For many children, Easter Sunday means candy baskets and colored-egg hunts. For church leaders and Sunday school teachers, combining all the fun of the holiday with doctrine and education is a challenge.
On Palm Sunday, children at First Christian Church were busy baking cookies, carving wood blocks and listening to storytellers as part of their five-week lesson on the Easter story. Amy Kay Pavlovich, associate minister, said each of the activities had a specific message to be found within the fun. For example, the cookie recipe, which had a hollow center, was designed to help the children understand reaction to the opening of Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection.
The so-called rotational style of teaching, in which students can explore a topic in-depth, is used by all First Christian’s elementary age classes. Other churches employ this method, especially during Lent. Ann Bouchard, director of Christian education of First Presbyterian Church, said that it helps children absorb complex stories like the crucifixion and resurrection.
“It really allows the children to experience the biblical story through different learning styles,” Bouchard said. “They study the same story for several weeks, and they experience it through different methods. It helps reinforce it for them.”
Every year, religious educators must approach the Easter story, especially the crucifixion and its violence and suffering, with care and sensitivity. Although many older students like those in junior high and high school have seen the “The Passion of the Christ,” that part of the story can be hard for younger kids to comprehend.
“We talk to preschoolers about Christ dying on the cross, but we don’t show images that would frighten them,” Bouchard said. “We want them to know that Jesus suffered for us and died for our sins and our salvation, but we don’t want to frighten them to the point where that becomes the whole focus.”
The Rev. Barbara Bradley, children’s pastor at Christian Chapel, uses “resurrection eggs” to teach preschoolers about the Bible. The colorful eggs contain trinkets related to the Easter story, such as a donkey figurine to symbolize when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Bradley said that although her students may concentrate on the sugar this Sunday, they are often able to see the deeper connections to scripture.
“It creates opportunities to bring everything back together and to tie it together,” she said. “If there wasn’t the commercialness of plastic eggs, we wouldn’t have resurrection eggs.”
Some churches in Columbia will be sponsoring traditional Easter egg hunts, but some educators use them for teaching opportunities. At Unitarian Universalist Church, for instance, teachers are using Easter egg hunts to teach children about the importance of service. Instead of having a traditional chocolate egg hunt, the church will be having a canned food hunt. Lisa Fritsche, director of religious education, said families have donated goods to support the Central Missouri Food Bank, and children can satisfy their sweet tooth after the hunt with Rice Krispy Treats.
“We think it is as much fun as getting candy,” Fritsche said. She added that the importance of the holiday lies more in the excitement of new life beginning in the spring.
Bradley also stressed the value of biblical teachings for children during the holiday.
“Easter is a great time of year to be able to reflect about our Christian faith,” she said. “It is the true essence of who we are as Christians.”
Missourian staff writer Leah Lohse contributed to this report.