“Education is about the whole person and how wonderful St Michaels does this.”
At St. Michael’s we have a permanent ‘Prayer Tree’ available as well as ‘Thoughtful Spaces’ within classrooms for children to use should they want to. However, for one week in the Autumn Term, we set aside a learning area, about half the size of a classroom, and transformed it into a ‘Prayer Space’ with a range of creative activities that encourage personal reflection. This year we had a theme of ‘Remembrance’ holding the prayer space in the first week of November.
Having run prayer spaces for five years, the children now really look forward to the opportunity and what pleases me most is the positive way children approach it and, whether they come from families of faith or none, their desire to spend time in prayer or in quiet refection thinking about others and the everyday things important to them.
‘Fizzy Forgiveness’, ‘Sorry Sand’ and ‘Be Still’ have been ever present, but we like to introduce other ideas. Each year we try something new. For 2019 we introduced ‘Jenga Prayers’ to build each other up, rather than knock each other down, as we are stronger together. Also new this year, and following on from our harvest festival theme of This is God’s World, we had a Climate Change station thinking about global warming, pollution and endangered animals whilst blowing garden windmills!
But the key focus this year was remembrance with each child making a heart shaped poppy petal, with the youngest making a large petal and oldest a small one. With these we created a ‘Field of Remembrance’, giving thanks for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also to remember all those who go out of their way to help us by writing the names of people special to us on each petal.
However, the most powerful of all our prayer stations this year was a new and simple way of looking at remembrance – an ‘Empty Chair’. Grief and loss can be a difficult topic to approach with children, but the empty chair gave them the chance to express their feelings not only about a grandparent who has died, but also chance to share about a missing parent due to separation or how they feel about an empty space at the Christmas table. We only used this station with our Year 5/6 children. Some used the chair to say a quiet thank you for the happy memories whilst others simply sat in front of the chair, safe in the knowledge they didn’t have to share anything with one of the attending clergy, governor or staff member.
One of our parents wrote on Facebook, “My daughter used this space last week as it was the anniversary of her papa's death. She found it really helpful to be able to remember him in this special space. Thank you for providing this space for our children”.
Prayer spaces are definitely a whole school experience. One of our Grandparents commented, “Education is about the whole person and how wonderful St Michaels does this.”
In the days after the event we asked children which prayer station they found the most helpful? The younger children appreciated all the activities with the thankful poppies and playdough most evident, but the older children chose the ‘Empty Chair’. Perhaps we were meeting a need that we previously haven’t?
Paul Fox Headteacher St Michael’s C of E Primary School