Children’s and Young People writing

Key findings about children and young people writing in 2015 from the Literacy Trust, based on a survey of 32,569 children and young people aged 8 to 18, include:

  • Fewer children and young people enjoyed writing in 2015 compared with the previous year, with enjoyment levels dropping from 49.3% in 2014 to 44.8% in 2015.
  • Fewer children and young people wrote something daily outside class in 2015 than in 2014, with daily writing levels decreasing from 27.2% in 2014 to 20.7% in 2015. Daily writing levels also continue to be in stark contrast to daily reading levels, which have increased dramatically over the past couple of years.
  • When asked whether they ever write something that they don’t share with anyone else, nearly half (46.8%) of children and young people said they did.
  • Technology-based formats, such as text messages (68.6%), messages on social networking sites (44.3%) and instant messages (46.2%) continue to dominate the writing that children and young people engaged in outside class in 2015. Notes (3%), letters (25.8%) and lyrics (24.6%) are the most frequently written non-technology formats. With the exception of poems, most formats of writing have again decreased in 2015.
  • Attitudes towards writing have remained unchanged in 2015.

Read the full findings here.

It leaves me reflecting on how we encourage journaling with teenagers in the church.

It’s encouraging to see that 46.8% of children and young people write things that they don’t share with anyone else, but with daily writing outside the classroom dropping substantially from 27.2% in 2014 to 20.7% in 2015 I think we need to look at how we recommend technology-based formats of journaling.

Christmas video 22: 10 year old girl Kaylee Rodgers sings brilliant version of Hallelujah

A 10-year-old girl from Northern Ireland has gone viral after a video of her singing a variation on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ for her school choir performance was posted on Facebook.

Kaylee Rodgers, from Donaghadee, County Down, has autism and ADHD, and began singing as a way to build her confidence.

The video of her singing the Killard House school choir’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ has attracted more than 200,000 views from people around the world.

It was originally posted by parent Nichola Martin, who was proud of her son Blake who also took part in the choir.

Kaylee told ITV that she was excited just to be singing, but that it was also “amazing” that the video had received so much attention.  She said:

“I just loved doing it.”

Colin Millar, head teacher at Killard House, said:

“For a child who came in P4 and would really talk, couldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing.  It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part.”

The alternative lyrics sung by Kaylee were written by contemporary Christian rock band Cloverton, who are based in Kansas.  Their version was posted on YouTube in 2014

Christmas video 19: Jesus: Truth or Fairytale

“Jesus: Truth or Fairytale?” a Christmas video resource aimed at 16-19 year olds. For many young people Christmas is a fairytale, a nice story we repeat each year. This video asks the question, what if God really came to town?

The video features Meg Cannon reciting a spoken word piece that brings back the grit, humanity and truth into the nativity story, and then questions what that might change. If Jesus’ birth was a real event, what does that mean for me and what does that mean for you?

 

Christmas Eve All-Age Talk 2014: Christmas Selfies

Towards the end of November each year the Oxford Dictionaries announce their word of the year.  In 2013 they chose “selfie” as the word for 2013.  Its formal definition is:

“a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”

 

Apparently, the word was first used on an Australian online form in 2002, but its recorded uses from 2012 to 2013 increased by 17,000% from the previous year.

 

It’s even gained some derivatives, such as welfie, which is a selfie taken while doing a workout, and shelfie, which is a photo of your own bookshelf.

 

Some prominent leaders got in trouble for taking a selfies at the memorial event for Nelson Mandela.  We’ve got selfies from space, alongside selfies from the diving board.  Even cats are getting in on the act!

 

This year royalty have joined in the fun, here’s a selfies of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from their trip to Australia, and the Queen looking a little nervous as a young lad snaps one of her and him.

 

The children’s and youth team here love a good selfie, encouraged by the young people who took this one just before the paint party at Soul Survivor in the summer.

 

Santa and his elves even enjoy a cheeky selfies when they have a moment.

 

Not that there’s anything new about selfies – they’ve been around since the camera was invented. And even before that, Vincent Van Gogh perfected the self portrait. Although, of course, he didn’t upload it to a social media website, because there were no such things as social media websites. The nearest thing to such a website would be a wall in an art gallery, perhaps.

 

But God was ahead of the selfie game long before the post-impressionists set paint to canvas: as the opening chapter of Genesis reminds us, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And he, if you like, uploaded his selfies to his creation, to this planet earth, so that the rest of his creation could see them.

