ASWA has created a range of resources to support children's church activities.
Ollie the Octopus says..."check out these fun ideas!"
If you need to ask Ollie any questions click on this image
Resource material is in sections and you can access datasheets by clicking on the buttons below....
The Activities are also listed below (to download datasheets, please use buttons above)
1: IN THE BEGINNING - ANIMALS AND CREATION – Activity 1
Equipment:Clay, plasticine or play-dough; some blue and green coloured paper or card to represent land and water.
Activity: Arrange the blue and green sheets of paper/card to create a landscape. Invite everyone to make models of birds and animals, and place these into the landscape.
Purpose/teaching: When talking about this, pick up a model (belonging to someone robust enough not cry!) and threaten to squash it. Ask the owner how this would make them feel, and make the point that we naturally feel attached to even a simple thing which we have created. Whenever we create something, we put a little bit of ourselves inside it. If we can feel protective about a little piece of modelling clay, how much more strongly must God feel about the amazing planet which he has made, and the wonderful animals and people who live there?
1: IN THE BEGINNING - ANIMALS AND CREATION – Activity 2
Seven Day Boxes
Equipment: Cardboard or paper with a net for a cube printed on, equipment for decorating (e.g. felt-tip pens, stickers etc), little pieces of paper for writing a message on and some sweets.
Activity: Decorate the six squares of the cube with the first six days of Creation according to Genesis 1 (Night and Day; Sea and Sky; Land and Plants; Sun, Moon and Stars; Birds and Animals; Humankind). The space inside the box is for the seventh day, the Sabbath when the Lord rested. On the small piece of paper write or draw something in Creation for which you are especially thankful (e.g. a pet, the sunshine), and put it inside along with a sweet.
Purpose/teaching: A reminder that it is the Sabbath on the seventh day which is the high point of the Creation story according to Genesis 1 & 2, not (as is sometimes mistakenly suggested) the making of human beings on the sixth day! Human beings, animals and even the moon and stars all come out of the same creation process. Although nothing appeared to happen on the seventh day, God blessed it and made it the most special day of all. And of course God looked upon Creation and saw that it was good, so we should also be thankful and rejoice in it.
1: IN THE BEGINNING - ANIMALS AND CREATION – Activity 3
Chaos Monster Sock Puppets
Equipment: Socks, stick-on eyes and other appendages, glue, wool and other bits and pieces to make the monsters with.
Activity: To make the chaos-monster sock puppets. Given that there aren’t many photographs of chaos-monsters available, everyone can have fun with their imagination.
Purpose/teaching: To introduce the participants to the idea that the Creation narratives in Genesis are not the only stories about Creation which appear in the Bible. In the Psalms there are references to the Lord battling the forces of chaos, personified as a monster/sea-monster (see references in suggested readings below). God brings light and order out of darkness and turmoil. At one level this is a reminder that God wants a beautiful and safe universe for his creatures to inhabit. For older children/teenagers it is helpful to realise that Genesis is not the only book in the Bible which talks about God as Creator, and that this aspect of God is something which has always been very important to Jewish and Christian people. It isn’t a point which we make at the beginning of our holy book and then abandon. Furthermore the various different Creation narratives in the Bible raise issues about the way in which we understand/use the text, which again may be appropriate for discussion with more mature participants.
1: IN THE BEGINNING - ANIMALS AND CREATION – Activity 4
Equipment: Biscuits or sweets (preferably dinosaur shaped), jelly (preferably vegetarian), ready-made custard, whipped cream and sprinkles; a transparent plastic or glass bowl or bowls; a smaller transparent plastic bowl or bowls; a microwave or kettle and enough spoons for everyone to have at least one.
