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Changing: a story to help us think about death

To think about death and bereavement, and the belief of many in an afterlife.

by Oliver Harrison

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To think about death and bereavement, and the belief of many in an afterlife.

Note: This assembly needs to be led sensitively and (if you are a visitor) is best done with a school with which you have a good relationship and some foreknowledge of any recent or current issues. If in doubt check with the headteacher.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need two balloons, two sleeping bags, two pairs of ‘fairy’ or ‘angel’ dressing-up wings.
  • Music: ‘Fragile’ by Sting (available to download).
  • Resources for helping children to understand more about death and bereavement: Waterbugs and Dragonflies (Doris Stickney)
    Badger’s Parting Gifts (Susan Varley)
    When Goodbye is Forever (Lois Rock)
    The Goodbye Boat (Mary Joslin)


  1. This is a very simple story with a very deep meaning. This is a story about changes. Show the (inflated) balloons.

    Say that they are tiny eggs, each on a leaf, each the size of a dot or a speck. The eggs hatch into caterpillars. Get everyone doing a caterpillar wiggle and wriggle with their index fingers.
  2. Remove the balloons and ask for two volunteers to each be a caterpillar.

    The caterpillars become friends. One day one of them starts to notice that she’s changing. Both the caterpillars become a bit frightened by this.

    The changing one eventually goes inside a cocoon (use a sleeping bag) and disappears from view. The one left behind is lonely and sad and goes off to one side. 
  3. The one in the cocoon emerges, changed. (Give her a pair of wings.) She has become a BUTTERFLY.

    She flies off, away to one side or out of the door.
  4. Return to the one left behind: let’s think about how he feels. Ask the children to tell you what they’re thinking.

    But eventually he starts to change too (get out the other sleeping bag … and the wings).

    The two old caterpillar friends are reunited as butterflies!
  5. Ask the children which they’d rather be: a wormy caterpillar who crawls around eating leaves or a beautiful butterfly who can fly anywhere and lives among flowers?

    Ask everyone to do ‘caterpillar’ fingers and then show ‘butterfly hands’ (interlocking thumbs, flap hands as wings).
  6. Many people of faith believe that death is not the end of our lives, but the opening into a new sort of life – a bit like before you’re born, you have no idea of what the world outside your mummy’s tummy is like. Many faiths teach us that after we die, we go on to a new sort of life, like the butterflies coming out of their cocoon.

  7. Talk about how hard it is when someone dies and leaves us behind: how did the caterpillar feel when the other one disappeared inside the cocoon?

    You might like to mention pets dying, as many children will not have experienced the death of a person. Explain that it’s OK to feel that way, as it shows that you loved them and miss them.
  8. Finish by reminding the children about the beauty and joy of a butterfly, and the freedom that they experience. Remind them too of how much joy butterflies bring to us when we see them.

Time for reflection


Leave the children a few moments of quiet after you recap the story. You might like to play ‘Fragile’ by Sting while the children reflect.


Lord, it’s so hard to part with people we care about.

We miss them every day.

Help us to remember the story of the butterfly and the caterpillar when we feel sad,

and so feel glad for the freedom and beauty of the butterflies that we see during the warmer months.


Publication date: September 2008   (Vol.10 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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