A Message in a Bottle
by Janice Ross (revised, originally published in 2008)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider the most valuable lessons we learned in school last year.
Preparation and materials
- You will need four glass bottles, each of which should contain a written message on paper. Ensure that each message is readable or can easily be removed from the bottle (you might need to attach a piece of string so that it can be easily pulled out). The messages should read as follows.
- ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’
- ‘If any one finds this, please write!’
- ‘Help, please, help us.’
- ‘God loves you very much.’
- You will also need a map of the world. Alternatively, have available the images below and the means to display them during the assembly:
- Brazil, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y44rha7c
- Africa, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y3jnqsht
- Nicaragua, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yyydnozy
- Ask the children for examples of the ways in which people can send messages today. Suggestions could include WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email, text messages, phone and others.
- Ask the children whether they know how people used to pass on messages in the past.
Discuss ways of sending messages through the ages: messengers, bells, pigeon post, mail, telegrams and so on.
- Point to the four bottles that contain messages, which should be displayed on a table where the children can see them.
Explain that, in the past, another way of sending messages was for people to put their message in a bottle. Discuss with the children whether they think that this would be a good way to send a message.
Listen to a range of responses.
Point out that sending a message in a bottle might be an exciting thing to do, but we must also think about the environmental consequences. Unfortunately, the oceans are becoming increasingly polluted with rubbish that affects the creatures who live there.
- Explain that it is impossible to predict the direction that a bottle will take in the sea.
Some time ago, an experiment was carried out to track two bottles that were dropped into the ocean off the Brazilian coast.
Point to Brazil on the world map or show the image of Brazil.
One bottle drifted east for 30 days and was found on a beach in Africa.
Point to Africa on the world map or show the image of Africa.
The other bottle floated north-west for 190 days, reaching Nicaragua.
Point to Nicaragua on the world map or show the image of Nicaragua.
- Explain that, fragile as it may seem, a well-sealed bottle is one of the world’s most seaworthy objects. It will bob safely through hurricanes that can sink great ships!
Glass also lasts for a very long time. In 1954, 18 bottles were salvaged from a ship that sank 250 years earlier off the English coast. The liquid in them was unrecognizable, but the bottles were as good as new!
- Explain that we are going to think about some messages in bottles that have actually been found.
Select some volunteers to come to the front, open a bottle and read the message inside.
Track the journeys on the world map if you are using one.
Bottle 1 was thrown into the sea at Morecambe Bay by a four-year-old girl as part of a nursery school project titled ‘Beside the Sea’. This bottle ended up in Australia. The message inside read, ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’
Bottle 2 was dropped overboard by a Swedish sailor called Ake Viking. The bottle was picked up in a fishing net by a Sicilian fisherman. The message inside read, ‘If any one finds this, please write!’ The fisherman gave it to his daughter, Paolina, who wrote back, and the couple subsequently married!
Bottle 3 was tied to the long line of a fisherman’s net. The message inside read, ‘Help, please, help us.’ It was written by one of a group of 88 refugees who had been abandoned in the seas off the coast of Ecuador. The boat had started to take in water, but because the message was found, they were all saved.
Bottle 4 was picked up on a beach on the west coast of Africa, along with the New Testament from the Bible. The message inside read, ‘God loves you very much.’ It had been sent from the USA by a missionary organization called Bread on the Waters.
- Point out that all sorts of messages could be placed in a bottle. Who knows where they might end up and who might read them? The message could be a cry for help or some good news, or it could even bring us a pen friend.
Time for reflection
Ask the children to think about the fact that they are starting a new school year. The summer may have marked a move to a new class or even to a new school. Encourage the children to consider what lessons they have learnt in the past year and what they want to learn or concentrate on in the coming year.
Ask the children ‘What would be the most important message you would write in a bottle for someone else to find?’ It might be something that they have discovered about themselves, about the world or about learning.
Optional: you may wish to ask the children to write a message on a piece of paper during the day and drop it into a container so that they can pass on their important messages during another assembly. Point out that for environmental reasons, we are not going to put the messages in bottles in the ocean, but maybe the messages could be shown on a large display bottle somewhere.
Thank you for the vast oceans, seas, tides and currents.
Thank you, too, for these exciting stories of how people from all over the world have been linked up in amazing ways through messages in bottles.
Help us to look after our world.
Help us to treasure its beauty.
Help us to learn lessons in life and to share them with other people.
‘It’s a new day’ (Come and Praise, 106)