 

Unfortunately, that selfie often comes out a little blurred, and leaves God hard to recognize.  So God had another go, he decided that he would call a people to be his own people, who would show the people of the world what God was like, so that other people could see him in them. But that didn’t seem to work either – again the image of God, the selfie that God tried to create was blurred.

 

So God had yet another go: this selfie needed to be a whole person, a whole life, devoted to showing what God is really like. And so God sent his son into the world.  Jesus is God’s ultimate ‘selfie’ – as the letter to the Hebrews puts it ”he is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being,”

 

But in God’s selfie, which we are celebrating this Christmas time, we don’t see presidents and prime ministers, but rather peasants and shepherds; we don’t see stunning surroundings, but an animal feeding trough, in a borrowed stable, in a country under military occupation by a foreign power.

 

God didn’t take a selfie to associate with famous people, or to be seen in exotic places – it was purely to make absolutely sure that we’re in no doubt about what God is like; to give us the best possible image, free from the distortion of human brokenness and sinfulness.

 

If we want to know what God is like, we can look at Jesus – not because Jesus is like God, but because Jesus is God – God’s selfie.

 

So God is the one who says “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”; God says “Let the children come to me”; God says “No-one will snatch you out of my hand”; God says, over and over again “Do not be afraid”.

 

Jesus told his disciples, at the end of his earthly life, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”

 

From God’s selfie, we know that God is loving, sacrificial and forgiving, willing to go to any length to reach us in our need – and I think that’s a selfie worth sharing!

 

But think for just a bit more. What does that then say about us, those of us who are followers of Jesus. You see, most of the selfies that I look at on the internet are of people I’ve never met, people I’ve never seen in real life. At the other end of his life, after his death and resurrection, Jesus left this world to return to his heavenly father. But he left behind selfies, so that people would discover him and come to know him. And those selfies were his followers, those selfies are his followers today.

 

Do you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus – because Jesus is God. Do you want to know what Jesus looks like, look at us, look at you and me – because the church is Jesus, the church is the body of Christ here on earth. Isn’t that amazing?

 

Christingles

Today we celebrate the good news by lighting Christingles.  Christingle literally means “Christ light” and celebrates the light of Jesus coming into the world.  In John’s gospel, his account of Jesus’ life, Jesus is described as the “light of men”: “The Light shines in darkness but the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

 

The Orange stands for the world, with all its sin and suffering.  We have seen a lot of that on television recently – with the bin lorry accident in Glasgow, shootings in Australia and the USA, wars around the world.   It’s such a shame because this world could be a really nice place to live in.  But evil people do evil things.

 

The Candle stands for Jesus coming into this world, as the light of the world.  As we heard earlier, Jesus said: “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Jesus’ birth, which we celebrate at Christmas is the like the lighting of the candle.

 

LIGHT THE CANDLE

 

The red ribbon stands for the blood of Jesus.  Jesus, the little baby whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas – was killed on a cross when he was only 33 years old.

 

He died so that we could become part of God’s family.  Jesus blood was spilled to take away the evil of the world – to wash us and makes us whiter than snow.

 

The red ribbon is placed around the orange to show that – when Jesus died – it was for the whole world.  When evil men killed Jesus – an act, which we remember on Good Friday – they thought that they had put out the light of the world for good.

 

BLOW OUT THE CANDLE ON THE CHRISTINGLE

 

And it seemed for three days that the Light of the world had been put out.

 

RELIGHT THE CHRISTINGLE CANDLE

 

However God relit it, when he raised Jesus from the dead and every Christmas we are reminded that Jesus continues to shine in the darkness.

 

The four cocktail sticks stand for the four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter.  On the sticks there are fruit, nuts and sweets to show the good fruits in the earth.

 

The fruit also reminds us if we are to follow Jesus, we too should produce good fruit. As St. Paul reminds us the fruit of God’s spirit in our lives is: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 6:22)

 

I’d like to leave you with a final thought.  When people killed Jesus, they thought that they had put out the light of the world for good. However God relit it, when he raised Jesus from the dead.  And so I’d like to encourage you to think about this every time you see a candle on a Christingle or on an advent wreath.

