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A Wonderful Journey

The journey of Advent

by Janice Ross (revised, originally published in 2008)

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To consider the long migration journey of swallows and compare it to the journey of Advent.

Preparation and materials


  1. Show the image of the swallow.

    Ask the children if they know what type of bird is in the picture.

  2. Show the images of swallows perched on telephone wires.

    Ask the children to identify the birds and ask if any of them have seen birds sitting on telephone wires like this.

    Ask the children if they have seen many birds recently and when they are most likely to see a lot of birds.

  3. Explain that some time in September, these swallows slipped away unnoticed. There was no fanfare and no farewell speech, yet probably within a few days, more than one million swallows left the safety of their mud and grass nests, tucked away in farm buildings all across the UK, and set off on a long flight south.

    Show the image of swallows migrating.

  4. Point out that swallows are often seen swooping low over the fields in August. This is because they are practising to catch insects on their wings, especially the baby ones.

    Point out that flocks of swallows collect on telephone wires, as in the pictures. This is so that the swallows can join with other families as they prepare to set off. Then, one morning, they leave to go on their long journey.

  5. Where do they go? Explain that if the children were lucky enough to have had a late October holiday in the Mediterranean sun, somewhere in southern Spain or northern Africa, they might have seen some of the swallows. In fact, they might have seen flocks of them, because the swallows have headed for the sun, too!

  6. Show the image of the map of the world.

    Ask the children if any of them can point out the UK and South Africa on the map.

    Trace on the map the route that the swallows take, explaining that they fly in a straight line, closely following the zero-degree meridian line. Their route goes through France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo. Then, they turn eastwards and fly to South Africa, a flight of 9,000 km in total.

  7. Show the YouTube video ‘A Swallow’s Migration - An Animated Short’.

  8. Explain that the journey takes about 12 weeks. The swallows fly only during the daytime, covering up to 200 km a day, at an average speed of 30 kph.

  9. Ask the children where they think the swallows might be now, in November.

    In the early stages of the flight, food and water are usually plentiful. The birds skim across the surface of lakes and rivers, scooping up water and insects.

    Show the image of swallows flying over water.

    The swallows face many hazards, including storms, lack of water and exhaustion.

  10. The swallows make an amazing journey. Ask the children why they think the swallows would do that, travelling there and back every year.

  11. Suggest that an even more amazing journey is one that we will celebrate with the beginning of the season of Advent. Advent means ‘a coming towards’, ‘an approaching’. The Christmas season is approaching. There is evidence of that in the shops, on the TV and in the adverts we see all over the place.

  12. Christians believe that Advent is about the approach made by God towards his creation. They believe that it involved an amazing journey between heaven and earth. It involved God coming all the way to earth. Christians believe that it is the story of God sending his son, Jesus, from heaven to earth as a baby.

    Jesus would grow up in our world, among all its hazards, and through his life show us what God the Father is like. He would bring the message of God’s love, all the way from heaven to earth. That amazing journey is what the Christmas season is all about.

Time for reflection

Imagine the swallows that flew around the countryside in the summer days.

Imagine them now flying over the hot deserts of Africa, finding insects and water where they can, fighting exhaustion.

Imagine them covering vast distances every day over ever-changing landscapes, always sensing the call to fly south.

Now imagine God wanting to reach the people on earth with the story of his love. That meant sending his son a long way, starting with being born as a baby in a stable in Bethlehem.

Dear God,
Thank you that in nature we see so many amazing things.
We marvel at the journey that tiny birds like swallows make, year in, year out.
But even more amazing is the journey that you made to earth to tell us of your love.
Thank you.


A Christmas song appropriate to the school.

Publication date: November 2018   (Vol.20 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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