Reply to "Psalm 23 "A Sheep Odyssey" -Rotation Style "Sheep Pen" Lessons"

From Neil MacQueen's "2001 A Sheep Odyssey" Psalm 23 VBS



There are two Sheep Odyssey posts here. The first has sheep pens lessons 1-4. The next post has lessons/pens 5-8.  


"Sheep Pen"-lessons are about 15 minutes each, maybe 20. Each "pen" lesson focuses on a different line of Psalm 23.


You will travel your kids from pen to pen over the course of an hour. For Sunday morning use, you'd be doing well to finish 2 of the pen lessons in an hour, so with 8 pens, you have four weeks on Psalm 23! 

We originally did them during an evening VBS over two nights.



Goal for the Sheep Pens and VBS: memorization of Psalm 23


Each kid will have an exciting time becoming intimately familiar with the images and meanings of Psalm 23. Our lessons are designed to be ON THE POINT again and again as our MAIN GOAL is that they leave these lessons REMEMBERING Psalm 23.


We are using the New Revised Standard Version of Psalm 23. Shepherds are cautioned against mixing up translations. Please note the NRSV's translation of "darkest valley" instead of "valley of the shadow of death," and "my whole life long," rather than "forever."


The main reference work used for the "sheep insights" is Philip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Zondervan.  Wonderful book!


What is a "Sheep Pen"?


A Sheep Pen is a mini-creative "classroom" or workshop with a 15-20 minute lesson that focuses on one line of Psalm 23.  It has a design/decor. We brought in some blankets and fencing for some of the pens depending on what we were doing.

We broke Psalm 23 into eight lines.

On Monday night we do the first four "pens". Those are seen below.

Tuesday night we do the second four. These are in the next post.

Our Kids Group was split into FOUR GROUPS.  You could easily do 2 or 1, and just 'rotate' to a different area and "shepherd".




Each Sheep Pen lesson includes:


1. Intro to the Verse: The shepherd repeats the line with the kids and makes sure they understand what each word means.


2. A Bit of Storytelling: The shepherd tells the short story of "what the shepherd knows about sheep and shepherds" -- and how this verse reflects that knowledge.


3. The Demonstration: The shepherd leads the kids in a demonstration of the idea with further teaching comments to flow naturally during the activity.


4. The Notching of the Shepherd's Rod

Each student "sheep" received a wooden rod and attached a decorative carrying string to one end. We used real tree branches that had been stripped of their bark and sanded smooth. In another workshop, you could make those!   The "Rod" figures in BIG to these lessons and serves as a reminder.

As each 15 minute lesson concludes, the teacher/shepherd will cut a small counting notch in each Shepherd's Rod before they leave each pen. Tuesday Night they will receive dowel rod legs to assemble their Table as they move through the pens.


MORE ABOUT THE ROD: The Shepherd's Rod is a short stick which a Shepherd carried both as a tool and for protection. It was used to check the sheep's wool, mouth, apply medicine, protect, and count the herd -using a set of notches to keep track. Ours will have colorful tassles and the entire psalm will be written on the rod. 


"Your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

*I  ordered four shepherd STAFFS from (really), one for each sheep pen's shepherd.



Shepherd Responsibilities and Sheep Pen Set-up:


Each Shepherd is responsible for setting up their own sheep pen. A sheep pen must be large enough to hold up to a dozen students. Creativity and coziness is encouraged. Be prepared to be inside or outside depending on the weather. A "construction crew" will construct the Sheep Pens out of fencing, tarps, and straw bales. However, each Shepherd is asked to "customize" their area, perhaps with a tent or special cloth, AND something related to the line of Psalm 23 that Sheep Pen is about. For example, the Pen about "still waters" should have some "still waters." Green pastures, table before me," etc. Look at your verse for VISUAL clues.

Shepherds should dress like shepherds (a remant from the fabric store around the head and a tunic from a remnant is fine).


Each shepherd will need a camping knife to make the notches in the kids' sheep rods.


Each shepherd is responsible for taking the following lesson plan-ettes (they're short) and gathering the necessary items, rehearsing them, and improving on them.


Pen 1 Lesson:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.



Open Bibles and read the first five lines. Focus on line 1. Ask: who is the "Lord" the Psalm is referring to. Say: Who are we in the story then? (sheep!). Ask "what does the sheep mean when it says "I shall not want" ("want" = "have need of something"). Quickly list all the things a sheep might want from a shepherd (food, water, protection, guidance) and connect these ideas to what each of us needs from our Lord.


Tell the story:

Neighboring shepherds sometimes graze their flocks together. To keep track of whose sheep are whose they put a special notch in each sheep's ear. How does our Shepherd keep watch over us? How do we show that we belong to God? (water baptism, communion, service, prayer). How can you tell the difference between a good person and a bad person? Good Shepherd and a bad Shepherd? and How do you know Jesus is Good?



Play the game "Do You Know Whose I Am?" Each sheep writes down on slips of paper one REALLY good thing they've done for someone and one bad thing they've done. Include their name, fold and pass in. The shepherd reads them aloud and group tries to guess who its about. (Shepherd: take the opportunity to comment on what the kids have written and ask them for details, consequences, how it made them feel.)



"Notch" each sheep's ear by drawing the symbol of a cross on their earlobe with a permanent marker. Encourage them to see how long the 'notch' can remain on their ear and be prepared to tell others what their 'notch' means. Put a notch in their shepherd's rod.

