Wondering about how to explain Ash Wed to your kids? Or whether or not to include them in this worship? I found the following helpful (as a parent and a pastor)...
This is from Carolyn C. Brown and her blog: Worshiping With Children.
Other than Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is probably the day on which children are least expected or planned for in the sanctuary. The prophet Joel, however, insists that parents bring their children to the meeting he has called to point out to the whole community that they are sinners. Today, there is much for children to learn from seeing their parents and the leaders of the congregation wearing ashen crosses and even more from wearing ashes themselves. The experience deeply binds them to their faith community.
The imposition of ashes is amazing to children. They marvel at the sight of adults wearing the ashes. At first they wear their own ashes as a sign that “I am one of them” or “I belong.” As they hear the language about sin, forgiveness and repentance, they begin to wear them as an admission that “yes, I too am a sinner.” This is not an easy step for children who are repeatedly told that they are "wonderful" and "capable." It also flies in the face of frequent adult insistence that they can make good choices which is often taken to mean “if you try hard enough, you won’t be a sinner.” Ash Wednesday makes it easier to make the admission that “yes, I too am a sinner” by setting it in the presence of everyone else making the same admission.
We are all first marked with the cross using water (and sometimes oil) at our baptisms. At that time to be marked with the cross is a wonderful thing. We are identified as the loved children of God. On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the cross using ashes and the words, “remember you are dust.” The ashes and words remind us that we are not so wonderful. In fact, we are all sinners. Fortunately the sign is not an X, marking us as hopeless rejects, but a cross reminding us that God loves and forgives us, sinners though we be.