A new school year is around the corner! This year this statement is met with more worry, trepidation and anxiety than in the past. In previous years, we have met the new school year with excitement — and maybe a few butterflies in our stomachs. But this fall, it’s there are so many added concerns and unknowns. Even though heading to school looks and feels totally different this year, there is still the potential for our young ones to grow. Drawing on the parable of the growing seed, your children can explore the many blessings that have already emerged during the pandemic and can anticipate the growth of new joys once they return to school.
Begin the time with your children by talking about expectations for the new school year. Ask them to share what they’re excited about, what they’re concerned about and what they think school will look and feel like. Acknowledge the fact that this school year will likely look and feel very different than previous years. There may be some aspects of it that we can’t predict or envision while there will also be qualities that remain the same.
Read aloud Mark 4:26-29. Before reading, tell your children that this is one the parables Jesus tells his followers to help them understand the kingdom of God. The disciples were confused about this idea. Jesus knew this, so he used stories that connected it to things they already understood well. He knew that if got them to think about ideas they were comfortable with and then tied these to the kingdom of God, they might be able to envision this new and complicated concept. Since the people he was speaking to knew and thought a lot about growing their food, he used the process of planting seeds and watching them grow in this story.
After reading the passage, talk about the image Jesus paints in this parable. How are the seeds planted in this story? What causes them to grow? What does the person do with the wheat once it has grown? Note that the farmer only scatters the seeds and then harvests the wheat once it is grown. The growth process takes place because the earth nurtures the seed and helps it become a plant that can feed the farmer.
Help your children make the connection between this image and the idea of the kingdom of God. Young children often cannot make the cognitive leap needed to understand figurative language. Explain that Jesus is letting his followers know that the kingdom of God grows around us even though we may not see how it is growing. We can help get the goodness contained in God’s kingdom going just like the person who plants the seed and we can benefit from it when it grows. However, God is the one helping it grow. This tells us that God brings about all kinds of good in our world. All we need to do is plant the seeds.
To help connect this idea to your children’s lives, try this activity. Gather the following supplies:
- Popsicle sticks
- Markers or crayons
- A bowl of sand or dirt
- Several dried beans
Place the bowl of sand or dirt in front of your children. Tell them it represents the soil that the planter in Jesus’ story would have scattered the seeds across. Then hand them several dried beans. Share that the beans represent the things that your family has done since the pandemic began that bring them joy, peace or happiness. These might be activities you did as a family or that your child has done independently, something someone did for your child or something she noticed in the world that she might not have paid attention before. Have your children “plant” these beans in the soil/sand.
Note that these wonderful things have grown over the time that you’ve been living through the pandemic. They have grown into experiences that have helped your family during this challenging time. On each popsicle stick, ask your child to write or draw something that has happened since COVID-19 began that you are grateful for. (For pre-literate children, parents can write words on the sticks or you can talk about good things in your lives and have your child color the sticks.) Then place these sticks in the soil/sand so that they are standing upright, just like a stalk of wheat. Reflect on all of the blessings that have grown in the midst of the pandemic.
Hand your children a few more beans. Remind them that they can continue to plant seeds for goodness to grow as they head into this unusual new school year. Have them share what they hope these seeds will grow to be. If they have difficulty imagining the blessings that might come out of this new way of going to school, brainstorm alongside them. Then plant one bean per blessing in the soil. Say a prayer that these “seeds” might grow. (You might want to keep the bowl of “plants” around for the school year, returning to it and adding popsicle sticks to represent the blessings that have grown.)
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.