 

Jesus’ birth is the like the lighting of the candle.  And although it was blown out later by bad men, God re-lit the candle and it continues to shine in the darkness.  And we should live our lives so that people see that we shine too, as the Candle – just like Jesus.  For we too need to bring love, help and support to others who need our love and God’s love.

Christmas Assembly: Crackers and Chocolates

I’ve used this assembly in our local Infant and Junior schools with much enjoyment from children, staff and parents:

What are you most looking forward to this Christmas?

  • the presents
  • the parties
  • a special time with my family
  • the food
  • singing Christmas songs
  • the magic of it all

Most of us look forward to something at Christmas. The anticipation (the looking forward) is sometimes as much fun as Christmas itself!

Pick some children to come up to the front.  How do you feel to have a cracker in your hand? (Try to draw out feelings of excitement and anticipation.)  How much do you want to pull the cracker and see what’s inside?  What do you expect to find inside?  Now pull your cracker. (Let the children enjoy the contents!)  What do you think of what’s inside?

Crackers are really exciting because the contents are a surprise. Sometimes we’re pleased with the gift inside, sometimes disappointed.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Jews were excited about the coming of a Saviour.

At that time, their enemies had attacked their land and taken them all away as prisoners. They were forced to settle down in a foreign country. They were homesick. They longed to go back to their own land, their own villages, towns and homes.

A man called Isaiah told them about a coming Saviour who would set them free. Isaiah said:

‘For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.’

Wow! A child. Mighty God! Prince of Peace! Endless peace! No more suffering! Freedom from exploitation!  The people must have been so excited. The anticipation must have been too much to bear! A million times more exciting than holding a cracker in your hand!

The birth of the baby Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophecy Isaiah had made many years before.

Here’s a recap of the Christmas story:

A long time ago, God made the Galaxy, beautiful, rich, wonderful.  And filled it with people, people he made, people he loved, people like you and me, people who were all special to him. And he gave these people everything, all kinds of FRUIT SKITTLES.  Everything except one tree, one Fruit Pastille others which they were told not to eat.

But the people wanted to do things their own way, so they did a BREAKAWAY from God. Trouble is, after the breakaway everything started to go wrong.  Really really ROCKY.  Suffering, pain, loneliness, bullying, violence, death.  Because we’d chosen our way instead of God’s way.

Everything just got really HARIBO (horrible).  So to give them a BOOST God promised that things would change.  One day a special person would come and put things right, I’m telling you the truth, I’m not LION.)

Many years later, a girl called Mary heard a WISPA, from an angel who said that she would be the Mother of God’s son. But how could this be? She was not yet married to Joseph. To have a baby now would be a TOPIC of conversation in the village.  But before she could say CHOCOLATE COATED PEANUTS she was pregnant.

Poor Joseph.  Well his brain was in a TWIRL and mush like MARSHMALLOWS and he had to take TIME OUT and have a lie down.  As he slept, he had a dream, and an angel explained everything, and soon this became as clear as FOX’S GLACIER MINTS.  And when he woke up he decided to have a WORTHER’S ORIGINAL to remind him og the good old days.

But before the baby arrived, political events overtook them – Joseph had to return to Bethlehem for the census – it was 80 miles away – a MARATHON (Snickers) journey, over stony hills which were CRUNCHIE under foot, and when you are pregnant it’s no bed of ROSES but Joseph thought the BREAK would do her good.

When they arrived, Joseph tried to find lodgings, but CLUB after CLUB let them down – No room they all said. Eventually they were offered a little out house – it was there that the little baby was born. He was named Jesus, which means Saviour. He was laid in a manger, lined with hay and STRAW (Sherbet straw!)

And though Joseph was a bit confused, he was a good egg, you couldn’t hope to meet a KINDER man (Kinder Egg), so he decided to look after Mary, and God’s baby.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem.  Mary was heavily pregnant, and Joseph wondered if she’d FLAKE out on the journey.

They finally found a room full of animals – might not have been a stable, sometimes people lived in a house with a split floor, animals on one level, people on the next, so maybe the innkeeper let them into his home. We don’t know what sort of animals were there, but by morning there was Jesus NESTLEing in his mothers arms.

All sorts of strange visitors started to turn up.

That night, some shepherds, heard holy music makers, MINSTRELS in the sky. “Glory to God in the Highest”.  The shepherds decided to take a break (KIT-KAT) from looking after the sheep. Let’s GO and see what’s happening in Bethlehem.  So straight as an AERO they headed for Bethlehem to find Jesus.  And they were there in a JAFFA. 

