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Message in a bottle

To consider what has been the most valuable lesson we have learned in school this year.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To consider what has been the most valuable lesson we have learned in school this year.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need four glass bottles, with four written messages on paper, one inside each bottle. Ensure that each message is readable or can easily be removed from the bottle!
    ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’
    ‘If any pretty girl finds this, please write!’
    ‘Help, please, help us.’
    ‘God loves you very much.’
  • A map of the world (optional).


  1. Ask the children for examples of the way people send messages today, such as text messages, email, phone, etc. Discuss ways of sending messages through the ages: messengers, post, telegrams, pigeon post.
  2. Have the four bottles displayed on a table in view of the children. Ask if anyone has sent a message in a bottle. Discuss with the children whether they think this is a good way to send a message? Explain that it is impossible to predict the direction a bottle will take in the sea.

    An experiment was carried out tracking two bottles dropped off the Brazilian coast. One drifted east for 30 days and was found on a beach in Africa; the other floated north-west for 190 days, reaching Nicaragua. (Track these on the world map if you have one.)

    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 sunk 250 years earlier off the English coast. The liquid in them was unrecognizable but the bottles were as good as new!
  3. We are going to think about what kind of message might be sent in a bottle by looking at some actual messages which have been found. Volunteers can be chosen to come out and open a bottle and read the message. Track the journeys on the world map.

    Bottle 1: Thrown in to the sea at Morecambe Bay by a four-year-old girl as part of a nursery school project on ‘Beside the Sea’. This bottle ended up in Australia.
    Message: ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’

    Bottle 2: Dropped overboard by a Swedish sailor called Ake Viking. Picked up in a fishing net by a Sicilian fisherman.
    Message: ‘If any pretty girl finds this, please write!’
    The fisherman gave it to his daughter, Paolina, who wrote back, and the couple subsequently married!

    Bottle 3: Tied to the long line of a fishing net that was found by 88 refugees who had been abandoned in the seas off the coast of Ecuador. The boat had started to take in water and the men they had paid to take them to the USA had abandoned them three days earlier. As a result they were saved.
    Message: ‘Help, please, help us.’

    Bottle 4: Picked up on a beach somewhere on the west coast of Africa, along with a New Testament of the Bible.
    Message: ‘God loves you very much.’ It had been sent by a missionary organization called Bread on the Waters from the USA.

    So you could put all sorts of messages in a bottle and who knows where it might end up and who might read it. It might be a cry for help, it might be a proposal of marriage, it might bring you a pen friend, or it might be good news for someone.
  4. Tell the children that they will soon be coming to the end of another school year. This summer will mark a move, perhaps even to a new school. In the time of reflection you would like them to consider what would be the most important message they would write in a bottle for someone else to find. It might be something they have discovered about themselves, or about the world, or about learning. Maybe you could create a large display bottle where messages can be posted.

Time for reflection


Perhaps play some reflective music or a sea wash sound effect while the children think what message they would write and put in a bottle (as point 4 above). You could also ask for some suggestions at the end of the reflection.



Dear God,

It is amazing to think that a bottle can be quietly carrying a message all around the world, bobbing about on the waves while we speak.

Thank you for the vast oceans and seas and tides and currents

and thank you for these exciting stories of how people from all over the world have been linked up in amazing ways through messages in bottles.



‘It’s a new day’ (Come and Praise, 106)

Publication date: June 2008   (Vol.10 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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