This short blog addresses how SPHE is used to teach students about life, namely, bereavement (e.g., death, separation, loss of a friendship, moving to a new home). Also addressed is the new policy document ‘Wellbeing in Schools’ (DES, 2015), peer-support programmes Rainbows and Seasons for Growth, and curricular programme Zippy’s Friends.

In primary school, bereavement is taught through the SPHE curriculum under three strand units: Growing and changing; My Friends and Other People; and Myself and Others. Throughout these strands the general objective is to: examine some factors that can affect family life; to understand that families often undergo planned or unplanned changes that may be pleasant or difficult; to begin to cope with disharmony in, or loss of, friendships; and to begin to understand that reproduction, birth, life, growth and death are all part of a life cycle. The new policy document ‘Wellbeing in Primary Schools’ (DES, 2015) recognises that teaching about bereavement cannot “. . . be treated in isolation, but rather in the context of the overall SPHE curriculum” (DES, 2015, p. 43). The second reference to bereavement in this document states that a small group support intervention should be put in place for students who are bereaved. Small group supports available in Irish primary schools include programmes such as Rainbows and Seasons for Growth. These peer-support programmes assist students experiencing a significant loss in their lives as a result of death, separation, or divorce in their family.

As well as the SPHE curriculum, policy, and peer support programmes, there is also a curricular programme that has been developed to encourage the promotion of coping skills among students. The Zippy’s Friends programme is designed to promote the emotional wellbeing of young people aged five to eight years of age by increasing their repertoire of coping skills and by stimulating varied and flexible ways of coping with problems of day-to-day life. Research (Clarke & Barry, 2010) evaluated this programme and found that the pilot implementation was successfully implemented in DEIS primary schools in Ireland and led to a number of significant positive effects for the pupils (e.g., emotional literacy and coping skills) and teachers (e.g., relationships with students). These findings are in keeping with a broader base of international evidence on the benefits of emotional wellbeing programmes for children’s emotional and social functioning and improved academic performance.

Thus, we can see that in Ireland, through SPHE and other available programmes and supports, we can assist our primary school students who may be experiencing some form of hardship. The development of such programmes emphasise how Irish primary schools are caring environments where all of a students’ needs are taken into account, not just the academic learning.