When they were there they found the TRIO, Joseph, Mary and Jesus, who was lying in a manger. It was not at all a NICE place; smelly and dirty – not really a fit place for a maternity ward. They were however UNITED in their wonder, they REVELled at the thought that this child was special. Could this be just as the prophets had foretold – was this the LION of Judah? It was getting late, AFTER EIGHT, in fact – so the shepherds returned to the hills – huffing and PUFFIN and singing praise to God as they went.

Meanwhile in a far country, some SMARTIES, wise men were busily scanning the GALAXY, when they saw a STARBURST near the MILKY WAY. Was it MARS? No it was a special STAR – signalling the birth of a King. They travelled long and hard over TOBLERONE mountains and reached Herod’s Palace – they were not embarrassed to HOBNOB with royalty.

Herod was very interested – “A King has been born?” – He didn’t believe them and called theM ALL TEASERS, but just to make sure – he tried to FUDGE the issue by saying that he wanted to go and worship the baby – and told the wise men to report to him on their way back.  Herod was extremely dangerous to know, not the type of person who would give you his last ROLO or share his CHOCOLATE ORANGE.  The wise men travelled until the found Jesus and they brought out their KINGTSIZE gifts, no TWIX, just BOUNTY: GOLD, frankincense, and Myrrh.  Then God warned them in a dream that Herod was up to his TWIX again, seeking the child’s life. So they took the TIME OUT to return by another route.  Herod sat in his sumptuous palace, seething and plotting and grabbing handfuls of JELLY BABIES  and biting off their heads, a terrible sign of what was to come.

Now that’s the familiar story – the CLASSIC tale, told at Christmas. It has little to do with reindeer and FLAKES of snow and robins and a baby in a clean crib decorated with tinsel. The original story was not that NICE. Jesus was born a refugee, he was a threat, a danger – don’t miss the meaning.

Jesus was born so that ALLSORTS of people, RANDOMS might know God’s love for them. Many people are looking for meaning and purpose – some kind of REFRESHER in life – a BOOST in difficult times. The Christmas Story really is cause for CELEBRATION, Jesus is no MINATURE HERO!

But what a surprise! A mighty king born in a stable? With poor parents?  There were lots of different reactions to Jesus’ birth.

  • King Herod, the man who was king when he was born, tried to kill him.
  • Many Jews were disappointed and couldn’t believe that Jesus was the one promised long ago. They said, ‘What a letdown! A King? No way! A Saviour? You must be joking!’
  • Other people knew that God can work in surprising ways. They came to worship the newborn king.

Time for reflection

Today there are still lots of different reactions to Christmas.

Some people love it; others hate it.

Some people look forward to it; others worry about it.

Some people have too much to do; others sit at home alone.

Some people celebrate the birth of Jesus; others do not.

Prayer

Father God,

thank you for Christmas,

for all that we are looking forward to this year.

Help us to remember those who are not looking forward to Christmas.

Help us to be there for them.

Amen.

 

Best children’s Christmas story book

Jesus' Christmas PartyOne of my favourite resources for the Christmas season is Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan.

Nicholas Allan writes and illustrates the nativity through the eyes of a grumpy inn keeper who is unexpectedly at the centre of Jesus’ birth.  The story follows him as he is woken up repeatedly by Mary and Joseph and guests visiting the newborn.

I first heard of the book when I was a child and it was used for a Sunday School drama to present the Christmas narrative to the whole church.  As a children’s and youth worker I’ve used it numerous times, be it with young pre-school children, older teenagers, or non-Christian adults.  The book is easy for people to follow and join in, and yet still allows for profounds truths to be taught.

It can be bought in a number of sizes – from A6 just to fit in the pocket and use to tell a large group of people, to a large A4 size which a class of children can crowd around and look at the pictures.

Singapore government say education is not about the grade, it’s about learning

Exams

Singapore’s education system has long been criticised for the emphasis on grades over the learning process. But it looks like the Ministry of Education wants to make a bold statement to counter that.

It just launched a touching commercial based on a true story of a student and her teacher Madam Phua:

The video shows how Phua guided Shirley through a failing grade with Geography lessons. Both student and teacher continue to keep in touch today, according to the ad.

Assembly: Ambition

This morning I led an assembly on the theme of Ambition for one of our local junior schools:

Preparation and materials

None required.

