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The following "2001: A Sheep Odyssey" Psalm 23 Lessons use to have their own webpage at the old site.  It has been updated and improved here below -- but these lessons are still more like "sketches" in my mind and should be adapted and improved.  

In 2019, I was part of the Writing Team which wrote a NEW Psalm 23 Lesson Set, and if you are a supporting member here at I would sincerely recommend those.

Over the years, several Psalm 23 lessons here at have referenced my "Sheep Odyssey" lessons. "2001" refers to the year I originally wrote it. It was also originally written as a 3 night VBS designed to introduce the Rotation Model way of doing things to the church we had recently joined -- which they did the next year!

Posted below you will see three different groups of lessons:    

  1. Four 20 minute lessons about the first half of the Psalm, aka "Sheep Pens 1-4"
  2. Four 20 minutes lessons about the second half of the Psalm, aka "Sheep Pens 5-8"
  3. Plus a Psalm 23 Computer Lab memory lesson. (Again, the WT's computer lesson is probably better!)

The "Who Wants to Be a Sheep?" quiz show that we finished off the Sheep Odyssey lessons with is now posted in the Ps 23 Bible Games Workshop thread.

Hope you find them useful. 


Last edited by Luanne Payne
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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

A representative of reformatted this post to improve readability.

Last edited by Luanne Payne

Continuation of the Sheep Pen lessons from Neil MacQueen's "

2001: A Sheep Odyssey VBS". 


There are 8 pens in total, we originally did them over two different nights, each "pen" taking about 20 minutes. You could easily adapt them to a Sunday Morning Rotation Schedule, doing two or three pens per Sunday.


Prior to beginning today/tonight's Sheep Pen Rotation:


IN THE SHEEP WOODSHOP each student will construct a small table  using pre-cut shelfboard (6" x 8") and two 4"x4" legs/pedestals which they will nail the shelf board onto. All this needs to be precut. Have a drill read to pre-drill nail holes. You may screw the table onto the two legs but let the kids do it!!


As they go to Pens 5 through 8 they will be ADDING to their table and writing parts of verses on it. In Pen #8 their church family will autograph their table!

Pen Lessons 5-8


Pen 5 Lesson:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.



Open Bibles and read the entire Psalm one word at a time per person going around the circle of sheep. Focus on this verse in Pen 5. Ask your sheep for a definition of "darkest valley" and "evil." Please note that the evil here is NOT capitalized (as in "The Evil One"). Not every child has been raised to articulate the difference between "wrong" and "evil." For our purposes, define evil as truly bad things and bad people, not just people who do wrong things. There are evil people in this world, some of whom appear as a wolf in sheeps clothing. God loves evil people too, but also wants to protect us from their evil attitudes and acts. Be prepared to list evil attitudes and evil acts.


Tell the story:

Sheep herds need to keep moving to new pastures otherwise they will eat the pasture's grass, roots and all and destroy it. Sheep are often herded in hilly or moutainous country. During summer months the shepherd will move them up the mountain to take advantage of cool green pastures there. This means moving through ravines and valleys on their way across the hillside.... a perfect place for sheep to get lost and attacked by predators. Sheep naturally get nervous when moving between pastures. The Good Shepherd must be on the look-out for any trouble, any sheep going the wrong way and wild animals. Sheep will calm down in the presence of the shepherd. The shepherd will reach out and guide sheep with the staff. (The kids can relate to this: Sheep are like cats & dogs --they are happy to see their owner and upset when you leave them).


Ask: What are some of the dark valleys people must walk through? (-bad people, bad problems, death, grief, pain, divorce, health problems. Don't sugarcoat it with the sheep).


Ask: How does God guide and comfort us?



Play the "Darkest Valley" Game. In a totally dark room create a winding pathway along which you'll send each sheep one at a time spaced in intervals. Their only guide is glow-in-the-dark symbols on the floor. If they follow the symbols of rod and staff going in a straight line from one to the next, they won't run in to anything (like folding chairs). Also place some other symbols made with glow-in-the-dark material that are meant to confuse the students. These can be arrows or pictures of a wolf. Give each a glow-in-the-dark rod and staff sticker when done for use at home. Yes...darkness is scary for some children, but this is the POINT. Let them go with a teacher hand in hand if they have a problem.


