[Ed. Note: Although this activity is presented as a visual aid for homilies with children, catechists and parents will find it to be useful as well! ]
from Homilies Kids Can See by Monsignor Dermot R. Brennan
(Confirmation, Living Faith, Showing Catholicism, Multipurpose Teaching Device)
By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:16), one of the most popular quotations from the New Testament, presented the challenge to bring it down to a level that would be appealing to the children. This was done in a manner that proved to be quite successful, not only because of the visuals used, but also because at least a few of the children were actively involved in the actual presentation.
The use of foam core poster material proved invaluable. It is available at most good art- or office-supply stores — and although it is more expensive than regular poster board, its rigidity allows the children to handle it and insert pushpins into it.
You will need four pieces of foam core, approximately 24" x 26". Three of the pieces show an identical picture of a tree. These can be made of poster board (green for the foliage and brown for the trunk), cut and pasted on the foam core. (See illustration.) The fourth piece shows an evergreen made the same way.
You will also need 27 cutout pieces of fruit, 9 each of 3 kinds: 9 oranges, 9 apples, and 9 clusters of cherries. For the oranges and apples, just draw 1 of each, cut it out, and use it to trace the other 8. Obviously, these should be made from orange and red poster board.
To make the cherry clusters, go to a stationery store and buy a package of round price-tag stick-ons. The stick-ons come in white or colors, so buy the red ones. Paste seven or eight of them in a cluster on a sheet of white paper, slightly overlapping one another so that they look like a cluster of cherries. (If you can only find white stick-ons, just color them red with a Magic Marker.) Now cut out the cluster around the outer edge of the stick-ons so that none of the white paper is showing. Finally, take a felt pen and trace the outline of all the stickers that do not form the outside border of the cluster. In this way, rather than appear as just an irregular red blob, the individual circles (“cherries”) can be seen.
You will need three paper plates or small trays. On each of these, place three of each of the three different fruits (each of these should have a pushpin through the top of it). So each plate or tray should have three apples, three oranges, and three cherry clusters.
You will also need eight or nine yellow discs (about 3" in diameter) cut from yellow poster board, with a pushpin in each. On these discs write these or similar words, one on each: DAILY PRAYER, WEEKEND MASS, OBEDIENT, FORGIVING, TRUTHFUL, PATIENT, KIND WORDS, KIND DEEDS, GENEROUS, etc. These should also be on a paper plate or small tray. For little children, you would make them age-appropriate (e.g., OBEY, SHARE, PLAY FAIR).
You are now ready to begin.
Begin by showing the three identical trees. These can be held by altar servers. The evergreen tree should not be shown yet. Point to the first and say, “This is an apple tree.” Point to the second and say, “This is an orange tree.” Point to the third and say, “This is a cherry tree.” The children will look at you with a puzzled expression, and some will probably ask, “How can you tell?” You now have their attention! You might even repeat this sequence to heighten their curiosity as to how you can tell. Either they will tell you that there is no fruit on the trees or, if they don’t (hardly likely, since children love to point out how much they know as well as call attention to mistakes made by adults), you act surprised at yourself for not having put the fruit on the trees.
Now call three children forward (those having enough dexterity to pin the fruit on the trees), and assign one to each of the trees. Then hand each of them one of the paper plates or small trays holding the nine pieces of fruit. Instruct them to fasten the pieces of fruit on their tree with the push-pins.
Point to the first tree and say to all the children, “Now you can see that this is an apple tree because it has apples on it.” Point to the apples, but ignore the oranges and cherries. Point to the second tree and say, “This is an orange tree because it has oranges on it” — but ignore the apples and cherries. And, then, point to the third tree and say, “And this is a cherry tree because it has cherries on it,” while ignoring the apples and oranges.
Look quite satisfied with yourself as you successfully identify the trees. However, the children will be quick to point out that there are different fruits on each tree.
Then say to the first child, “Then you get all the apples and put them on your tree”; to the second child, “You get all the oranges and put them on your tree”; and to the third child, “You get all the cherries and put them on your tree.” This will cause a little confusion; but if you help them along, it will add to the humor of each child gathering the proper fruit while also delivering the message, “By their fruits you will know them.”
When the children have completed this task — and it should be done fairly quickly — then point out that it is by the fruit on the tree that we finally know what kind of tree each one is. (This is especially important for the little ones who think that all fruit comes in plastic bags from the supermarket!)
Now put the three fruit trees aside (you have made your point), and introduce the fourth tree, the evergreen tree. Ask what kind of tree this is, and some of the children will be able to tell you. Then ask why it is called an evergreen, and some of them will know that, too. (As usual, if it should happen that no one has the answer, explain it to them.) Then say, “But this is also a “Catholic Tree! It’s evergreen because we must be good Catholics all year round. How do you think people will know we are Catholic Trees?” Usually someone will say, “By the fruits on the tree.” If not, simply prompt the answer by asking how they knew what kind of tree the others were.
Here is where you bring forth the eight or nine yellow circles (with push-pins) and say, “These are the fruits of a good Catholic.” As you mention each one, stating briefly what each means, you pin it on the evergreen tree. When you have completed this part, hold up the Catholic Tree, and encourage each of them to try to be a good Catholic Tree that day. If they try to do the good things on the tree, people will know that they are Catholics by all the good fruit they have on their tree.
Homilies Kids Can See by Msgr. Dermot R. Brennan. Children these days, says Msgr. Brennan, respond far more to visual images than to words. Give them something to watch - a puppet, a magic trick, even just a flashcard - and they'll remember the message. This 176-page paperback book is $15.95 plus S&H. Order here»
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