Activity: To make dinosaur trifle. Unless you are doing this as part of a residential event or an all day holiday club, there is unlikely to be time for jelly to set. Therefore the jelly for the actual trifle/trifles will need to be made in advance, with the ‘dinosaurs’ already inside. Make up some jelly in a clear bowl, following the instructions on the packet, and place some biscuits or sweets in the bowl so that they set into the jelly. However so that everyone gets to see and understand the process, and also because it’s fun, have a little bit of liquid jelly in a smaller separate bowl on the day that you make the trifle. Let the children see this gloopy mixture, drop in a couple of dinosaurs and watch them sink. Then take out the bowl/bowls of jelly which have been premade, and get everyone to spoon over a layer of custard, a layer of cream and add some sprinkles. Depending on the age and number of the participants you can either make one big trifle or various individual ones.
Purpose/teaching: To explain how fossils are formed (see trifle based explanation below), and to discuss how and why science has developed its current understanding of creation and evolution. Also to explain that lots of Christians believe in evolution; that science and religion are not in opposition and that studying God’s world is one way of celebrating his work. This can be reassuring if children have heard from those outside the Church that Christians don’t believe in evolution! Depending upon the age of the participants it may be a way into talking about different understandings of Scripture, especially the creation stories in Genesis, and the importance of respecting other people’s viewpoint even if we disagree.
If like me you spent too much time in science lessons thinking about lunch or fiddling with the gas-taps, you may find the following (very simplified) explanation of fossilisation helpful:
When some animals died, their bodies were quickly covered over by mud or sand; often because they sank into soft ground or were buried by a sand-storm. (Hence the dinosaurs in the jelly).
Over time more and more layers of sediment covered the body (queue the custard, cream and sprinkles).
The soft parts of the body rotted away, and the hard parts which were left behind (i.e. bones and teeth) were encased in sediment.
Over time the remains underwent chemical changes. The bone slowly decayed, and water infused with minerals seeped inside, gradually replacing the bone with minerals.
Eventually a heavy rock-like copy of the original skeleton (i.e. a fossil) is left behind.
Because scientists are able to examine fossils, they can find out about animals which lived millions of years ago, and see how life on earth has evolved and changed.
2:SUSTAINER AND REDEEMER - GOD’S CARE FOR CREATION – Activity 5
Loving God and Animal Feelings
Bag or box, straw or shredded paper and a variety of objects which are interesting to feel and produce different sensations. It really doesn’t matter which objects you use, but here are a few suggestions: a cold tea-spoon which has been in the fridge, a warm bean-bag zapped in the microwave, a prickly nail-brush, a soft silky scarf and a wet squidgy sponge (but not sopping so that it soaks everything around it).
Saucers/ramekins, tea-spoons or teeny chunks of bread and a variety of foods with strong and interesting tastes and smells e.g. honey, chilli oil, vinegar, smelly cheese. Again it doesn’t really matter what you use, just be careful not to cause real distress!
Activity: Let everyone put their hand into the box/bag, and feel the different objects inside. Then let everyone taste the foods, either on spoons or bread.
Purpose/teaching: Animals share our ability to feel and explore their environment. We all know what it is like to have different physical experiences, some of which cause us pain and some of which cause us pleasure. We believe in a loving and compassionate God (e.g. 1 John 4). Can we really imagine that a caring God would create beings capable of suffering or being happy, and then not mind whether or they led full lives? If we believe that God cares about animals then surely we should care as well.
2:SUSTAINER AND REDEEMER - GOD’S CARE FOR CREATION – Activity 6
Octopus and Coconuts
Equipment: A coconut, yoghurt pots or cardboard tubes, plasticine or modelling clay.
Activity: After talking about the octopus and the coconut, make plasticine octopuses hiding in ‘shells’.
Purpose/teaching: God did not create animals for our benefit! God’s other creatures have a relationship with him too (e.g. see Psalm 104) and God had his own reasons for creating them. Often human beings know very little about the creatures with whom we share the planet, and God pointed this out pretty bluntly to Job. Reading Job 39 can make a good introduction to this topic.
