At Reflective Teacher, we’re deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the Royal Family at this very sad time.

This summer, you and your pupils celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Many of you had tea parties in the playground, decorated your schools and talked about how important she was around the world and how significant her 70 years on the throne have been.

Now, just three months later, schoolchildren are having to deal with the news that the Queen has died. Everyone’s talking about it and there’s coverage everywhere on TV, in the papers and all over social media. Opening up a dialogue with your pupils about what’s happening will be incredibly useful in helping them to better understand and process this confusing time.

Be literal

This could be your students’ first experience of death and it’s possible they don’t really understand it. Use straight-forward language when talking about it, to avoid confusing children or creating anxiety.

For example, if you tell children that we’ve lost the queen, they may take you literally and think that she’s actually lost and we can’t find her. Similarly, terms such as ‘passed away’, ‘gone to sleep’, or ‘up with the angels’ don’t explain what’s happened and children may leap to their own conclusions, which could be frightening for them. If the queen won’t wake up, could that happen to them when they go to sleep? Using the literal words ‘dead’ or ‘died’ may feel cold, but it defines what has happened.

Invite questions

Your pupils may have a lot of questions about the Queen’s death or death in general. They may ask them immediately or days or even weeks later. It’s important that they understand that death is a nature part of life and not a taboo subject, so they can ask questions freely.

It’s likely that young children won’t fully understand the concept of death. This can be confusing and frightening for them. Using real-life examples in nature is a helpful tool to simplify death as a concept and demonstrate what it means. You could talk about the difference between an insect that’s alive and one that’s dead. Or a lush green leaf compared to one that’s fallen from the tree.

Teenager students may not ask questions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask them how they feel about it, either as part of an informal form time conversation or in a philosophy and ethics or well-being class.

The main thing is that all pupils know that it’s ok to talk about difficult things and you’re there to help them get through it.

Give reassurance

Pupils may well hear newsreaders or adults referring to the Queen as having been ‘old’ or ‘elderly’. This could result in them worrying that their own elderly relatives are going to die soon. (In young children’s eyes anyone over the age of 40 is elderly, so this could apply to a large proportion of the adults in their lives.)

They may also worry that they’re going to die soon. Or their parents, in which case, who will look after them? Reassure your pupils without making impossible promises and use this as an opportunity to promote healthy lifestyles through diet, exercise and enough sleep to prolong our lives.

Respect their feelings

Children will react to news of the death differently. Some will feel upset – either by their own worries or by picking up on other people’s emotions. Others may be confused or curious or unaffected. All emotional responses are valid and need to be respected.

Assure your pupils that their feelings – anger, sadness, guilt, worry, confusion etc – are all normal reactions to hearing that someone has died. It’s ok if they’re not upset because they didn’t have a connection to the Queen. Equally, if they are upset, it’s important to appreciate that that emotion is real to them.

Create activities

Activities are a useful tool to help pupils process how they’re feeling. This could be through drawing a picture of the Queen, writing a poem for her, or setting an essay about her life. Condolence books are another way to encourage students to express their emotions and enable them to see how others are feeling.

You could also watch The Royal Collection Trust’s tribute film together at https://vimeo.com/747784308

Celebrate her life

As well as helping pupils understand and deal with the Queen’s death, this is an opportunity to celebrate her and note everything she saw and experienced. From World War II, to man walking on the moon, the appointment of the first female prime minister, the explosion of the internet, the first black president and a global pandemic, her story is an incredible history lesson.

Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t a bystander though. She was actively involved and put her duty before her personal life, despite being a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She sealed her role model status by changing future history when she approved the law stating that male heirs take precedence over female heirs, even if they’re younger.

Her legacy will live on and that’s an inspiring and uplifting lesson for all students to learn.

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