One of the best-known stories in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, teaches a radical interpretation of forgiveness. In the story, a rich father has two sons. The older son is respectful, hardworking and loyal to his father. The younger son is disrespectful, demanding his inheritance from his father and using it to move away and spend it on a dissolute lifestyle. Eventually he becomes so poor that he envies the pigs he has to tend to make a living. He returns to his father to apologise and ask forgiveness. The father immediately orders a feast to celebrate. He explains to the confused and angry loyal brother his happiness that the younger son "was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found." Teaching the story to children can pose a challenge, but is made easier by a few illustrative activities.
Felt Board or Other Props
A felt board provides a visual guide to help children understand the story. Cut out figures to represent the father, the two sons, the family estate and the distant pig farm. Arrange to illustrate the path the prodigal son takes -- away from his family, and then back home to forgiveness. Paper cutouts, small figurines or toys can also serve as visual aids.
Piggy Craft and Discussion
The pig is a crucial symbol of the son's descent from respectability, and relates to children. Children can colour illustrations of pigs from colouring books, or make their own pigs out of construction paper. After a discussion of times the children may have "acted like a piggy" -- by making a mess and having to ask forgiveness from their parents -- the children can write their responses on the illustration and then discuss the importance of forgiving others.
Maze -- Help the Prodigal Son Get Back Home
A maze offers a creative use of symbolism to show how far the son had gone from his father during his life of excess. It also helps children participate in a key turning point in the story -- the prodigal son's decision to come home and ask forgiveness. The son, depicted as a young man in tattered clothes, appears on one end of the maze, while the father appears at the goal. A maze can be tailored to different age groups and ability levels.
John Newton's hymn, "Amazing Grace," can help children remember the message of forgiveness at the core of the parable. The lines, "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see," echo the words the father utters at the prodigal son's return. The song's famous melody can help children recall the story when they hear or sing the song again.