Octopuses are an interesting example of the limits of our understanding, and hopefully freaky enough to capture children’s interest and imagination. Until quite recently people assumed that they were incapable of thinking, because they don’t have a brain structure like ours. But we now know that they can solve problems by reasoning rather than instinct, for example finding ways to escape from tanks and unscrew jars! They have also been observed using tools; i.e. taking objects from their environment and using them for their own purposes. Coconut shells are the best known instance of this; octopuses have soft bodies and make a tasty snack for predators, so they will seek out coconut shells to use as shelters, even scuttling onto land. There is cool footage of this on You Tube www.youtube.com and elsewhere on the internet.
Some other interesting octopus facts: they are venomous and squirt ink, some species have detachable limbs which not only come off to distract predators who attack them, but are capable of wriggling even when detached, and some species change colour and shape to disguise themselves as floating sea-weed or swimming sea-serpents.
3: ANIMAL STORIES - SCRIPTURE AND SAINTS – Activity 7
Balaam and the Donkey
Equipment: Bible, paper with a drawing of an angel standing on a road, cardboard cut-out of a donkey with Balaam on her back, blue-tack or similar sticky material and a blind-fold.
Read the story of Balaam and the donkey (Numbers 22:22-35).
Play a game similar to pin the tail on the donkey, but with the object of placing Balaam and the donkey on the road next to (but not in front of) the angry angel.
Purpose/teaching: In the story Balaam’s donkey repeatedly turns aside from the route he wants to follow, and he abuses her for this behaviour. Unbeknown to him however, the donkey can see an avenging angel which God has sent to punish Balaam, and keeps veering off course to stay out of harm’s way. Eventually God gives the donkey the power of speech to remonstrate with Balaam, and Balaam’s eyes are opened so that he can see the angel. The angel scolds Balaam for being cruel to his animal, and makes it clear that not only would he have killed the him had the donkey not intervened, he would have left the innocent beast unharmed! The donkey is presented in this story as an individual in her own right. She is not treated as an object, but as a living being who deserves kindness and respect.
3: ANIMAL STORIES - SCRIPTURE AND SAINTS – Activity 8
Elijah’s bread from the ravens
Equipment: Oven; 160g plain flour, 125ml warm water, dribble of honey, cumin (to taste), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and an oiled baking sheet.
Activity: Make unleavened bread. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 C/375F. Mix together the ingredients, and rub/knead into a ball. Roll out on a floured surface, place on baking sheet and bake for approximately 20 minutes. The finished bread should be fairly soft rather than crispy, but not squidgy!
Purpose/teaching: In 1 Kings 17:1-6 God sends ravens to bring food (including bread) to the prophet Elijah. He could have asked angels or human beings, but he chose ravens! Even though ravens were unclean, carrion birds, God obviously valued them and thought them worthy of doing his work. Sometimes human beings have an irrational and negative attitude towards certain animals and birds (e.g. pigeons, mice) but they are still part of God’s creation and precious to him.
3: ANIMAL STORIES - SCRIPTURE AND SAINTS – Activity 9
St Cuthbert’s otter cupcakes
Equipment: Cupcakes (pre-made/bought unless you have lots of time, and ideally chocolate), chocolate icing, white and milk chocolate buttons, teaspoons and paper cases or plates.
Activity: Ice the cupcakes and use the chocolate buttons to make otter faces, with the white ones as eyes and the milk ones sticking up as eyes. If you are ambitious/artistic/brave you could even have some squeezy icing on hand to add pupils for the eyes and whiskers.
Purpose/teaching: One of the stories told about St Cuthbert is that he often went in secret to pray at during the night, standing in the cold north-sea. Cuthbert was a monk, and one of his brothers became curious about what he was up to. One day he followed Cuthbert and watched him until dawn. When Cuthbert finally got out of the water, some sea-otters came to him, rubbing their bodies against the saint to dry and warm his frozen feet.
