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Making waves

Karen Garner plunges into the religious and symbolic world of water

Water is a powerful and much used religious symbol: it has a central place in many of the world's religions. It is seen as both the giver and destroyer of life.

Start by giving the children some experiences of water. Observe the school pond if you have one. Throw a small stone into it and encourage the children to watch the ripples. What words come to mind?

Discuss the use of water in everyday life. Point out how important water is and that it is often used as a sign of life.

Fill a bowl with water and let the children wash their hands why do we wash our hands? How does it feel after? Why does this happens before worship?

If it is raining, take your class outside to splash in puddles and feel raindrops. What happens to the rain on the ground? Where will it go? What is it like to splash in puddles? What happens to our skin?

I love showing the children a bottle or glass of water and asking: why is this special? Why is water precious? What happens when there is a drought? Drink a glass of water and talk about how good it is for the brain.

An interactive whiteboard lets you explore picturesvideos of water in different moods, from waterfalls to waves. What feelings does water generate? Why do pupils think people from all religions use it as a symbol? What might it represent?

Investigate what water means to Christians and read the story of the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:4-11, which could be turned into a simple drama. Interview the bystanders. What do they think is going on? What happens in the story? What does it mean? For Jesus, it marked the beginning of his work and was encouragement. For John the Baptist, it was about a break with the past, washing away the bad and making a new start.

If possible, invite a local priest to perform a pretend infant baptism for the class using a doll, introducing the children to a form of words that might be used at this Christian ceremony.

You could also explore the symbolism of washing Jesus's feet and of washing hands.

Many rivers and mountains are places of pilgrimage. The Ganges is the holiest river of all and Hindus call it Mother Ganges. Show pictures of pilgrims bathing in it.

Many Hindus seek purification before death and so make a pilgrimage to the Ganges. When they die, water plays an important part in the funeral, with some mourners washing in the river to purify themselves.

The dead person's bones and ashes are collected and put into the Ganges. If possible, invite a Hindu to talk about their pilgrimage to the river.

I would end with a discussion about why believers need to purifywash away their sins? Why is water important to Christians? To other religions? Why is water important o you?*

Karen Garner teaches Year 6 at Shirley Warren Primary School in Southampton. Visit her website at

Flowing into other subjects

Benefits of a water course

Intended learning outcomes:

* describe the meanings associated with water.

* give an accurate account of a symbolic use of water in Christianity.

* outline some of the beliefs associated with the ritual use of water.

* explain how Jesus was baptised and the importance of baptism to Christians.

* discuss the importance of water to Hindus.

* Explain why water is such a powerful and universal symbol.

Cross-curricular ideas

* PSHE look at water usage of a school or family. Compare with the usage of people in a contrasting location. Create posters persuading people to think about their own usage.

* Art make clay tiles to explore the journey of a river or part of a river, such as a tributary or meander.

* Geography lesson on rivers, coasts and water.

* Science explore the water cycle and do unit 6c on dissolving.

* Maths look at river lengths with the help of graphs.

* Novels The Water Babies, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or The Wind in the Willows.

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