Reformation Day is coming up on Oct. 31. It marks the date Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, starting the Protestant Reformation. But even though Luther was the one who started the Reformation, Reformation Day isn’t just for Lutherans. It celebrates the Protestant Reformation from which all Protestant churches today were born.
Whether you’re Lutheran, Methodist, Ev Free, or a member of another Protestant church, it’s important for kids to learn about the historical significance of the Reformation and how it affects our churches today. That’s why at HLS, we teach the Protestant Reformation in the classroom.
4 Ways We Learn About the Protestant Reformation in the Classroom
In October, we have a Martin Luther unit in our fifth and sixth grade class, and we learn about Luther in the lower grades, too. Here are some ways our students study the Reformation.
1. Reading books about the Reformation
Our school and classroom libraries have a number of books on Martin Luther and the Reformation available for students to check out and read. Concordia Publishing House has published several good books on the Reformation, including the picture book Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World by Paul Maier and Luther: Echoes of the Hammer, a graphic novel by Susan Leigh.
2. Watching the Luther movie
A great way to teach kids about the Reformation is by showing them what it looked and sounded like. That’s why our fifth and sixth graders watch the 2003 Luther movie, which shows what it was like living in Germany in the sixteenth century during the Reformation. The movie depicts Luther becoming a monk, realizing what was wrong with the Catholic Church’s teachings, explaining how he would reform the Catholic Church, and standing trial to defend himself when the church accuses him of heresy. Luther brings the story of the Reformation to life and helps kids understand how it connects to our beliefs today.
Luther isn’t the only movie we use in the classroom to teach kids about the Reformation. This year, we watched a new PBS documentary called Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World. Another video we use is Martin Luther: A Return to Grace.
3. Painting Luther’s Rose
At the conclusion of the Luther unit, fifth and sixth graders paint the classroom window with Luther’s Rose. Luther’s rose (or Luther’s seal) is a symbol that Martin Luther developed to teach his theology, which became the basis for Protestant theology.
Students study the colors on the rose so they know what it symbolizes: The black cross stands for our sin and Jesus’ death on the cross. The red heart stands for Jesus’ blood that was shed to wash away those sins. The white flower stands for God’s great forgiveness so that we can live a new life, as shown by the green leaves. Blue stands for heaven, where we will live eternally without end, like the golden ring that encompasses the rose.
For Martin Luther, music was an important way to worship and celebrate the gifts God has given us. Luther said, “I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone.”
Read more of Luther’s thoughts on music in this blog post by Dr. Matthew Phillips, a history professor at Concordia University, Nebraska.
At the time of Luther, congregational singing was not a part of the worship service. Choirs sang in church, but there wasn’t singing from the heart of the people. People felt separated from God in these worship services. Luther wrote his hymns using common tunes that people would already know so that the congregation could participate in worship and feel more engaged.
In the classroom, we use Bible Bops songs to learn Bible verses because it is the spirit of reformation to learn God’s Word and keep it in our hearts. Students also learn songs to sing at our congregations, including “A Mighty Fortress,” a hymn that Martin Luther wrote. We talk about the lyrics to this hymn and explain how it connects to Reformation history.