It is easy to teach children about Christmas with the story of a baby, animals, angels and a stable. Easter seems more difficult with its story of Gethsemane, death and tombs. And yet, without the story of Easter, the story of the Babe in Bethlehem would have little importance. For what was begun in a manager culminates in the empty tomb. We need to make the Easter story as familiar to our children as the Christmas story.
Go to the Scriptures
Take the time to read the account of the Easter story in the Bible. You could do this over the week leading up to Easter. For example, read about Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Then read the account of the Last Supper on the next night and so forth. This can help children get a feel for the length of these events. Another way to read the account is to have a reader's theater. Assign scriptures to read and then use pictures to illustrate each event.
We live in a technological age, and our children are better at it than we are! Use the internet to find videos related to Easter. Just doing an Internet search can bring up everything from animated versions to live action. Find one that will help your children to visualize and conceptualize this story.
At Christmas we bake cookies, set up nativities and make ornaments. Children are often hands-on learners. When my oldest was young, I made some "resurrection eggs." Basically, they were twelve plastic Easter eggs, each filled with a scripture from the Easter story and an accompanying object that illustrated that scripture. For example, the scripture that tells of the Roman guards dressing Christ in a scarlet robe has a small piece of red cloth in the egg with it. The last egg is empty to symbolize the empty tomb. All of my children have enjoyed reading and learning the Easter story in this way.
Another great activity is to make resurrection cookies. I found an excellent blog post on this at www.mommysideabook.com. You make these the night before and read a scripture as you add each ingredient. Place the cookies in the preheated oven (then turn it off before going to bed). In the morning the cookies are done and hollow - again representing the empty tomb.
Symbols of Easter
Finally, use the traditional symbols of Easter to help convey the story of Easter. For instance, a friend taught her children that the chick hatching from the egg is symbolic of Christ coming out of the tomb. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. Use that to teach that Easter is the time we celebrate the renewal of life through the resurrection.
Here in North Carolina, the dogwood tree blooms each year at Easter time. My husband loves to tell my children how this tree symbolizes Easter. Each blossom has four petals which represent the cross. Each petal is notched at the tip to symbolize the holes left by the nails in Christ's hands and feet. Around each notch, the petal is crimson. This symbolizes the blood Christ shed on the cross. The center of the blossom looks like a crown of thorns. But most important of all, the tree is dormant or dead looking before it blooms, but then it flourishes and comes alive again - all symbolic of the resurrection.
By taking the time to truly share the Easter story, our children can come to understand the most important gift ever given: that of the atonement and eternal life. Using these ideas, this story can become as beloved to our children as that of the Christmas story. Through the sadness of the crucifixion they can come to see the joy of the resurrection.