The Book of Jonah in the Bible describes how God called the prophet Jonah to leave his home in Israel and warn the wicked Assyrians in Nineveh that their kingdom would be destroyed. Instead, Jonah boarded a ship headed in the other direction and spent three days in the belly of a giant fish before finally deciding to obey God. The vivid imagery and memorable narrative of this story make it a perennial subject for Sunday-school lessons.
Use hiding games for preschool and kindergarteners to emphasize that no matter how we try to run from God, he can find us. In one version of the traditional hide-and-seek game, an adult leader counts to 10 while the children find places to hide. As the leader finds the hidden children, they assist him or her in rounding up the others. Once everyone has been collected, lead them in reciting Psalm 139:9-10: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me.” Create a card game. Cut out pieces of paper and illustrate them with scenes from the Book of Jonah. Shuffle them and ask children to find the “hidden” scene in which the whale swallows Jonah. Once Jonah has been found, have them arrange all the scenes in the correct order to tell the full story.
Fish, Fish, Whale
In a variation of the game Duck, Duck, Goose for grade-school kids, the adult leader sets up a small tent, covers it with a bed sheet and makes eyes out of felt to represent a giant whale. Students gather in a circle around the tent; one player at a time goes around the circle chanting, “Fish, fish, fish ... .” Finally he shouts, “Whale!” and the tagged person must get up and catch him before he sits down. If the “whale” succeeds in catching the person who tagged him, the first player goes into the tent and remains there until someone else is tagged.
Jonahs vs. Whales
In a variation of the playground game Sharks vs. Divers, three kids are selected to be “whales” and stand in the center of a room. Explain to the group that Jonah was called to journey toward Nineveh in modern-day Iraq but boarded a ship in Joppa bound for Tarshish in Spain. Show them the general location of these cities on a map. Designate the wall on which they’re standing as Joppa and explain they have to make it to the opposite wall, which is Tarshish. On your signal, the kids run across the room, attempting to reach Tarshish, but have to avoid being tagged by the whales in the center. Those who are tagged join the whales until everyone has been caught. At the end, lead everyone in traveling toward Nineveh.
This game, which is appropriate for grade-schoolers, requires the use of a trash can, a few large, blue blankets and a few dolls or action figures. Divide the group into teams of at least four players each and give each team a blanket and a doll. Position them in different places around the garbage bin, at least 6 feet away on all sides. The blankets represent the sea and the trash can represents the whale. With “Jonah” stationed in the middle of the blanket, each group must attempt to get him into the whale by waving the blanket in the direction of the garbage bin.