The Prodigal Son
Summary of Lesson Activities:
The children will learn the parable of the prodigal son. They will explore how the young man went searching for the proverbial greener pastures and how his desires didn’t satisfy him. The class will see that the father welcomed the son home, just as God always welcomes us home.
"But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Luke 15:32
Lesson Objectives: The children will:
- (Older students) Locate the story in the Bible
- (Younger students) Name that the story is found in the New Testament in the Gospels.
- Re-tell in his/her own words the story of the Prodigal Son.
- Define a parable as a story told by Jesus to teach his listeners something.
- Discover that God’s forgiveness is always available for the one who repents and asks for forgiveness. There is cause for celebration when we confess our sin & return to God.
- Examine the emotions and feelings of the characters; relate those feelings to their own lives.
- Question whom the characters represent in the story – does the father represent God, the one who is always seeking us, waiting patiently for us to come to our senses and return to him
- Rainbow glasses
- White Christmas Tree Lights
- Lamp with white bulb, optional
- Picture from Good News Bible of young man and the pigs
- Copies of the color wheel, one for each child, copied on cardstock
- Crayons: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet
- Golf pencils, one for each child.
- Clear tape
- Game wheel, optional
- Large color wheel to attach to game wheel, optional
Arrival Setup: Get Bibles from the hall cabinet. You need at least one Bible for every two children. You can ask each child to get their own and return it at the end of class. Also encourage them to bring their own Bibles.
Opening - Welcome and Lesson Introduction:
Greet the children and introduce yourself. Wear your nametag.
- Have you ever heard the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”?
- What does it mean? That what we don’t have always looks better than what we do have.
In our story today, a young man thinks that his life would be so much better if he could leave home. Yet, he later realizes that home is much better than the situation he’s in.
Things are not always what they seem. Today we’re going to explore that both in our story and in our science experiments.
Dig - Main Content and Reflection:
Bible Story and Experiment Part 1:
Distribute Bibles to each child or every two children.
We are learning about a story that Jesus told. It is called a parable, which was a way that Jesus would use stories to explain ideas about God to the people that were listening.
Our parable is sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Lost Son.” He was “lost” because he thought that if he left home, life would get better. He was “lost” in his ideas. Later, he becomes “lost” in the new places that he’s living.
- Since this is a story that Jesus told, which Testament in the Bible would we find this story? (New Testament)
- Does anyone know what the first four books of the New Testament are? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
- Does anyone know which book this story is found in? Luke
Have the students find the book of Luke, chapter 15, verse 11, in their Bibles. Make sure it is noted that Luke is in the New Testament. An easy way to find it is:
- Open the Bible in middle: this usually lands you in Psalms.
- Take just the back half and find the middle of that: usually gets you to the Gospels, the beginning of the New Testament.
Note: Even though you’ll be telling the story to the students, the exercise of finding the story is still important. We will do this every week. Most 3rd through 5th graders have been given a Bible by Saint Andrews. Encourage them to bring it every Sunday.
Today I’m going to read you this story from the Good News Bible. This version of the Bible is also called “The Bible in Today’s English Version.” Listen to the story from this version.
Jesus went on to say,
There was once a man who had two sons. The younger one said to him, “Father, give me my share of the property now.” So the man divided his property between his two sons.
After a few days the younger son sold his part of the property and left home with the money. He went to a country far away, where he wasted his money in reckless living. He spent everything he had.
- What did the younger son want? Get his money
- What did he want to do? Move away from home.
- Why do you think he wanted to leave home? Probably because he thought things were more exciting or fun in the city.
We all can be like this young man. We look at where we are in life and think things are better elsewhere. We say “when I grow up I’m going to ….” or “when I’m a parent …” or “when I retire I’m going to …” We continually look at other places and think things are going to be different.
- If I asked you to look at the light coming from the ceiling, what color would you say it is? White, clear.
Let’s compare that light to the son’s current life. It’s plain and boring. He knows what it is like. It’s predictable.
The son wants to see what else is out there. He’s curious about what he hasn’t experienced. He imagines that there is so much more to life than what he is familiar with. And it’s got to be better than his current life on the farm.
Plug in the Christmas tree lights and the lamp.
