Easter is the most significant Holy Day Christians celebrate each year. Easter offers the opportunity to reflect on God's fulfillment of His covenant through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But for preschoolers, this day can be confusing as they are confronted with well-meaning traditional celebrations and the biblical accounts of the Easter story.

Bunnies and egg hunts are fun, but such activities need to remain separate from Bible teaching and the story of Christ's death and resurrection. Here are some ways you can help your preschoolers focus on biblical truths during Easter.

Know the understanding level of each child

It's important to present concepts and stories that children can understand. Each child develops in different ways according to God's plan for her life. Teachers must present concepts and stories that can be understood by the children. A chart of these concepts can be found in Teaching Preschoolers: First Steps Toward Faith.

The concept of Jesus' love for people is foundational to the Easter story. This story helps prepare a child to understand Jesus' gift through His death and resurrection when the child is older. The story of Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection becomes the next foundational teaching concept, building on the understanding of Jesus' love for all people.

Jesus is alive

The following story is presented in a way that creates trust and factual understanding.Scripture: Mark 16:1-8; John 20:1-18

Early in the morning Mary Magdalene and two other women walked to the edge of town. They were very sad because Jesus had died on a cross. They were going to the place where He had been buried.

As the women walked, they talked to each other. "Who will roll the heavy stone from the door of the tomb?" one of the women asked. "We are not strong enough to move such a large stone."

When the women arrived at the tomb, the big heavy stone was already rolled away from the door. They looked inside, but Jesus was not in the tomb. The women were afraid! A young man dressed in a white robe said: "Do not be afraid. Jesus is not here. Go and tell Jesus' helpers that He is alive."

Mary and the other women ran from the tomb. Mary found two of Jesus' helpers-Peter and John. Mary said: "Peter! John! Jesus is not in the tomb! I don't know where they have taken Him."

Peter and John could hardly believe what Mary was saying. They hurried back to the tomb with Mary. They looked inside, but they did not see Jesus anywhere! Jesus was not there. Peter and John went home. But Mary stayed nearby crying.

"Why are you crying?" she heard someone ask. Mary did not know that the man speaking to her was Jesus. He spoke her name. "Mary," He said. Then, Mary knew that the man was Jesus! Jesus was standing right there-close enough to touch. Jesus told Mary to go tell His helpers that she had seen Him. Mary rushed to tell Jesus' helpers that she had seen Jesus and that He was alive!

Telling the Easter story

Telling this story prepares older preschoolers for the transition to the more in-depth study of the cross and resurrection in the first grade (and beyond). This story becomes a step in a process that hopefully will lead a child to the point of conversion and spiritual transformation later in life.

By laying foundations for spiritual conversion, teachers and parents become partners with the Holy Spirit as He prepares and calls the child to accept Christ as Savior.

  • Tell the story in a way that does not create fear. Avoid emphasizing the brutality of Jesus' death.

  • Use the story provided above or read the Scripture passage as realistic portrayals of Jesus' death and resurrection. Young children need to know that Jesus' death is not the end of the story. He arose from death and is alive. The focus is to offer hope to the children, not despair.

  • Talk to the child in warm and reassuring tones.

  • Avoid using props or pictures that may distract from the story or that mix secular traditions with this Holy story. The message of the Easter story can stand on its own.

Clarify terms or words. Preschoolers may have questions about words they hear. Use these brief definitions.

  • Angel: A messenger from God.

  • Cross: A wooden structure where Jesus died.

  • Disciple: Someone who follows and learns from Jesus.

  • Savior: Someone who saves people from danger; the name "Jesus" means Savior.

  • Tomb: A place to bury people who are dead; it was usually a cave with a big stone door.

The home offers the best place for biblical instruction, because truths can be explained and reinforced frequently over time. Parents may choose to tell the Easter story earlier for preschoolers, because parents know their child and the child's level of understanding. With support and guidance from mentors such as Sunday school teachers, parents can most effectively lay foundations for conversion and spiritual transformation.

Thomas Sanders is director of Masters of Arts in Christian Education: Childhood Ministry, Gary Cook Graduate School of Leadership at Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas. He and his wife, Treva, are the parents of Katie, Jayne Claire, and Kyle.