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Time for quiet reflection

Having a place and a chance to contemplate life issues and emotions will help young children to grow. Karen Shead reports on one primary school's special arrangements

The curtains are drawn, the lights are turned out, candles flicker at the front of the hall and music plays softly in the background.

As children from P1 to P6 and a few from the nursery class file in silently behind their class teachers and sit down, a song by Fischy Music, "What shall I do with my bag of Worries?", tells them the theme of today's quiet assembly. When all are settled, the headteacher begins.

"I know that a lot of you are worried," she says. "Some of you are worried about your neighbours, about bigger boys and girls trying to get you. For some people, their mums and dads aren't talking any more and that is making them sad, and others know people who are ill. Lots of people have lots of worries in their hearts."

It is not the kind of introduction you would expect to hear at a primary assembly. But this is the way Sheila Laing introduces the monthly assembly at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh. On the first Thursday of each month the school gathers to take part in 15 minutes of silence and reflection.

"When do children ever sit still nowadays?" asks Ms Laing. "Certainly not in school.

"It's to give children emotional support and space for spiritual reflection. It shows them the value of silence in a busy world."

Each quiet assembly has a different theme; these have included love yourself, heaven, you are beautiful and safety. Ms Laing tries to use a theme appropriate to the children at the time, she says. "I talk to other teachers to find out what the emotional issues are. There are a lot of things going on in the area at the moment and the children are worried."

Today's assembly continues with suggestions of how to reduce your worries, such as listening to favourite music, putting on your slippers or something comfy, going for a run or talking to a friend. The ChildLine service is mentioned and information about it is left on the table at the front of the hall.

On the table sits the Feelings book, in which any member of the school community can record their feelings at any time. The contributions, some anonymous, are read out at assembly. Examples today are: "I feel sad because I hurt my finger", "I feel great because the play went really well" and "I feel sad because my fish died."

The children listen to another song, "Don't worry because I will always be there for you" by the Appleton sisters, and take a few moments to think about the message of the assembly.

"All the staff are here for you children," concludes Ms Laing, before they leave the hall, in silence, and return to class for a period of circle time.

"It's nice that the whole school is doing this at the same time," says Ms Laing, "and being tuned into their emotions by the music and silence often means children feel safe and able to share feelings with each other and their teacher."

One class goes to the quiet room, a small room transformed into a special place for the children and staff. A row of shoes outside the door indicates that the room is in use.

A message on the window, written by the children, gives an idea of what it is like inside. "The quiet room is quiet and peaceful. It's like night time but with stars on the floor. It's relaxing and a nice place to chill out.

It's a good place to calm down and take away your bad moods," it says.

The room is darkened and lit by a fibre optics rug, a bubble tube and mirrors. There are beanbags and cushions instead of chairs, projected images on the walls and an aroma stone scents the air.

The room serves various purposes. It is a place for pupils to have time to themselves and somewhere to rest; on one occasion it was used to break news to children that they were being taken into care. It is also used by teachers. "At the end of the day after we have had a quiet assembly, the depute head and I sit in the room for the teachers in case something has come up that they need to talk about," says Ms Laing.

The quiet assemblies and quiet room are all part of a wider project the school is taking part in to promote emotional expression.

Rhian Chapman, the P67 class teacher, says: "The quiet room gives people the chance to relax, to be with the class and discuss their feelings. It also gives them a chance to question each other and forge friendships.

"We've only been in this school for six months, when two schools came together, so the children are still getting to know each other.

"The quiet room also gives them a chance to think. This morning we used it before story writing. It started taking them off on a journey, with music in the background. Afterwards they started writing about animals. It really sparks the imagination."

Ms Chapman describes quiet assemblies as a "special service".

"When we started the assemblies they were quite serious and children were quite upset. It gave them time to think about their feelings, which was new to them." she says. "They've got used to it now and are more able to deal with their feelings. It's also a form of worship for them.

"It's raw emotion when they go back to circle time. They say things that before we never would have heard them say. It helps them to focus and teaches them to speak to people about their problems.

"There is a big difference in the children. It's helping them to manage their behaviour and feelings."

For more about quiet assemblies, (see children's pages)

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