SPHE is not simply a subject on the curriculum. It involves discrete lessons but also applying the learning throughout the school day. Most importantly it shapes the ethos of the school. The values, attitudes, knowledge and skills which the staff want the children to learn shape the way the school community organises itself, so that those values are experienced and lived by the children. Care, support, listening, emotional awareness and communication are core values and skills in the SPHE curriculum and in the school which prioritises SPHE .

These values and skills become crucial when a child is bereaved.   From an SPHE perspective it is how we live these values that makes a difference to the bereaved child.

We do not need to teach a lesson on loss or bereavement at the time of a death.   To do so may greatly embarrass the grieving child. We teach about loss at other times as part of the “Feeling and Emotions” strand or when it integrates naturally with History, Science or English Literature, when it is not too raw for any child in the class. What the child needs after a bereavement is our care, our listening, our support and good communication.

Children differ greatly in how they want to communicate the story of their loss. Some children will want to talk about it in circle time. Some may not want to talk for months or years in such an open way. What is important is that we respect their wishes and the wishes of their family.

The other children may want to talk about it if they have known the person who died. They may need reassurance. Each case is different and a school policy on bereavement can guide a teacher and ensure that s/he does not have to make decisions alone.

The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network have developed an on line resource for teachers to guide them when a child in the class is bereaved. The animation, the interviews with teachers and the supporting materials offer a short module for teachers to allow them think through some of the complexities of bereavement in childhood and the role of the school.

From left   Fiona Joyce, Tina Doyle, Edel Horan, Ray Watson, Martin Morris, Anne Staunton [ Rainbows Ireland]  Therese Hegarty [ Maynooth University]

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Therese Hegarty

Lecturer in SPHE

Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education

Maynooth University