January 2019 // Schools’ work: How to - Help children explore their spirituality
How can we put this into practice? Emma Hughes, a children’s worker at St Richard’s Church in Hanworth, shares some of the ideas they used when she and her team set up a prayer space in the local primary school, and describes how children engaged with them.
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It’s important to calm the children down and get them ready to be still and reflect. This kind of spiritual practice might be alien to many children, so you will need to brief them about what they’re going to take part in, and about the need to be quiet and respect others around them who are also engaging with the space. Tell them there will be a volunteer at each activity if they need any help, but they can move through the activities at their own pace.
Using a plasma ball
Set up a plasma ball (these are available fairly cheaply online) and provide lots of pencils and paper for the children to write or draw their thoughts. Ask them to think about how the plasma ball reminds them of God. In our space, one child drew a heart, while another depicted a world with arms around it and a third child drew a flower and wrote ‘thank you’ next to it.
Watching a bubble tube
Place a bubble tube at the centre of the space, together with Postit notes and pens. (Like the plasma balls, you can get these fairly cheaply online, or you might be able to borrow one from someone in your church community, or from the school itself.) Encourage the children to write their prayers on the Post-its and stick them on the tube as they watch the bubbles rise up it like their prayers.
As they spent time in our space, the children prayed for a variety of things, from needing help with school work and SATs to desiring a good job in the future; from giving thanks for family and pets to asking for forgiveness and healing. Some children prayed for world peace and for those who were sick or poor. One child wrote: “Dear God, thank you for making and loving us.” Another wrote: “Please God help us to be kind and friendly.” Another Post-it note read: “I would like my mum and dad to be happy.” Another bore the prayer: “I wish I had more friends.” The children also spent time thinking about what the bubbles meant. One wrote: “The bubbles spin around like mixed feelings.” Another wrote: “Bubbles always get to the top. You will eventually reach the top [heaven].”
Using stones to reflect on sadness or anger
Place a large bowl of water on a table and arrange small stones around the bowl. Ask the children to think of a time someone made them feel sad or angry, and to project that hurt into a stone.
When they’re ready, they should drop their stone into the bowl of water. If your bowl is transparent they can watch their stone (representing their sadness or anger) sink to the bottom.
I asked the children taking part in our space how they felt after they had done this, and lots of them said they felt happier afterwards. One child said there was a feeling of release. While still holding the stone in his hand, another said it was like God holding the world in his hands.
Living in a cardboard home
Provide lots of large cardboard boxes and some felt-tip pens. (You could get these from your local supermarket. Alternatively, if you have a shop that sells white goods nearby they may have large boxes available that once contained domestic appliances. People in your church community who have recently moved house might also be a good source for large boxes!) Encourage the children to climb into a box (if they are happy to do so; not every child will want to) and think about those who are homeless and live on the streets. The children can write their prayers for homeless people on the boxes with the felt-tip pens. One child wrote: “Dear God, keep them warm and safe. Amen.”
Sitting in a prayer tent
Set up a small gazebo or tent somewhere in your space and fill it with spiritual stimuli, such as holding crosses or battery-operated candles. You don’t need to have a volunteer in the tent, as this area is completely self-guided, allowing children the freedom to explore their thoughts in their own way. Tell them they can sit in the tent on their own and use anything in there to help them pray and reflect. I noticed one child who knelt by this space with a lit candle in front of him, his hands together and eyes closed, praying. I asked the school if they knew whether this child had a faith background, and they were not aware of any.
There is a wealth of ideas and guidance on setting up a prayer space on the Prayer Spaces in Schools website: prayerspacesinschools.com.