Most nine-year-olds have not heard of Joni Mitchell. Neither are they likely to know much about Woodstock, the 1969 hippy music festival. But this has not stopped Strawberry Fields publications posing the following question to key stage 2 pupils: "What did Joni Mitchell mean when she sang in her song Woodstock, 'we are stardust, we are golden'?"
Strawberry Fields, named after The Beatles' 1967 song, aims to promote spirituality in primary schools. It is piloting a series of science resources that encourage pupils to examine scientific questions from a philosophical viewpoint. The Woodstock question, for example, encourages pupils to consider the fact that all substances in the world are composed of billion-year-old carbon.
Michael Driver, of Strawberry Fields, said: "Spirituality isn't instant soup. You don't develop it in a 20-minute lesson. It's to do with scientific investigation, exploring other children's beliefs, using enquiry skills. They are asking questions and investigating beliefs."
Pupils are asked to reflect on the fact that the air they breathe may contain small particles of air once breathed by Julius Caesar or Queen Victoria. And they examine how their beliefs have changed since they were younger: do they still believe in Father Christmas? How do they think their beliefs will change over the next 10 years?
Mr Driver's colleague, Hilda Headley, said that schools should not shy away from spiritual questions: "As soon as people hear the word 'spirituality', they think of religion or creationism. They feel uncomfortable, but that's a good thing.
"We're encouraging children to listen to their inner critic, to ask questions such as, 'Is it OK to throw litter if it's biodegradable? Is it OK to tell little white lies?' It is an opportunity to gain understanding of human emotions."
Patricia Gibb, head of Village primary in Stockton-on-Tees, north-east England, has been piloting the scheme. "Everything's so fast-moving nowadays, you forget to stand and stare and just appreciate things," she said. "We're reminding children of the awe and wonder of things."
But Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society, questioned the approach: "Teaching ethics is valuable and necessary, but calling it spirituality and introducing it into science makes me feel queasy," he said. "It detracts from the purpose of those lessons: to teach known facts.
This is airy-fairy New Age nonsense."