Hans Brinker - Holding back the sea

In short...

Themes: The power of nature and the sea; perseverance and resilience; light and hope.

Summary: This assembly considers the power of the sea and our efforts to contain it. It includes an animation of the well-known story of Hans Brinker - the boy who saves the Netherlands by blocking a hole in the sea defences with his finger.

Resources: The framework to download / print (pdf) and an image of a dam.

The video

The video is based on 'The Hero of Haarlem' - a well-known story included in the children’s novel Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Dodge, published in 1865. The story is set in the Netherlands, where much of the land has been reclaimed and is below sea level. Before the days of huge sand dune defences the sea was kept at bay by large wooden walls, or dykes.

In our adaptation an adult called Hans remembers the night when, as a child, he saved his country from being flooded by the sea. Late one afternoon he was walking to his grandmother's house, his journey taking him along the dyke beside the sea. Hearing a trickle of water, he stopped and discovered a leak in the dyke. Using his finger he blocks the hole, believing it will only be a short time before help arrives. But help doesn’t arrive and Hans spends a long cold night keeping danger at bay. He imagines he hears the encouraging words of a girl in a house in the distance. Knowing he must save her from the threat of the sea he keeps his vigil until morning when help finally arrives.

Duration: 4' 27"

End of speech: '...For that I will be eternally grateful.'

Video questions

  • What sort of sea defences are used in the Netherlands? How are they different today to how they were in the past?
  • Once he realised that help wasn’t going to arrive quickly Hans could have given up. What gave him the strength to continue? Have you ever experienced encouragement like this?
  • Hans thinks about protecting a single other person - not a large number of people. Why do you think he does this?
  • What would it be like to know that your actions may save a lot of people from danger?

Key links

Assembly framework (pdf)
document
Image: a dam holding back water
image

Suggested framework

1. Entry
You could play the instrumental version of one of the recommended songs as the children enter.

2. Introduction

  • Display the image of a dam. Talk about the different ways we try to remove water from land or try to keep water away from land - pumps, dams, dykes, drainage channels, etc. Are there any locally?
  • Flooding can occur following prolonged rainfall or when sea levels rise. If there has been a recent case of flooding locally you may wish to refer to it.
  • One of the most important flood defences is the Thames Barrier in London; but there are many other flood defences in cities and along the coast all around the country.
  • The need for new sea defences was made clear in the winter of 1953: on 31 January a huge 'storm surge' in the North Sea inundated coastal areas of East Anglia and the Thames Estuary, causing over 300 deaths.
  • In the Netherlands the situation was even worse - because much of the country is land reclaimed from the sea and about 25% of it is actually below sea level - so the sea defences are critical.
  • Explain that the assembly is going to watch a story set in the Netherlands. It's not a true story...but it does help to explain the power of the sea.

3. The video
Play the video. The duration is 4' 27" and the final words are: '...For that I will be eternally grateful.'

4. After the video - Time to talk
Lead a discussion about the story using the Video questions:

  • What sort of sea defences are used in the Netherlands? How are they different today to how they were in the past?
  • Once he realised that help wasn’t going to arrive quickly Hans could have given up. What gave him the strength to continue? Have you ever experienced encouragement like this?
  • Hans thinks about protecting a single other person - not a large number of people. Why do you think he does this?
  • What would it be like to know that your actions may save a lot of people from danger?

5. Opportunity to sing
If your assembly is to include a song this would be an opportunity for it. Suggestions from BBC collections below.

6. Opportunity to reflect
Now let's think about what we've heard about today...
We've heard what a powerful force the water around us can be...
It can promote and sustain life...but it can also be a threat...
Flood defences can help us to control the power of water...
Think of a time when you've experienced that power...perhaps the sea...or a rain storm...
Think about how it made you feel...

7. Opportunity for prayer
Use your normal form of address ('Dear God' etc) and:
Thank you for the beauty of water and the sea...
Help us all to remember that sometimes water can be a threat...
And help us to remember the courage of all those who work hard to protect us from the dangers of water.
Amen.

Suggested songs

Song: 'Give me oil in my lamp' (Come and Praise, no 43. Vocal version)

'God is watching over you' (All about our school, no 7)

The Lord's my shepherd - Come and Praise, no 56