The Protestant Reformation changed Western culture both broadly and deeply starting in the 16th century, shaping the early modern world in ways that are still being felt. Such a significant and complex cultural development may seem too difficult to tackle in a preschool Sunday school class, but concrete, hands-on lessons can help even young children grasp some of the important concepts of the Reformation and the theologian credited with initiating it, Martin Luther.
On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his critique of the Roman Catholic Church, the 95 Theses. The anniversary of this event is now known in some Protestant communities as Reformation Day. Preschoolers can enjoy dressing up in 16th-century costumes to celebrate Reformation Day, especially if your church presents it as an alternative to Halloween. Cut adult T-shirts to make children's tabards or tunics, and cut no-sew cloaks and robes out of fabric.
Introduce the concept of selling indulgences, a key point of Luther’s argument, with simple coin-toss games, suggests Christian homeschooler Amy Maze. Coins reflect medieval belief that worshipers could reduce dead loved ones’ tenure in Purgatory by making donations to the church. Let preschoolers receive candy or favors, or keep their coins, to signify grace, which Luther and other reformers argued was a gift freely given, not earned. If your Sunday school has outdoor space, hold a three-legged race or tag game to simulate Luther’s flight from religious persecution by Pope Leo X in 1521.
Coloring and Decorating
Coloring pages have the advantage of providing children something to take home, encouraging families to continue the conversation. A Sunday school guide by the Church of the Lutheran Confession reproduces Luther’s distinctive seal with a color guide. Other opportunities for coloring include pictures of medieval life or significant people, such as Luther or Pope Leo X. Have students decorate a printed Bible verse -- using large text -- in the style of medieval manuscripts.
Serving Special Snacks
Food is often a highlight of preschool lessons, so incorporate themed snacks into your Reformation class. Since Luther was German, serve traditional German treats like anise cookies, rye bread or doughnuts. Plan a more substantial meal, perhaps involving whole families as part of a Reformation Day celebration, with the children serving food in their costumes. Sausages are easy to find and prepare, but you can also include fancier fare like sauerbraten, a type of roast. In addition to potatoes and sauerkraut, offer asparagus, noodles and dumplings as side dishes. Desserts can include cookies, gingerbread, tortes and the famous Black Forest cake. Reinforce the connection of the food to the topic by reminding children that the Reformation began in Germany, where these dishes are popular.
- New Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Reformation
- Christian Post: Churches Remembering Martin Luther with Reformation Sunday Observance
- Sandra Dodd: Children’s Costumes at SCA Events
- Living and Learning at Home: Reformation Day Celebration
- Church of the Lutheran Confession, Sunday School: Reformation, Lesson 2
- Research in Germany: Discover Germany, Food and Drink
- Elke Jacob/iStock/Getty Images