comfortable with the idea yet.

Finally, the day after Ash Wednesday, she told Mr Geek that she thought maybe some other little girls might like to play with that old castle.  So they gathered up its accessories and put it in his car, and drove it to the local charity thrift shop to donate.  She was really hoping to be able to see the castle's new owners immediately, but Mr Geek explained that they didn't know who was going to have it next.

She really is pretty selfless, and loves to share.  When she's playing with any of her massive collection of stuffed animals, she'll pause and say, "When the baby gets here, I'll let him play with this one."  (And it's often her most cherished toy that she's willing to share, not just the forgotten or neglected ones.)  Giving away an old dollhouse may not be the same as the old woman donating her last two coins, but it's a step towards a detachment from material goods, towards charity, towards the type of sacrifices Lent is all about.

I'm really proud of her.

What sorts of activities do you do with your little ones during Lent?

Much love,
The Geeks

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