A time for reflection and a time for understanding

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Elizabeth Parker's infants learn RE as part of a whole-school approach to spiritual and moral development

Religious education has two distinct strands - explicit RE and implicit RE. Explicit RE introduces children to various aspects of specific religions, for example buildings, stories, festivals, symbols and beliefs. Implicit RE is concerned with self-awareness, relationships with others and an encounter with the natural world. Both strands are important in a balanced RE programme.

Much of the RE at Burry Port infants school in south Wales is of an implicit nature, permeating the whole curriculum. It is about living and making sense of the experiences we encounter, so many opportunities for learning arise spontaneously - in a child's question, a playground incident or an outing. These help children to reflect more deeply and to build up their knowledge and understanding.

The school has agreed a whole-school approach to RE through six themes which have been planned over a period of two years. All the attainment targets and areas of religious education have been addressed. In the autumn term the theme was "Special Occasions" and numerous activities in RE arose from this.

The Reception class described certain celebrations - birthdays, Christmas and Harvest. They discussed the importance of giving and receiving gifts in relation to feelings - to whom do we give gifts and why? A birthday party display was set up and the children worked on language (rhymes and poems), maths (counting the candles on the cake) and design and technology (making jelly and designing and making birthday cakes). The children also listened to Bible stories. The empathy skills were linked with Mr Men stories - Mr Happy, Mr Sad, Mr Grumpy - and most children were able to offer simple comments about their feelings.

Year 1 children described special celebrations like birthdays and Christmas and did so confidently. They talked about happy and sad times and began to realise that their attitude to others can affect relationships. Key questions were asked: "Is your birthday a happy or sad occasion?" "How do you feel when you receive a present?" "How do you feel when you give a present?" "Have you ever been anywhere and got lost?" "How did you feel when this happened?" Through discussion they began to understand about different religions and festivals through their work on Diwali, Christmas and Harvest.

Year 2 children made a "Circle of Feelings" chart. They visited a local church which had been decorated in readiness for the Harvest celebration and were given a talk by a local historian. This taught the children that people worship God regularly in special places. They had to think for themselves and ask questions about the church. Following the visit an attractive display was produced showing the church and the children wrote about their visit. Cross-curricular links were established. In science the children discussed the materials used to build the church; in design and technology they made calendars using cross-stitch after seeing the hassocks in the church .

The children were made aware of other beliefs and customs through work devised on Thailand. One of our clerical supervisors had travelled to the country with the Girl Guides Association. She brought numerous artefacts and talked with the children about the customs of Buddhist monks and they were shown a video of the story of the Emerald Buddha.

During our recent formal inspection, inspectors commented that stanTdards were enhanced by the high quality of the acts of collective worship. Children of all ages composed and delivered their own prayers and experienced periods of stillness. We feel that collective worship offers pupils opportunities to explore and share beliefs and to think about the needs of others, thereby developing a sense of community.

Inspectors also found that the ethos and day-to-day life of the school made an effective contribution to the pupils' religious education programme. The whole-school emphasis on sensitivity to others and the way pupils learn respect for and appreciation of the natural world were commended. We consider that the ethos of our school is very important in achieving this aim; this is made manifest through the values it demonstrates and promotes through all aspects of its life. The children are expected to conduct themselves in a courteous and orderly manner at all times, and are reminded periodically of what they should and should not do. They are also encouraged to make up their own school rules and to encourage good behaviour both inside and outside the building.

Every opportunity is taken to praise the children. A "Good News" display has been created in the foyer to celebrate successes and good behaviour. It is hoped that commending and praising good behaviour will have a positive effect on pupils' attitudes. Young children rarely have the ability or experience to make their own decisions as to what is right and wrong, so they should grow up knowing what is acceptable and what is not.

Through our Christian-based RE lessons, collective worship and our whole curriculum, we endeavour to help children to reflect on their own experiences and to discuss their own and people's beliefs. We hope that they will grow up to be well-informed adults who will show mutual respect and tolerance in their relationships with others. Our whole school community is geared to achieving this important aim.

Elizabeth Parker is headteacher of Burry Port Infant School, Dyfed

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