Assembly

I have a question for all of you sat here before me: what do you want to be when you grow up? Wait for responses or have a few members of the school primed to answer.

 

The question is one that you will all have been asked at some point by grandparents, aunts and uncles and probably your mum and dad. You may have even thought about the question yourself.

 

There may be many and various answers to the question and the answer may not remain the same throughout your life. For example, I wanted to be a farmer, then a lawyer, and next a teacher (insert your own here if you like). I have ended up as a youth worker, something I considered, but did not really pay that much attention to. And yet, here I am, in a job that I think suits me and one that I enjoy.

 

It might be that you want to be a footballer for a particular team (Southampton/Manchester United/local team), a pop star, a neuro-surgeon, astronaut, actor, lawyer, weather forecaster. Or maybe you want to do a seemingly unexciting but essential job like postal delivery, or train to be a nurse, or dare I say it, even a teacher. You may find that your thoughts and ideas change with age, with experience and when you have a clearer understanding of what your strengths and weaknesses are.

 

‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’

 

This was written by Paul nearly 2,000 years ago, but I believe that it really does have something to say to us today. Let’s break it down shall we and look at how we can apply this teaching to life in the twenty-first century and see if we can find something to use in our lives today.

 

Let’s think about the phrase ‘selfish ambition’ in the quote from Paul. This is in no way saying that ambition is wrong – it is right to be ambitious, to have goals, aims and dreams that you want to achieve. If those ambitions come out of having been selfish, however – that is, you have put yourself before everyone else, you have trodden on others to get what you want – then that’s not right. Let’s say, for example, that you really want the main part in the school play and you know your friend wants to go for it, too. You have a sneaking suspicion that she might be better than you, so you tell her the wrong dates for the audition. She misses out and you get the part.

 

Paul also talks about conceit. This is an interesting point because I am not entirely sure we use this word very much nowadays, at least I don’t hear it. We do often hear its synonyms, though: egotistical, self-centred, self-serving. In the play scenario, this might mean that you try out before your friend because you believe that you may be better than her.

 

Next, Paul says ‘in humility regard others as better than yourselves’. This is not saying that you should always put others first; it’s saying that if you have your own skills and talents, but you know that someone is better at something than you are, then you should take a back seat and allow that person to shine. So, returning to the school play, you should be truthful about the audition dates and let the best person get the part. It is about humility; about being humble and accepting that others have talents that we may not and our time to shine will come, just not necessarily at that particular moment.

 

By seeing the brilliance of others, we serve their interests, setting aside our selfishness. It is a matter of seeing that ‘what I want’ might not necessarily be what’s best for the greater good, for other people or in the long term.

 

What can you do in four minutes?  You can hard-boil an egg.  You can listen to a song.  You can queue at a till in the supermarket.  You can take a shower.  You can answer a question that you’ve been set for your maths homework.
Four minutes isn’t a long period of time, but it also isn’t a particularly short period of time either. It can seem too long if you’re doing something that takes a lot of effort. It can seem too short if you need to complete a certain task within that time. For instance, a distance runner trying to break a record has to keep up his or her speed even when the body wants to give up, knowing that the seconds are relentlessly ticking away. Roger Bannister is an athlete who understood exactly what four minutes felt like.
For male athletes in the middle of the twentieth century, running a mile – four laps of an athletics track – in under four minutes became an obsession.
During the Second World War, two Swedish athletes – Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson – took advantage of their country’s neutrality to chip away at the world record. They brought it down from 4 minutes 6.4 seconds to 4 minutes 1.4 seconds, but they couldn’t break the magic 4-minute barrier.
For nine years that record remained unbroken. It was as if there was a psychological barrier. Some even believed it wasn’t physically possible. Different athletes attempted to break it. At least one claimed to have done so in a training session, but no one could manage it in a public race until Roger Bannister, with his friends Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, lined up at the Iffley Road track in Oxford on the windy evening of 6 May 1954.

 

Brasher led for the first two laps, reaching the halfway stage in 1 minute 58 seconds. Chataway then took over, with Bannister on his shoulder until, with half a lap to go, he sprinted into the lead, head rolling and arms waving in his signature running style, pounding down the finishing straight and through the tape before collapsing exhausted into the arms of his supporters.
The winning time was given as 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The barrier had been broken!

