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School’s out: three fun activities to teach children about poverty and justice

Here are three fun summer holiday activities to help teach children about poverty and justice.

Peter Shaw | 30 Jul 2021

Smiling family outside home in Colombia

Credit: Edrei Cueto/Tearfund

For some of us it’s the time of the school summer holidays: at least six whole weeks with children or grandchildren that we care for. While it’s great to have them around, it can sometimes be frustrating trying to keep them occupied with something that stimulates them, and allows us to share our faith, and grow theirs.

So here are three fun and thought-provoking activities for parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and carers, or holiday clubs to do with children. These are simple ways you can help them learn more about issues around poverty and justice from a Christian perspective.

The first is for children aged four to nine, the second is for older children and the third is a family activity for all ages. It’s best to read and plan them in advance.

Activity one: Two by two (everyone is welcome)

[For children aged four to nine]

This activity will teach children how much God loves everyone equally, and how we should help those in need.

First, watch the story of Noah's ark in this short video: God's Story: Noah. Or read the story from a children’s Bible at home or from this one online: Noah's Ark – Kids' Korner.

To make it even more fun, if you have a Noah’s ark toy set, get it out, empty all the animals out then put them back in, two by two. If you know the song, The Animals Went in Two By Two, you could sing that too.

Say this to the child/children: ‘Noah knew that a flood was coming and that all the animals would need somewhere safe to live.’

Then ask them: ‘Which animals did Noah choose to come and live on the ark with him?’

[Hopefully the child/children will answer, ‘all of them’.]

Then say: ‘That’s right, God wanted all the animals to be safe with Noah and his family, so everyone was welcome. If God thinks that about animals, what does he think about you?’

[Answer: God loves everyone the same, just like the animals.]

Then say: ‘In some parts of the world, families have become frightened and have had to leave their homes. There’s a country called Venezuela where four million people have had to leave their country because they are worried they might not be safe, or have enough food to eat.’

Then ask: ‘Do you think God would want us to look after them?’

[Hopefully the child/children will reply, ‘yes’.]

Then say: ‘In countries nearby to Venezuela, Christians have been learning about how much God cares for people without homes who need help. There is a verse in the Bible that says we should take care of them the same as how we take care of each other. And that we should love foreigners in the same way that we love each other.’ (Leviticus 19:34)

Spend some time in prayer with the child/children, lifting up people forced to leave their homes – like many families in Venezuela – to God. Keep playing with the Noah’s ark set afterwards, or encourage the child/children to draw pictures of the ark and the animals.

Activity two: Toilet trouble

[For older children]

This activity will highlight the inequality of access to toilets across the world, and offer a suggestion how you can make a difference.

You will need: a pen and scrap paper

Before you start, write down the names of the major continents of the world in alphabetical order on a large piece of paper: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America. Or print off this map showing the continents. Then write these numbers on a separate piece of paper (divided into a grid) and cut them out separately: 1%, 1%, 23%, 40%, 45%, 70%

Then, read these Bible verses:

‘Choose a place outside the camp where people may go to relieve themselves. Carry a stick with you. When you relieve yourself, dig a hole. Cover up your dung.’ (Deuteronomy 23:12-13, International Children's Bible)

First say: ‘As we all know, dung means poo. And this is a section of the Bible about what to do when you have been to the toilet, explaining that it is important to clean up after yourself. These instructions were for people who were nomads, basically they travelled all the time, living in tents, never stopping to make a permanent home. But what happens when you live in one place? You still need to stay clean, and for that you need toilets, which come in many shapes and sizes. Sadly, billions of people in the world still don’t have decent toilets.’

Lay out your piece of paper with the continents of the world written on them, or the printed-off map showing them. Place the numbers face-up next to the paper.

Say this to the child/children: ‘These are all the continents in the world. The numbers here are percentages (amount out of a hundred) of people who don’t have decent toilets. What we are going to do is match the numbers to the continents.’

Spend some time putting the numbers on the maps, and talking about why they think they match.

This is the correct order:

Europe 1%, North America 1% [both of these are less than 1%], South America 23%, Asia 40%, Oceania 45% [Although Australia and New Zealand are particular exceptions, being the same as Europe], Africa 70%.

Then say: ‘As you can see, there are many parts of the world where people do not have decent toilets. This leads to diseases, which stop children from going to school, and can result in people dying.’

Then ask them if they think this is fair. Ask them why they think that. Remind them that God loves everyone and wants everyone to live a long and happy life.

Spend some time praying for people who do not have decent toilets, and ask that God will bring organisations and governments together to help everyone have a toilet.

Activity three: As you sow...

[An activity for the whole family]

This activity will teach children that they need to look after themselves, and how to look after nature.

You will need: four small plant pots, some compost or good soil, some stones and a packet or two of cress seeds.

Read the parable of the sower in Mark 4:3-20, or for younger children watch this video, or read the parable from a children’s Bible.

Say this to the child/children: ‘This tells us two things: first, we have something very precious. The seed is the word of God in our lives. It needs to be planted in good soil by being close to God and by being good people, taking care of ourselves, others and the world around us.

‘Just like us, how seeds and plants grow is part of the natural order of creation, which needs the right conditions, care and attention to thrive.’

Prepare the first three pots in exactly the same way: fill each one up with soil and sprinkle the same amount of seeds on top. Add some water to two of the pots and leave the third dry. Fill the fourth pot up with stones and sprinkle the seeds on top and leave that dry too. Place the one watered pot with soil on a windowsill in the sun. Place the dry pot with soil and the pot with seeds and stones next to it on the windowsill. Put the other watered pot with soil in a dark cupboard.

You should have:

Over the next few days, add a little water only to the pot with water [1] on the windowsill. Each day, check the pots to see the progress. The pot [1] you are taking care of should be the only one growing and thriving.

After a week, put all the pots together and compare how much they have grown. Talk all about the soil, water and sunlight and compare them with all the things we need to grow, not just physically but spiritually.

Then talk about what actual plants need to grow. You can explain that climate change is causing the planet to heat up and many people in the world who rely on growing their own food do not have enough water for their crops to thrive. You can also share this story about how churches are helping to uncover and preserve water sources, so people can grow crops again.

Take time to pray with them, asking God how they can take care of themselves and lifting up farmers who are struggling because of drought.

Spread the word...

Thank you for praying with us, and we hope these activities are useful to help you engage with the children you care for in the school holidays. Please feel free to share these with other parents, grandparents, carers and children’s workers at your church.

Peter Shaw

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