**We are thinking of putting down a large tarp in a dark room to apply the glow in the dark pointers to.....then pouring uncooked macaroni, spaghetti and rotini pasta on the tarp and making a winding PATH through it. If the kids step off the path they CRUNCH. Will they rather crunch than stay on the path? Probably going to have to award "points" to encourage them to make it through without crunching.



Write the words "your rod and your staff --they comfort me" along one edge of the table.

Use GLO IN THE DARK MARKERS and STICKERS to decorate the TOP of the TABLE.

Pen 6 Lesson: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies


Open Bibles and read the entire Psalm one word at a time per person going around the circle of sheep. Focus on this verse in Pen 6...."table...."


Tell the story by Doing:

Ask the children to set this verse's scene with you. Have a student help you place a small toy table on a cloth in front of you and begin setting it with good things. Ask the sheep what God would put on the table to "prepare" it. The psalmist is thinking "feast." Ask students to help you place feast items on the table. Include little snacks the kids like to eat -enough for each to do so during the lesson. Ask: "Is the psalmist talking just about food?"


Pull out a toy chair and place it at the table. Set a beanie babie in the chair. Ask: "How would the enemies of the sheep feel seeing this table?" Ask the sheep "what's wrong with this picture?" (the point: God is preparing a feast for sheep AND enemies to come together over. This is the image you want to reinforce.) Place extra chairs at the table. Bring some beanie babies and place them at each chair. Make up a story for each "enemy" beanie babie --why it doesn't like the sheep and how they haven't been getting along).


Discuss the image of feasting at a table together and their own family dinners. Are these joy-filled occasions? They are a place we can get to know each other. And remember, this is God's table he has prepared so he is there. How can God turn enemies into friends? What table do we have in a our sanctuary? How does Christ's table bring us together? What does the "table before me in the presence of my enemies mean to you now?"


What is the Psalm trying to tell you that the Good Shepherd wants to do for us? (reconcile us with each other). The younger kids will think "food" is what brings us together. Stress that it is God's presence in setting and overseeing the table that makes the difference. Please also note that the enemies SEE God setting the table for the sheep! As you're munching the table snacks ask: How do others see God with us?


Note: bring a variety of "good things" to place on the table at different times. Ask different sheep to help you place these items and share the extras (such as small pieces of bread/doughnut holes and candy) with the group as you're telling the story and asking questions.



Write this pen's verse on one of the edges of the table: "you prepare a table before me in the presence of my bring us together.". Now give each student FOAM PAPER PLACEMATS and FOAM PLATES of FOOD and GLUE THEM to their table top.  To save time, have pieces already cut.


Pen 7 Lesson:

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.



Open Bibles and read the entire Psalm one word at a time per person going around the circle of sheep. Focus on this verse in Pen 7...."oil...cup...."


Tell the story and Do:

Ask: Who else in the Bible had oil put on their head? (it was a sign used to make someone King, King David, Jesus was given MYRRH oil at his birth, and was anointed by the woman with the jar of nard.) Oil was also the way men and women cleaned their hair back them. The oil was sweet smelling. The word "anointed one" in Hebrew language is "messiah." At it's root, it means "he who smells pleasing to God." Sheep really smell bad. A shepherd wouldn't put perfume on their sheep, but they would put a special mixture of oils (linseed, sulphur, spices and tar) on the sheep's head during "fly time" to reduce "sheep scab" caused by mites, and to kill fly larvae that were laid in the mucous membranes of the sheep. Hence the phrase "sheep dip." Once the oils were applied, sheep would settle down and eat better.



Give each student a tiny sealable plastic cup (like a specimen cup found online) and a stirring stick. Have them mix in it cinammon spice with some Vaseline.


Sin is sometimes described in the Bible as something that smells bad. It is definitely irritating to commit sins if they smell bad! Go around to each sheep and ask them to describe one irritating thing in their life they'd like to feel better about. As they tell you, place a dab of sweet smelling Vaseline on the end of their nose, dabbed on their hair in one spot and behind their ears. Talk as you do this so that the smells are smelled!