Pen 2 Lesson:

He makes me lie down in green pastures:



Open Bibles and read the first five lines. Focus on line 2. Ask the sheep if they have ever had measles or chicken pox that itch. Talk about bug bites and then ask about things people can do to you that irritate you (words, habits, sounds). Make sure everyone knows what the word "pasture" means. Ask them what kind of image a "green pasture" sounds like, tastes like, and feels like to a sheep.


Tell the story:

Sheep are covered in scratchy wool. That wool can get bugs and stickers in it and the sheep don't have arms to reach and scratch. Sheep are very nervous animals. They will only lie down if they feel comfortable, if the ground is comfortable and if the shepherd is present and they feel safe. It's the same way with the sheep of God's flock. When we have troubles, we need the Good Shepherd to help us with them so that we can find rest and enjoy our lives and not be irritable.


The shepherd will find the sheep who seem to be having the most trouble settling down and pull them aside to check their mouth and nose and wool for insects or disease. The shepherd will use the rod to look through the wool and perhaps apply medicine to the sheep's nose where flies try to come lay their eggs in the mucous (sheep don't like this at all). What 'bugs' you the most? How does God give us a check-up and offer us help?



Hand out creepy-crawly plastic insects to each sheep. Have them lay down on their backs or stomachs (on a green pasture) and have them place their insects up their shirt. Have them use their shepherd's rod to wiggle the insects out keeping the rod on the outside of their shirt. Increase the number of creepies and see who can get them out the fastest. Next, dip the bugs in watered down white glue (mucous) and play the game one more time. (The kids will all go "OOOOO" but they'll never forget the lesson!)



Have each sheep recite the line to you one at a time and whisper into your ear one thing that's been bugging them recently. Whisper back to them an encouragement of a "green pasture" God wants them to lie down in and feel better. Rub their back with their shepherd's rod as you offer the "green" comfort. Notch their shepherd's rod.



Pen 3 Lesson:

he leads me beside still waters;



Open Bibles and read the first five lines. Focus on line 3. Ask: Who is "he" in the story, and "what's good about water?" and "what's good about 'still' waters?" Ask for examples of rough waters. Another way of understanding "still" waters is to say "quiet" waters.


Tell the story:

Sheep will drink any kind of water (they are pretty dumb). Shepherds must always be on the look-out for bad wells, water by the roadside fouled by sheep dung, bugs in the water, etc. ((As you're doing this, mix a bunch of gross stuff into a glass of water and offer it to your sheep.))) Most sheep herding is done on semi-desert-like land because the good lands are often used for crops or have forests (predators hide in forests). So shepherds are always looking for green pastures and good water.


Sheep would be afraid of fast moving streams because their hooves are tiny and sheep don't have good balance. They also are afraid of getting their fleece soaked in a stream. They can easily get stuck in mud too. Still or quiet waters put the sheep at ease. ((If you can, come up with a demonstration area with fast water, mud and toy sheep.)) If they are nervous around water they won't drink as much. Jesus called himself "living water." How is Jesus like water to us? How is Jesus like "still water" to us sheep? How can Jesus bring us calm when we worry?



Pass out labels and permanent markers. Have your sheep design label for a new brand of water called "still water." Use contact cement to glue these labels to bottles of water you have brought for each sheep. Keep and chill the water til the end of the day and give out to go home.



Have each sheep share their "still water" brand label with the other sheep. Notch their shepherd's rod.

Pen 4 Lesson:

he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.



Open Bibles and read the first five lines. Focus on these two sentences. Ask: What is a "soul" and what does the word "restore" mean. For our purposes we will define "soul" as a spirit of "well-being" rather than some sort of "ghost" or "disembodied spirit" inhabiting the body. Explain to the kids that your "soul" is like your "heart" is the goodness and sense of safety and comfort a person feels. It is that part of you that feels good about yourself and reaches out to love God and others around you. Sometimes our soul is "troubled" of "sad." Ask for examples of when their "soul" has sad or troubled. Share examples that define the word "Restore." (restore furniture to good condition, put something back in place). Ask the sheep for examples of "right" and "wrong" paths people follow in life (they should understand "right paths" pretty well).


Tell the story:

Sheep usually stay with their flock but they are pretty dumb and can wander off. They have a hard time standing up (their legs aren't very strong or flexible) and if they get stuck in mud or a bramble bush they will bleat fearfully for a very long time. Eventually they will collapse. Sheep have two stomachs. The first, called a Rumen, begins to bloat with gases. Eventually, these gases immobilize the sheep and death occurs shortly. Getting sheep BACK with the shepherd away from bushes and mud is an important thing. The Good Shepherd restores us not only to the flock but makes us feel better.


Sometimes sheep don't like what the Good Shepherd is doing. Most sheep don't like to be sheared of their wool, but it makes them feel lighter and cooler afterwards, and gets rid of mud, stickers and bugs. What bad things do we as God's sheep get in to sometimes? How can God make us feel better about ourselves? each other?


Most sheep will blindly follow the leader up and down a path. If they don't listen to the Shepherd they can be led astray and not know what to do. God shows us the good paths in life: love, forgiveness, service to others.



Set up an obstacle course with various object in the way and on the floor: Include spongy sheet of foam on the floor, things that go crunch, sticky stuff in one area, branches sticking out (wrap towels around the ends). Set a winding path through the course that is marked "the right path" and includes the words Love, Forgiveness, Service. Group the kids at one end of the course and blindfold them all at once and let them try to get across without running into or stepping on things. Then try it again with several Good Shepherds guiding them (using their staffs). Tell the sheep to call out to the Good Shepherds when they run into something and don't know where to go.



As you notch their shepherd's rod, say: "this notch is to remind you to always listen for God's voice and follow his way."


A set written by Neil MacQueen


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