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A Croydon school discusses death

We recently visited a very successful Zippy’s Friends session in a school in Croydon, south London – all the more impressive because it was Module 5, session 2, where the class discusses death. Many teachers are apprehensive about this, particularly because children may voice all sorts of ideas about what happens after death. Many of these spring from religious beliefs, stories children may have heard, or TV or video games. It’s often difficult to know how to respond, particularly if the ideas are inspired by religious teaching or family culture. However, because the session concentrates on facts, the programme is compatible with any religious beliefs or none.

Although a large class with a diverse mix of cultures and backgrounds, Year 2 felt like a very safe space for children to share their thoughts. They were respectful to each other and listened attentively to what each had to say. The teacher told us that this had not been the case at the beginning of the year, but that regular use of the Rules, and the consistent format of the sessions, had encouraged discipline and respect in these young children.

‘What happens when someone dies?’ asked the teacher.

‘Your heart stops and your lungs stop and you don’t breathe,’ said a girl.

‘Angels come and take you up to Heaven and you turn into a ghost,’ said a boy.

‘Thanks, Jack – that’s a belief that some people have. But does the body actually disappear?’

‘No,’ responded a girl. ‘It just stops.’

By distinguishing between belief and fact, the teacher enabled the children to know what was true, and what they could choose to believe if they wanted to. So accepting was the class atmosphere that another girl chose to tell the class of the death of her sister, aged three, while at nursery. 

‘How would you feel if something like that happened to you?’ asked the teacher.

‘I would feel heartbroken,’ responded a boy.

Partnership for Children
9 October 2017