Ask if anyone is having a bad fight with someone. Tell them that some shepherds will apply greasey oil to Ram's horns so that two fighting Rams will slide off each other when they collide and stop fighting. Offer to place a big glob of Vaseline on their head! (for fun), then ask them how God could help them end the fight. Note that even when you're not the combatant fighting can make you feel bad when it is close to you.


Add that the "cup" is often called a "cup of contentment" the sheep are content when they aren't scratching, infected or fighting. The Good Shepherd wants us to be overflowing with contentment, but to do that, we need to let God make us pleasing, not fighting or irritable.


Table: Write the verse on one of the legs or edge of the table.  Then using quick setting glue, GLUE THEIR CUP of good smelling anointing oil they just made to the TOP of the Table. Caution them to let the glue harden for 2 minutes.

Pen 8 Lesson:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long



Open Bibles and read the entire Psalm one word at a time per person going around the circle of sheep. Focus on this verse in Pen 8...."Surely...dwell....." Note: the older reading of this verse is " the house of the Lord forever." Please use the new reading here of " whole life long."


ASK: "What do goodness and mercy mean?"


Tell the story:

Sheep eat everything in a pasture, grass AND weeds. And then they leave fertilizer behind. If the sheep keep moving to new pastures led by the Shepherd, the grass grows back stronger than before and there are fewer weeds. Goodness follows a well led flock!


Ask: Do sheep live in houses? (no) Then what kind of "house" is the sheep talking about?
In the Bible, the word "house" can mean the same thing as "family." Have everyone read the last line of the Psalm together again changing the word "house" to "family." Wherever the family goes and loves each other, you feel at "home."



Play the "Follow me to the Lord's House" Game.

Divide into two or three teams. On 'go' each team races to four stations in this order:


Station 1: They place a sheet that has several holes cut in it so that they can all fit their heads through it and become one SHEEP (draw a sheep on the sheet for fun).


Station 2: They tie a piece of yarn around each teammate's ankle.


Station 3: Each teammate must tie a tin can to the end of their yarn. The tin can is marked "Goodness." The tin can has a hole in it for easy tieing.


Station 4: Each teammate must tie a tin can labeled "Mercy" to the end of their yarn next to the other tin can (love that loud clanking noise!). First team to do all four stations and then make it back to "dwell in the house of the Lord" with all the right cans still tied to their ankles WINS. If a can falls off, they must stop and put it back on.



Have each sheep write "I shall dwell in the house (family) of the Lord my whole life long." on the UNDERSIDE of their table.  Have them then INVITE OTHERS to "AUTOGRAPH" the bottom of their table.  The sheep can also list important people in their lives. This is their "family of God."

More about Rods and Staffs:


The meaning of the Hebrew word for "rod," SEBET, and "staff," MISHENA, are very special. The Hebrew word SEBET has the idea of a "stick." It originally referred to a part of a tree. In the Old Testament the "stick" was used to count sheep (Lev. 27:32). It was also used to protect the sheep from other animals. In the book of Proverbs the stick is used for discipline (Prov. 13:24). SEBET has a sense of authority.


The Hebrew word MISHENA has the idea of "something to lean on," "trust," "support," or "staff." Together, the two words paint a picture of a strong, protective shepherd whom we can trust. One who not only cares for us but who will protect us. Sheep are stupid animals compared to other creatures. If we are following the shepherd and danger, trouble, and the threat of death come in the form of life's foxes and bears, He is there with His rod and staff. He protects us with His rod and we can trust the leading of His staff.



"2001: A Sheep Odyssey" was written by Neil MacQueen


A representative of reformatted this post to improve readability.


Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

2001: A Sheep Odyssey

Third Night: Psalm 23 Computer Software Lesson

Our Sheep Odyssey lessons were originally an evening VBS. Nights 1 and 2 had the 8 Sheep Pen lessons posted above.  Night 3 has some songs and games, plus a spin in our computer lab to see how much of the Psalm they remembered!

Back then, we didn't have Cal and Marty's Scripture Memory Game software (Sunday Software), but had something similar though more primitive called "Wordy".  Basic lesson idea is the same:  Kids type in Psalm 23 into the verse editor, checking their spelling, then play the scripture scramble game.

Recall from the other two posts that our MAIN OBJECTIVE was for every child to leave our VBS knowing by heart the 23rd Psalm.  Learning it on a computer certainly helps.


Originally posted by Neil MacQueen

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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