Recently held in Aberchirder Primary School, in Aberdeenshire. Two days of offering a space in the school where children had the opportunity to visit. The space was offered in what is known in the school as the ‘nurture room’ which seemed completely appropriate, because Prayer Spaces in Schools is about offering a space, a space to nurture and a space to just be.
During the two days children from all classes and the nursery came to the Prayer Space and were introduced to the space and in small groups worked their way around the ‘stations’.
The ‘stations’ created offered a creative way to pray and to communicate with God and each other about some of the more tricky questions and concepts there are for children and for us all.
There were six different ‘stations’ and they could be experienced in any order. Although the room we were in wasn’t that large, it was amazing how much was fitted into the room and how the children found it possible to interact and to engage with each thing on offer.
The most popular ‘station’ by far was the ‘Be Still’ tent, here groups of three or four children found the peace and quiet to simply just be and to be still and quiet without needing to think of anything or to do anything. The tent was a 4m x 4m garden gazebo, with sheets on the inside of the roof and the side and with rugs and cushions and fairy lights to create an atmosphere along with stones and some prompt cards.
Here’s what was said about the tent; ‘it was so quiet and peaceful, we could just sit in there’, the head teacher wrote, ‘The ‘Quiet Tent’ was a huge ‘hit’ with the children in that they automatically could calm, chill out and feel safe and calm’.
The school have recognized the benefit and importance of a space like this and two of the classrooms have adopted a similar space and again the head teacher has commented, ‘The Prayer spaces appealed to the teachers and staff in our school so much that children asked their children if they could have a ‘breathing space’ (which is what we call Prayer Spaces@ in their classroom. Two of the classes have made quite ‘breathing Spaces’ get aways with [parasols and fairy lights in their class- a place to go if feeling vulnerable, sad or in need of being quiet or alone. The teachers have related these to the Health & Well Being Outcomes of the curriculum. The children are very clear as to what emotional needs these spaces inspired by the prayer Day are meeting’
Other ‘stations’ included a space to ‘Say Sorry’, here small luggage labels with the word SORRY written on one side provided space on the other side for children to write something they were sorry for. There were so many things that the children wanted to say sorry for, all of them big and important to the individuals, from an argument at home or in the playground to carrying round a huge responsibility for and wanting to say sorry for all the people who had cancer.
From this ‘station’ the next one to visit was the “Fizzy Forgiveness’ table where the children were encouraged to think about the things they had said sorry for and anything else which was bothering them inside, as they thought of these things a ‘fizzy’ tablet (an effervescent vitamin table or steradent tablet) was dropped into glass bowls and they could watch it disappear- in this recognizing that those things are now taken from them and forgiven. The children noticed that it felt lighter as they left this table and some also commented on how nice it smelt, having used a variety of fruit flavoured vitamin tablets.
There was also a ‘station’ called the ‘Prayer Wall’, where a variety of post it notes in different shapes, colours and sizes were available for the children to write their own prayers on, here there were requests for someone to get well, for everyone to have enough food and water, to a cure for cancer and many more besides. Here the children were able to express their wishes and to know that they were heard.
Thankfulness Boxes was another ‘station’ where boxes were available for the children to have a look into. Once open the boxes contained a number of pictures of food, water and glorious landscapes from the locality and they were encouraged to think of all of the things that they are thankful for.
And finally, but by no means the last or the least was the ‘station’ called The Big Questions. Here the children were invited to think of the fact that if they have just one question they could ask God what would it be? The questions were written on cardboard and pegged up onto hanging pieces of string across one corner of the room. Again questions covered all sorts of things, from whether God had a car or liked the latest boy band to whether God sees someone’s Granny in heaven to wondering when a cure for a cancer would be found, or whether everyone in the world would have enough food and water. These questions are asked with the idea that we might not always be able to find or to know the answer but in asking these questions the children are heard and are able to explore some of these really difficult topics which we all struggle with.
There was a lot of really positive feedback from the two days, it takes a good part of one day to set up the space and to take it down again but it is such a worthwhile space to be able to offer. Aberchirder Primary School have developed the space into having a regular ‘Breathing Space’ to provide nurture, space and a listening ear for those children who need it. In an ideal world it is something that would be regularly available to all, but in the mean time Prayer Spaces will continue to be offered in this school once a term.
Here are some more comments from the Prayer Spaces Day: –
‘No child is ever too difficult, too naughty, too loud, too confrontational to go to Prayer Spaces-it is a truly inclusive resource where every child is welcomed, loved and respected’
‘Prayer spaces made a big impact on our young people. They welcomed the chance to reflect in an unpressured way and talk freely about any worries they had.’
‘ Prayer Spaces has expanded in our school to create ‘Breathing Spaces’ a programme being run by Sarah our Minister to try and build spiritual resilience for our vulnerable youngsters. Staff, parents and children can identify themselves for a space on the programme. Sarah tailors the activities to the individual’s needs e.g. a memory box with a lad who has recently lost his mother to caner, a kind sayings box for a girl experiencing low self-esteem and board games for those who act dominantly and cannot accommodate others’ viewpoints. Throughout these activities the children can address their particular worries, sadness, aggression and inability to cope in order to develop strategies to help’
‘ As Head Teacher I was able to address a written wish by one child’ I wish my Mum and Dad would love me more’ who I had no idea was suffering or unhappy. Sarah keeps confidentiality and the children’s thought private but if she feels any of their statements are disturbing or indicates that they need support she says one of the statements today were…’
‘Prayer Spaces, now Breathing Spaces in our school presents a little escape that is calm, unpressured and relaxed for those youngsters who are juggling chaos through their day every day; it can give the TLC from an adult in school who has time to listen’
‘As Head Teacher we have now incorporated The Breathing Spaces (adapted from Prayer Spaces) into Flexible Pathways for learning for youngsters who are struggling to cope emotionally in school’
The resources to set up a Prayer Space in Schools are available from their website, all that is required is a registration process. There are also training days available periodically and having attended on last year I would recommend it as an ideal way to get to know the concept and ethos behind it. It can be very tempting for adults to try to ‘reposition’ children into how we think they should be praying and thinking, but Prayer Spaces in Schools in very much about providing the space for the children and for their exploration to be guided by them and by God.
If anyone would like any further information or practical help then I would happily provide it.
Rev Sarah Murray