Unlike many stories in lives of ancient saints, this one is easy for modern audiences to take seriously. Whether their motive would have actually been to dry Cuthbert rather than to play with him is a bit doubtful, but otters are curious, intelligent creatures and might well develop an interest in someone who came to the same spot night after night, and posed no threat to them. Cuthbert was well known for his care for animals, and forbade anyone from harming the birds on the Inner Farne Island when he moved there. He is an example of a serious and holy man who showed consistent compassion for animals, and developed a trusting and mutually rewarding relationship with them.
Taken at one level of course, the story makes a nice point about animals being capable of beings agents of God. It also has an exciting and positive modern post-script. After suffering from pollution, hunting and other forms of human interference the UK otter population is now growing again. Otter tracks have even been spotted on the Farne Islands once again for the first time in centuries. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/3490247/Otter-appears-in-Farne-Islands-for-the-first-time.html
So by following St Cuthbert’s example of caring for wildlife, which can make a real difference, and sad stories can have happy endings. If things can begin to turn around for otters, then can change for other creatures currently suffering from selfish human behaviour.
4: OUR JOB - STEWARDS OF CREATION – Activity 10
Making Fat-Ball Bird-Feeders
Bird seed/nuts are not suitable for human consumption, so small children need to be carefully supervised making the fat-balls mixture. Obviously too this is not an appropriate activity for anyone with a nut allergy!
The fat used for the feeders is not vegetarian, so some people may feel unable to participate.
Equipment: Suet or lard, grated cheese, raisins, bird seed, yoghurt pots (or similar),string, mixing bowl, knife, spoons, scissors.
Activity: Make fat-ball bird feeders and hang them in church-yard or garden.
Take the lard out of the fridge to warm up to room temperature (but don’t melt it).
Make a hole in the bottom of the yoghurt pot, thread the string through and tie a knot on the inside. There needs to be enough string to comfortably hang the pot from a tree or bird-table.
Chop the lard into small cubes and put it in a mixing bowl.
Add the other ingredients and mix together with your fingers. Keep squashing and patting until it all holds together nicely.
Fill the yoghurt pots with the fat-ball mixture and put them in the fridge for an hour or so to set.
Hang up the bird-feeders in a chosen spot.
Purpose/teaching: We have a duty to take care of the creatures which God has made and loves. Also there are many references in the Bible to God caring for birds, and even birds nesting in his Temple (Psalm 84), so feeding them in a churchyard/garden is particularly apt!
4: OUR JOB - STEWARDS OF CREATION – Activity 11
Equipment: Empty plastic bottles or other suitable skittles, ball, paper, glue or tape, and pens.
Talk about the different things which spoil and damage the environment and cause problems for animals. Ideally get the children to identify/suggest these e.g. big companies destroying rainforests, pollution etc.
Write or draw these damaging things on pieces of paper, and tape them to skittles.
Play skittles and see who can knock the most down! With older children it would even be possible to decide to debate which factors caused the most damage, and to attribute different points to different skittles.
Purpose/teaching: Human beings have a responsibility to take care of the Earth which God has made. Looking after the environment is a fundamental part of our Christian life and discipleship, not just an optional extra if we have time for it.
4: OUR JOB - STEWARDS OF CREATION – Activity 12
Making a Bug House
NB There are many resources and ideas for bug houses available on the internet, the method set out below is one of the simpler ones. More information can be found at www.buglife.org.uk and www.rspb.org.uk
Equipment: Fairly robust plastic container with a lid (the kind which strawberries come in often work well), straw or wood chippings, drinking straws or narrow tubes, scissors, string and tape.
Activity: Make a simple bug house for lady-birds and other creatures to shelter in during the cold winter months. Obviously it makes sense for this to be an autumn activity!
Check that there are holes in both the bottom and lid of the container. If not, make suitable holes with the scissors. The ones in the lid need to be suitable for the drinking straws/tubes to go through, but the ones in the base are just for drainage and air-flow.
