Whales Aren’t Fish, or The Time I Taught Preschoolers About Jonah


I volunteered in preschool recently at church not really knowing what was expected of me. I expected to do something along the lines of change some diapers, corral some kids and play with kids and toys.

What happened though is I was asked to teach the kids a story and sing some songs.

OK. I didn’t really come prepared to do that but I can tell a short Bible story and sing some songs, no problem.

I gathered the kids around and one of the boys handed me a book about Jonah and said, “read this.”

Great! That solved what story to tell.

So I read the book and a few pages in the story says that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. One of the boys interjects, “Whales aren’t fish.”

Hmm. Well, let’s talk about that. I asked all of the kids about what makes a fish and fish, and I heard a lot of very good answers —like fish live in the water, and fish eat other fish. One girl said fish eat insects like sea beetles and sea ants. OK. I’ve never heard of that but we’ll go with it.

Despite determining that fish live in water and whales in live in water, and a number of other similarities between fish and whales, there was no convincing this boy that whales are a kind of fish. Which is a good thing since I looked it up later and discovered that he was right; whales aren’t fish. Whales are mammals. Every time the story referred to Jonah in the belly of the fish the boy said to me, “It was a whale not a fish.” I just let him and read on.

Then came an even tougher question but one that turned this story into more than just another fish tale. After hearing me read that Jonah didn’t obey God, a little girl asked, “What does it mean to obey?” Wow. Great question.

It was a great opportunity to talk to the kids about doing the things we’re told to do. Jonah was told to go to Nineveh. He didn’t go. That was disobedience. If your parent tells you to put away your toys and you don’t do it, that’s disobedience.

I described Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish whale as his “time out.”

One little girl piped up, “My brothers have to sit in time out.”

The whole experience felt a little like playing host on “Kids say the darndest things.”

 

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