Story 1: The Bundle of Sticks
Once upon a time, an old woman lived on a beautiful farm in the country. From her window, she could see pasture land, fields of grain, barns filled with animals, orchards and forests beyond. The farm was special to the old woman because it had been in her family for many generations. She had lived there her whole life, and grew up to be a mother, and raised her family of ____ (Leader — Count the
number of children in your class). Now her husband was dead, and she too was in the last days of her life.
The old woman should have been content after such a fortunate life, but she was not. She lay on her bed worrying about her grown children. They could not seem to get along. She heard them quarreling day and night. Even though some of them were good at farming, and some at working with the animals, some at carpentry, and others at cooking or preserving the food they grew, they each thought their job was the most important and that the others didn't work hard enough. They were all grown-ups now, but they held grudges against each other from things in the past, and they were jealous of each other's good fortune.
The old woman tried talking to her children about living in peace, yet they seemed to grow increasingly bitter by the day. She felt sure that they would not be able to keep the family farm after she had died, because they could not seem to work together or appreciate each other's gifts.
Then one day as her strength waned, she had an idea. She called her children to her bedside. "I have one last favor to ask of you," she said. "I would like each one of you to go to the forest and find two sticks. Bring them here tomorrow and I will explain."
The children did as she asked and came to her room the next day, with two sticks each. (Leader — At this point, hand each child two craft sticks.)
"Thank you children," the old woman said. "Please put one of your sticks down, and see if you can break the other one in half." The children easily broke their sticks in half. (Leader — Invite the children to try to break one stick in half with their hands.)
Then the old woman asked the children to pass her the remaining whole sticks.
"Let us gather the remaining sticks into a bundle," she said. (Leader — Gather the remaining sticks from the children and wrap the rubber band around them. Make sure there are at least seven sticks in the bundle, or add more to represent missing children, co-leaders, guests who have visited Moral Tales, etc. to make the bundle thicker.)
Then the old woman passed the bundle back to her children and said, "Please pass this bundle of sticks amongst you and tell me — is it as easy to break the bundle as it was the single stick?" (Pass the bundle to the child nearest you and allow them to try to break it. Tell them to only use their hands. Some children will try to use feet or even to take the bundle apart. Wait until all of the children have had a turn trying to break the bundle with their hands.)
The children passed the bundle amongst them but, just like you, none of them could break the bundle of sticks.
"You my children, are like these sticks," the old woman said. "If you go your separate ways, quarrelling, and holding resentments toward one another, you will each be alone like the individual sticks. The difficulties of life will easily hurt you. But if you work together, appreciate each other's strengths, cherish what you share in common, and care for each other, you will be strong like the bundle of sticks, and nothing in life can break you. Find strength and joy in one another's company, and you will live well and accomplish much."
The children took their mother’s lesson to heart, letting go of past grudges, focusing on what they shared in common, appreciating each other’s strengths, and working together. The old woman died peacefully, and the farm remained in the family for many generations.