- What color is the light from the lamp? From the Christmas tree lights? White
Well, there’s actually more to the light than you are seeing. What we see as white or plain light is actually a combination of all visible colors of light mixed together. All of the colors of the rainbow come together to create white light.
- Do you believe me?
- Do you want to see all the colors?
- Hand out the “Rainbow Glasses.”
Put on the glasses and look at the lights.
- Now what color do you see? Some will see a rainbow. Some might just see a few colors.
Take the glasses back up. We don’t have enough for the children to take home.
Just as you could look at the white light and see all of the colors, the young son could look out over the horizon and see all of the things that he wanted to do. And so he left.
He spent his money on lots of things.
- What do you think he spent it on? Clothes, Food, Parties, Gambling, Drinking. The Bible says “Reckless Living” so we know it wasn’t necessarily good things.
- What happened to his money? He spent it all.
He went after the life he didn’t have. He thought his life was boring – like the plain, white light. He went after what he thought was a better life – a more colorful life. But did he find a better life? Let’s find out.
Bible Story and Experiment Part 2:
Read the following excerpts from the Bible
Then a severe famine spread over that country, and he was left without a thing. So he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him out to his farm to take care of the pigs. He wished he could fill himself with the bean pods the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything to eat.
At last he came to his senses and said, “All my father's hired workers have more than they can eat, and here I am about to starve! I will get up and go to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.’ ” So he got up and started back to his father.
So now that he’s made a mess of his life he wants to go back to his father. He realizes that the farm wasn’t so bad. In fact, even the hired workers have it better than he does at the present. In other words, he has been living a very “colorful” life and has now seen the “light” and needs to return home. The plain life back on the farm doesn’t seem so boring now. In fact, it looks a lot better than his current situation.
- Let’s pretend that each of the colors of the rainbow represent the young son’s lifestyle. Can we come up with seven actions or things that happened to the young man when he took the money and left?
Write on the white board the seven colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green blue indigo, violet. For each one, assign something that the young man may have done or had happen while he was gone. Some ideas are: Partied, spent his money carelessly, drank, gambled, wasted his money, went broke, starved. If you have extra ideas, just group them together under colors.
- If I give you a crayon for each of these colors, do you think we could combine them in some way to make white?
Give each child a copy of the color wheel, each of the seven colors of crayons, and a pair of scissors.
Explain that they need to color each wedge of the wheel as it is marked on the paper. The darker, the better. Then cut out the wheel.
Once everyone has cut out the wheel, help them to insert a golf pencil directly through the center of the wheel, keeping the wheel toward the point of the pencil. Give them each a piece of scrap paper.
You now have a top. If you spin it slowly, the colors blend together. They actually become somewhat of a mess.
This is like the young man’s life. He went after what he didn’t have and his life became a mess. But now he wants to go back to his old life, to a purer and simple life. His plain old life on the farm.
- Do you think you can take your top and make the colors turn to white?
Now spin your top as fast as you can and watch. If you keep trying, eventually the colors will blend together and you will see white.
- Where did the white color come from?
- Where did the colors go?
White light is a mixture of all different colors of light. Remember what we saw when we used the rainbow glasses to look at white light?
- Let’s think back to the young man. Do you think the young man can get rid of his colorful life and go back to his plain life on the farm?
- Do you think the father will welcome him back?
Let’s find out.
Bible Story Part 3:
He was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with pity, and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him.
“Father,” the son said, “I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.”
But the father called to his servants. “Hurry!” he said. “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast! For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.” And so the feasting began.
His father not only welcomed him home, but threw a big party for him. His father was overjoyed to have his son come home. So yes, the young man was able to leave his colorful life and go home.
Reflecting and Closing:
We all are guilty of sin. And I would predict that most of us are guilty about wanting what we don’t have. Our friends have more toys than we do. Or they have better clothes. Or they go on fantastic vacations. But we want what others have, we are sinning. The tenth commandment tells us:
Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.
That would include wanting their lifestyle.
But when we go to God and confess our sins, he washes us clean. He takes all the colors of our sins and makes us pure white.
Close in prayer thanking God for his forgiveness.
Filler Time (Use only if you need it)
If you have time, allow the children to make other color combinations on the color wheels and see what happens.
A lesson by Ann Wright from: Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church
Raleigh, NC, USA
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