 

For Roger Bannister, the four-minute mile was right for him. He was already the British record holder for both the mile and 1,500 metres. He knew he had the ability, he just needed to step up his training and find the right conditions for his attempt. Crucially, he also needed to put together the right team to help him achieve his ambition. In Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, he had that team. They led him through the early stages of the race, keeping the pace up, protecting him from the gusty wind. So it was that he became a world record breaker.
Personal bests happen when we take the same steps Roger Bannister took. First, we choose what we want to improve. It’s a good idea for it to be something in which we think we have some potential. It’s the right area of your life. It doesn’t have to be a school subject. It can be a relationship, a hobby, your personality, your knowledge, a skill. Next, you need to put some effort into what you want to achieve. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Yet, any ambition is surely worth it. No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. Finally, it’s often good to involve others, for their support, advice and company. They’ll also be there to congratulate you when you achieve your new personal best!
Sir Roger Bannister was asked if he considered running the four-minute mile to be his proudest achievement. His reply was, ‘No’. He valued his contribution as a neurologist to research on the human nervous system far more. It’s like that with personal bests, too. We achieve one, but there are always others we can aim for. Ambitions never end.

 

Time for Reflection

So, maybe today, try not putting yourself first. This might be as simple as holding the door open for someone else or taking the time to listen to a friend who always listens to you or helping out at home rather than leaving everything for your mum and dad to do.

 

Let’s also think about how we can try to see our place in the grand scheme of things, taking everyone and their talents and needs into account rather than putting ourselves first.

Bishop Rachel Treweek to lead campaign tackling negative body image

 

venerable-rachel-treweek

One of the Church of England’s first female bishops is launching a campaign to tackle to negative body image.

Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek has already visited a number of schools to talk to girls about the problem.

She said her experience as a teenager had inspired her to tackle the issue.  She told the Sunday Times:

“I’m very aware that I did not fulfil what pretty girls are meant to be like.  It’s got worse since I was that age. I wasn’t being bombarded by social media, I wasn’t using a mobile phone or looking at the internet.”

The campaign will use #Liedentity and show photo shopped images in the hope of allowing teenagers to accept themselves for who they are.

Assembly: Special names

names

This afternoon I did an assembly in one of our local Infant school’s on the theme of names:

Preparation and materials

  • You will need some name trays or labels from the new Reception class. If possible, choose children who have the same first name as someone else in the school.
  • Have available a class register from an older class.
  • You will also need a reader for the Bible passage, 1 Samuel 3.4-10 (Good News Translation).
  • Toothpaste, spoon and knife.

Assembly

Welcome everyone back to school after the summer break.

Explain that many new pupils have joined the school in Reception and that others have moved home and schools over the summer. Welcome the new children in particular and say that everyone hopes they will all soon settle happily into the school family.

Introduce a few of the new Reception children. Show a name tray or label and ask the child to identify him or herself. Welcome the child by saying what a lovely name he or she has and ask if anyone else in the school has the same name. Ask those children to stand at the front so that the children who have the same name are standing together.

Show a class register from a more senior class and explain to the new children that their teacher will often call out the names in the register to check whether the children are at school that day. Demonstrate by asking the children in the older class to respond as their names are called out.

Ask the new children if they have learnt the names of all the children in their class yet. Now ask all the children if any of them have found that the teachers haven’t yet worked out who they are. Ask if anyone has been called by the wrong name. Point out that this can sometimes be funny, and sometimes a bit annoying.

Share with the children a brief anecdote from your own childhood, illustrating the anxiety of a new school. Ask if anyone was feeling anxious about the new term, their new teachers or new classes. Explain that often the teachers are also feeling anxious about their new classes and trying to learn all the names!

Tell them that although you know quite a lot of their names it will take you some time to get to know the names of all the new children. Ask the children about their own names. Does everyone have a middle name? Does anyone have more than three names? Try to include a variety of names from different countries and cultures, reflecting the diversity of the school.

Explain that Christians believe that God also knows each child’s name. There is a story in the Bible about a child called Samuel whom God calls by name. Ask if any children in the school are called Samuel. In the Bible story, Samuel was very young when he found out that God knew his name.

Samuel lived with a man called Eli and he worked in the temple of God. Samuel had furniture, lamp stands and plates to polish and errands to run for Eli. It was Samuel’s job to make sure that the lamps didn’t go out before the sun came up. In the morning, it was his job to open the doors wide and let the daylight in. Samuel worked very hard.

