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Silent contemplation trialled in Oxford schools

15 October 2021

STEPHEN BUCKLEY/OXFORD DIOCESE

Children at Goring C of E Primary School hold classroom cards showing the five practices at the heart of the silent-contemplation programme

Children at Goring C of E Primary School hold classroom cards showing the five practices at the heart of the silent-contemplation programme

SILENT contemplation for children is being trialled in schools in Oxford diocese, in response to the growing mental-health crisis among children and young people. The series of silent-contemplation sessions for schoolchildren are based on Ignatian and Examen spiritual practices.

The programme, Space Makers, had brought noticeable benefits to both pupils and staff, a teacher at one of the schools trialling it said. Ailsa Tooling, a Year 6 teacher at Goring C of E Primary School, has been offering it twice a week to the ten- and 11-year-olds in her class. “When the whole of education sometimes seems to be about targets and results and pressure, Space Makers gives students the chance just to be, rather than do,” she said.

“I feel that the children leaving Goring CE Primary school, through this experience, are more whole. We’ve given them techniques they can use for life. These children are better prepared for what’s coming next.

“We do it after lunchtime, and its been working really well; it’s after playtime, and the children bring back issues with friends or things that have happened to them, and it gives them time to reflect on the day so far. It helps make the rest of the day go well, even if it hadn’t been before,” Mrs Tooling said.

“We have had really positive feedback from the children: they say it makes them feel calm, and free of burdens — they feel they have shared their worries. Children of no faith background have said they feel the benefits of it. Children are calmer as a result. Teachers feel they benefit from it, too.

“Staff have noticed it improves behaviour: the children are more thoughtful and respectful with each other after they’ve shared silence together. Taking children to that place of silence is a real privilege.”

The contemplative sessions are used throughout the school, including the youngest children, who participate in small groups. Longer sessions had also been used in school assemblies, Ms Tooling said.

The five practices at the heart of Space Makers are based on the principles of stilling, noticing, dwelling, mending, and blessing. The practice was developed by the diocese in response to the increased pressure on children and young people from social media, and the extra pressures of lockdown during the pandemic.

The school-chaplaincy adviser for Oxford diocese, the Revd Charlie Kerr, said: “I am excited to see the transformation Space Makers can create for pupils and staff in our schools. The growing pressures on young people, and the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the nation, demonstrate a need for better understanding of and support for mental health.

“Valuing and caring for children and young people is at the heart of Jesus’s teaching. Providing space and time for contemplation and self-reflection is just one of the many ways we can nurture the next generation.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said: “All children and young people should flourish mutually as God intended, know that they are loved, and have the opportunity to learn spiritual practice in a familiar and comfortable environment.

“It is our hope that schools across the diocese will adopt regular contemplation practice and encourage young people to develop healthy habits for the future to help them find peace, hope and fulfilment in life.”

Thirty-two schools in the diocese have now signed up to run the scheme.

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