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The Goodbye Boat

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)

Aims

To reflect on how hard it can be to say ‘Goodbye’. 

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a copy of The Goodbye Boat by Mary Joslin, illustrated by Claire St Louis Little (Lion Children’s Books, 2005). This book explores feelings involved with saying goodbye forever and raises the possibility that death is not the end. The book is beautifully illustrated and ideally the pictures would be displayed during the assembly, but, if this is not possible, you could show the children the book and invite them to borrow it later in the day. In sensitive situations, you may well want to offer the book to individual children.
  • Cut out a large boat shape from a piece of card and have available some blue material to represent water.
  • During the assembly, you will need two small groups of children – one to pretend one of the group is going away, with one of them moving across the room or hall, and another to hold the boat and ripple the ‘water’.
  • For the prayer in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, find, if possible, Irish blessing 'May the road rise up to meet you' from A Child's Book of Blessings,compiled by Sabrina Dearborn (Barefoot Books, 2001).
  • Have available 'Berceuse' from the Dolly Suite by Fauré or 'The Shepherds' Farewell' from L'Enfance du Christ by Berlioz and the means to play it at the end of the assembly or you could sing the hymn suggested in the ‘Song’ section, below.

Assembly

  1. Ask the first group of children to stand at one side of the room or hall. Ask the second group of children to stand nearby, holding the blue material between them to represent the sea and the boat so it looks like it’s sailing on the sea.

  2. Begin by asking everyone to remember or imagine a journey by boat. Ask them to visualize the view from the shore as the boat sails away and seems to shrink until it is just a speck and then disappears. Discuss where the boat actually is and what the people on board can see.

  3. Focus now on the first group of children at one side of the room or hall. These children are saying goodbye to someone who has been staying with them and whom they love very much. Who might it be? An old friend or a grandparent, perhaps? What would be the feelings? Sadness? Loneliness?

  4. The children wave goodbye as the one child from the first group moves across the sea and pauses in the centre. Here he or she is out of sight of the shore. The waving children stop waving, turn and move away. They are left with feelings of loss.

  5. The children in the first group have deep feelings of emptiness. The travelling child is sad to go, but turns to face the coming shore. What does he or she feel? Perhaps he or she is excited and happy at what he or she sees there. Where is this place and who is there to meet him or her? Is it home? Is it a holiday paradise? Are his or her friends there to meet him or her? Is it somewhere we cannot imagine but is still a good place to be?

  6. The children left behind cannot see their friend reach the destination, but they know he or she will be happy to arrive.

  7. Sometimes we say ‘Goodbye’ to people forever, when they die. We have had good times together and we feel a deep sense of emptiness. We won't see the special person again, but it helps to remember that they are going somewhere new. When someone dies, we can try to see death as a boat journey for them.

    At this point you can read some of The Goodbye Boat to the children.

Time for reflection

Ask the children to remember a time when they were sad to leave somewhere. It may have been because it was a favourite place or they were with special people. How did they feel?

Now ask them to think of a time when they were excited to arrive somewhere. Perhaps it was a visit to somewhere or someone special or a new place to explore.

Older children may be able to express the mix of emotions that a journey sometimes involves. 

Prayer
Irish blessing 'May the road rise up to meet you' from A Child's Book of Blessings,compiled by Sabrina Dearborn (Barefoot Books, 2001).

Song/music

'Berceuse' from the Dolly Suite by Fauré or 'The Shepherds' Farewell' from L'Enfance du Christ by Berlioz 

'Travel on, travel on, there’s a river that is flowing' (Come and Praise, 42)

Publication date: June 2014   (Vol.16 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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