Press enough straw or wood chippings into the container to create a cosy environment, and place the lid back on the container, taping it if necessary to ensure that it doesn’t blow off.
Push the straws through the holes in the container, leaving about 3-4cm poking out (trim them with the scissors if necessary).
Place the bug house at the bottom of a suitable shrub in a church-yard or garden, turning it on its side so that creatures can crawl in and out. Check it ever now and again to make sure that the tubes aren’t blocked, and that it hasn’t been damaged by the wind and weather. It may also be a good idea to secure it in place with string.
Purpose/teaching: God cares for all of his creatures, even the littlest, and they all have a vital role to play in the eco-system. Human beings do not exist in isolation, but as part of the universe which God has made. Lady-birds and their babies (larvae) feed on aphids which are garden pests, so giving them a helping hand is good in any garden, especially an organic one.
4: OUR JOB - STEWARDS OF CREATION – Activity 13
Making a Hedgehog Hotel
Again various ideas and advice about this can be found on the internet. A simple version is set out below, but further information and suggestions are available from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society Website www.britishhedgehog.org.uk and also www.bbc.co.uk/breathingplaces/hedgehog_home/
Needless to say it is veryimportant to manage expectations with this activity/project. A hedgehog might come and take up residence in your hotel and be massively grateful for it, but this can’t be guaranteed. Also if you are graced by a prickly guest, do be careful that well-meaning people don’t do anything harmful, like trying to feed her bread and milk! Make sure too that whoever does the gardening isn’t using anything toxic or dangerous (e.g. slug-pellets). Good advice on hosting hedgehogs is available at the links above.
Equipment: Suitable cardboard box, scissors, plastic sheeting (opened out carrier bag or bin bag would do), sharp scissors, tape, twigs, straw and dry-leaves.
Activity:Make a hedgehog hotel
Find a big, thick cardboard box and cut some air holes 5cm x 15cm and an entrance about 15cm in diameter.
Line the inside with shredded newspaper, clean dry leaves or straw.
Place the box under a hedge, ideally with the entrance facing south. Cover top of the box with a small piece of plastic sheeting and tape this firmly in place. Add twigs to make a dome and cover with dry grass and leaves.
Purpose/teaching: God has given human beings the job of being stewards of his creation, and taking care of the animals around us is one way in which we can do this job.
4: OUR JOB - STEWARDS OF CREATION – Activity 14
Equipment: Paper, paint (suitable for hand-painting) or wax crayons, pictures of either primates or birds depending upon the sort of nest.
Activity: Make a nest of handprints, either using painted handprints or by drawing around hands in wax crayon. Obviously the nest will be basically brown if it’s intended for birds and green if it’s intended for gorillas, chimpanzees or orang-utans. Stick pictures of the appropriate creatures inside the nest.
Purpose/teaching: To illustrate that in many ways the future of other creatures, especially endangered ones, is in our hands. The choices which we make affect both their quality of life now, and their chances of survival in the medium/long term.
4: OUR JOB - STEWARDS OF CREATION – Activity 15
Felt-tip pens/poster paints/other equipment for decorating masks
Activity: Make masks and use them to talk about endangered animals and conservation.
Cut paper plate in half.
Along the straight edge of the half plate, cut out two semi-circles to provide eye- holes (depending on which animal the mask is representing, the leftover cardboard from these may make useful ear shapes!)
Colour and decorate the mask, before attaching the string to hold it in place.
Purpose/teaching: To get the children thinking and talking about endangered animals; the gifts which we have around us in Creation and what we will all loose if creatures are allowed to become extinct. Obviously how the masks are approached depends a lot upon the age of the children involved. One possibility is to talk about several endangered creatures, and to allow the children to choose their favourite, make a mask and have fun pretending to be a rhino etc! Confident children may also be prepared to tell the rest of the congregation something about their animal. Good information and fun facts about animals can be found at www.wwf.org.uk .