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A time to talk about death

Is there life after death? What happens there? And why do we die, anyway? These questions have taxed philosophers across the centuries. And now they are to be put to primary-school pupils.

Six Leicester-based RE teachers have developed a new resource, which encourages primary teachers to introduce death in the classroom. "Teaching about death in the primary school" suggests ways to broach the subject, generate discussion of pupils' fears and personal experiences, and provide background to religious practices.

Marilyn Bowles, who helped compiled the resource, said: "British people are not very good at talking about death. But it's important not to shy away from it. In RE, you can learn from religion, as well as about religion. We want to know what it tells us about life. Why are we here? Where are we going?"

The resource suggests showing children withered flowers, to convey the finality of death: pupils can remember what the flowers used to look like, but cannot bring them back. Children are then encouraged to talk about life after death, and to draw pictures of their own conception of heaven.

And teachers will discuss how best to respond to someone else's bereavement. The resource also includes a list of support organisations.

Ten-year-old Renee Betts will be studying death this summer, during RE lessons at Willow Brook primary, Leicester. "I don't really like to think about death," she said. "But all of us die sometime. If you talk about how nice heaven is, it makes death less horrible. I think heaven is like the adverts, with white clouds and angels. Though I'd miss my family."

Nine-year-old Jessica Porteous agrees. "Heaven is better than the bad place," she said. "But I'd prefer to be alive."

But Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society, said teachers needed to treat the subject carefully.

"Making up fantasies about heaven, saying all your friends will be there, and grandma and the dog, is the easy way out," he said. "Children need to understand that a lot of people believe that life is finite, and there's nothing after death except oblivion."

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