As Samuel got older, he began to get to know God for himself, just like you are doing. One night, after Eli and Samuel had gone to bed, something unusual happened. All of a sudden, Samuel woke up. Someone was calling his name.

Ask the reader to read the Bible passage, 1 Samuel 3.4-10.

Ask the children to join in by speaking Eli’s words, ‘No, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed,’ every time you nod your head. When the reader has finished reading the Bible passage, continue the story.

From that time on, Samuel knew that God wanted to speak to him and he always listened. God blessed Samuel and when he grew up, Samuel became a priest like Eli and also a great prophet. God knew Samuel from the moment he was born. God knew Samuel’s name and he spoke to him.

Christians believe that God knows our names and wants to speak to us, too. God wants to tell us his wonderful story and he wants us to learn to follow him just like Samuel did.

Show the Mr Men books to the children and enthuse about them – their names are special because they tell us what kind of characters they are. For example, you could ask, ‘Why is this character’s name Mr Jelly?’ and seek the answer that it’s because he’s scared of everything.

Sometimes, God chooses to change someone’s name, for example, Saul became Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus when he saw the risen Jesus. And Jesus changed Simon’s name to ‘Peter’, which means ‘Rock’.

In Bible times, people thought very carefully when they named their babies, and every name had a meaning. The name ‘Jesus’ was chosen by God himself. It was announced by the angel, who also gave the reason for the name: ‘for he will save his people from their sins’ (the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘the Lord saves’).

Jesus has quite a few other names and titles: Christians call him, Son of God, Christ, Messiah, Lord, Emmanuel, to name but a few. These all tell us something about his nature and his importance to Christians.

Even God has a number of different names. He is called by different names in the Bible (Yahweh, Lord, Father, for example). These names mean different things to different people and show us something of the nature of who He is.

Names are special and we should be careful how we use them. We should not be unkind about names, or make fun of people’s names, or give people cruel nicknames. Ask the children, have they ever done things that they knew were wrong but just couldn’t quite stop themselves? Give some examples, such as joining in with name calling, or being silly in class just because everyone else is doing it.

Say that you’re a bit like this with a new tube of toothpaste. You were always told by your mum, ‘Squeeze it from the bottom’, but it’s such a temptation to squeeze it in the middle and watch the toothpaste ooze out like a long worm. Then ‘accidentally’ squeeze the tube. Realize with horror what you’ve done! Oh no! What am I going to do? How can I get it back?

Begin to take suggestions and invite some of the children to have a go at putting it back in. Have a few things ready to assist – e.g. knife, spoon, etc. – plus tissues or wipes!

Realize that it’s a hopeless task – once it’s out, it can’t be put back in easily. The damage is done. Compare this with the idea of saying things we know we shouldn’t – upsetting or rude things. Once the words are out we can’t put them back in. We can try to mend things afterwards but it would be so much better if we thought before we spoke or acted. Before we let the words squeeze out – we should THINK!

Time for reflection

To become a good listener like Samuel, we need to learn to be quiet and still. Let’s be very still for a few moments. What can we hear inside? What can we hear outside?

Think for a moment about your own name. Say it silently in your head. Does it have a special meaning? Are you named after someone in your family? Do your family and friends have a shortened version of your name they like to call you by?

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for a new school year. Thank you for everyone in our school family, from the youngest to the oldest. Thank you that you know our names and they were specially chosen for us. Thank you that we are each very, very special to you. Help us to learn more about you so that we can follow you like Samuel did. Amen.

Archbishop: Church of England schools can help shape ‘hopeful’ society

Archbishop Justin Welby visits St Bartholomew’s CofE primary school, London, 26 January 2016.
Archbishop Justin Welby visits St Bartholomew’s CofE primary school, London, 26 January 2016.

Read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s on the vision for CofE schools in this week’s TES:

Education is at the heart of the work the Church of England does for the common good.  Through its 4,500 primary and 200 secondary schools, it educates around one million children a day. It is estimated that around 15 million people alive today attended a Church of England school.

The fundamental purpose of Church of England education is to nurture people to live life in all its fullness, inspired by Jesus’s message in the Gospel of John: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly.” Non-church schools also have inspiring visions, albeit articulated in different language; to inspire and educate the whole person, building them up to flourish in the world.

Click here for the rest of the article.