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Rules for Life

To show how rules at school and in life help us to grow and flourish, and explore the idea that rules need to be kept, even when unseen by others.

by The Revd Guy Donegan-Cross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To show how rules at school and in life help us to grow and flourish. To explore the idea that rules need to be kept, even when unseen by others.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need: a small plant in a pot, an ice cream carton, a fizzy drink, a tea towel, an OHP.


  1. Show the children your plant. Say that you have just bought it and you are trying to find out the best way to make it grow. Explain that someone said you should feed your plant, so you want to give it some ice cream. Take out the carton and ask the children if you should give it ice cream. Hopefully they will say no!

    Then say that you need to give it a drink, and that you're going to give it fizzy drink. Hopefully the children will stop you. Then say you are sure your plant will be feeling cold and perhaps shy. Try to cover it with a tea towel. Ask the children's opinion and hopefully they will stop you again.

    Just in case you're not told what you're doing wrong, perhaps be ready to say, 'No, I'm sure that's not right', or 'I read somewhere that…'

  2. Ask the children to tell you what you really need to do: Put the plant in the light, water the plant regularly, give it plant food.

    Write these on the OHP. Say that these are the rules. Are they good rules? Yes. Why? Because they help the plant to grow.

  3. Point out that school rules are similar - they are there to help the school grow into a place where everyone can be happy. God's rules are like that as well - they are there to help all of us grow as people.

  4. Tell the following story.

    Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it would soon be time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

    He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, 'The time has come for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.' The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. 'I am going to give each one of you a seed today - one seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and this will tell me who will be the next emperor of the kingdom!'

    There was one boy, named Ling, who was there that day and received a seed, along with the others. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

    After about three weeks, a few of the other young people began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his pot, but nothing was growing. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing. By now many others were talking about their plants, but Ling's didn't grow, and he felt like a failure.

    Six months went by, and still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

    Finally a year had passed and all the young people of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right - the emperor had said that they should all return after a year. He took his empty pot to the palace.

    When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the others. They were beautiful, and in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor, and many of the others laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, 'Hey, nice try.'

    When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. 'My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,' said the emperor. 'Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!'

    All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. 'The emperor knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!'

    When Ling got to the front, the emperor asked his name. 'My name is Ling,' he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, 'Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!'

    Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor? Then the emperor said, 'One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!'

  5. Ask the children who kept the emperor's rule. Ling. Was it easy for Ling to stick to the rule? No. It wasn't easy for Ling to stick to the rule, to do the right thing. He could have cheated and tried to fool everyone. But what counted to the emperor was that Ling kept to the rule even when he thought no one would notice.

  6. Say that Christians believe that God sees everything we do and God knows that sometimes it is difficult to do the right thing. If we can be like Ling and stick to what we know is right, then we shall be like plants that grow healthy and tall and strong. Point out that sometimes we're not sure what is right, and then we can talk to people who care for us, like Ling talked to his mother and listened to her advice.

Time for reflection

Dear God,
Thank you for rules to help us live and grow.
Teach us to do what is right, whether people see what we do or not.


'One more step' (Come and Praise, 47)

Publication date: November 2002   (Vol.4 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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