Making Sense of Religious Education When You`re Four by Penny

Making Sense of
Religious Education
When You’re Four
Enabling Environments
Early Years RE
Penny Burnside
Education Officer, Diocese of Exeter
Making sense of school –
how do we show children what really matters?
12 things to look for in your EYFS class
1 Care and welfare are given a high priority
2 A stimulating learning environment which offers a range of
first hand, multi sensory experiences both indoors and outdoors
3 Staff undertaking observations
4 Positive adult-child interactions
5 Children involved in child initiated activities
6 Motivated staff engaged in direct teaching of well planned
focused activities
7 Access to high quality resources which support the child’s
learning and allow cross curricular opportunities to take
Observation of Teaching and Learning in the Early Years
Foundation Stage (EYFS)
12 things to look for in your EYFS class
8 Floor play – young children need space not tables
9 Well planned and resourced Continuous Provision which
reflects the six areas of learning and development
10 Children working independently on adult initiated/child
continued activities
11 Flexible organisation across the day – young children need
time to consolidate their learning and consideration given
to unplanned learning opportunities
12 Happy smiling faces – children having fun!
Observation of Teaching and Learning in the Early Years
Foundation Stage (EYFS)
What would you say was the
biggest challenge for RE in this
1. The danger of ‘shutting-down’
Nobody talks about this at school – so I don’t
talk about it (any more).
Not everything needs explaining
“ We often tell a Bible
story but, rather than
trusting God’s word to
speak for itself in God’s
own way, we rush to
explain what it says to
us. We miss the chance
to explore how it can
make meaning for the
R. Nye Children’s Spirituality:
What it is and Why it Matters
Real conversations often happen in the spaces.
“ Conversations in the car,
the bath, at bedtime,
or just when you are least
prepared for them
are often much more
important ....”
R. Nye Children’s Spirituality: What it
is and Why it Matters p28
How do we create spaces for children
to talk about what matters to them?
2. Small children – big ideas
It’s not about making things easier.
When did a small person
surprise you
with a big idea?
Young children can cope with
sophisticated language.
“One implication... for teaching is that
the language used by adults must be
sufficiently elaborate to support and ‘flesh out’
advances in children’s thinking.”
Athey, C Extending Thought in Young Children p167
“People are unlikely to
learn words that express concepts
that they do not have;
“Nobody would learn the
word ‘cat’ unless he knows what a cat is.”
Fodor (1980) in Athey, C Extending Thought in Young Children p164
“ is vital that pupils are
helped to interpret symbolic language
which is so necessary for the
communication of deep insight.”
Ashton, E Religious Education in the Early Years
“...the person who undertakes
the interpretation of metaphors
becomes involved in the intriguing task
of reflecting further by drawing upon
personal experience. There is mystery surrounding
metaphors which is motivating in itself... and the
possibility of uncovering many meanings and
dealing with them can become an exciting adventure.”
Ashton, E Religious Education in the Early Years
“By using metaphor, even very small children
can cope with complex notions and begin
to give expression to multi-faceted insights
which defy the literal use of language.”
Ashton, E Religious Education in the Early Years
“Metaphor offers an exciting medium
through which... reflective thought can be deepened
by the consideration of religious insights”
Ashton, E Religious Education in the Early Years
Adults can get in the way of children’s thinking.
“Children learn from adults to think in crude,
anthropomorphic terms”
Petrovich (1989)) in Ashton, E Religious Education in the Early Years
We frequently expect children
to think about our ideas.
How often do we go away
and think about their ideas?
Let’s do this more!
A Reggio Emilia approach
The “pedagogy of listening”
“...if we believe that children possess their own
theories, interpretations and questions and that
they are protagonists in the knowledge-building
processes, then the most important verb in
educational practice is no longer to talk, to
explain, or to transmit, but to listen....”
( Carlina Rinaldi, 1999)
A Reggio Emilia approach
“Listening means being open to others
and what they have to say,
listening to the hundred and more
languages, with all our senses.
Listening means being open to differences and
recognising the value of different points of view
and the interpretation of others.”
( Carlina Rinaldi, 1999)
A Reggio Emilia approach
Children as “co-constructors”
“the view of children as co-constructors...
understands that what children learn, all their
knowledge, emerges in the process of self and
social construction since children do not passively
endure their experiences but become active agents
in their socialisation, co-constructed with
their peers... “
A Reggio Emilia approach
“It is a view of children as meaning-makers.
But always in relationship with others,
seeking an answer, rather than the answer.”
(Dahlberg 1999)
3. Co-construction –
child-initiated learning
and making sure it really is (good) RE
To what extent do current units of work
start from children’s own ideas?
An experiment !
Poster of the Last Supper
Artist Si Smith, for Blackburn Diocese
4. Possible resources and approaches
Creating space for wondering
Godly Play
Godly Play
A few key features
Whole class (circle)
The story – told from memory, no book
Eye contact – or not
Small world people and props
Use of hand gestures
“Wondering” questions
the room
the welcome
the feast
Opportunities for children
to respond in their own way
Godly Play – what it says about itself
A discovery method of sharing, teaching and learning
A method that values process, openness and discovery
A method that is focused on the needs of the whole person:
body, mind and spirit
A multi-sensory approach that combines and integrates
language (the verbal system) and play (the non-verbal
Using symbols and objects as well as words
An integrated experience by which one’s own unique
spirituality can grow
Montessori principles
Godly Play uses Montessori principles in that objects used
in the Godly Play room are made from natural materials.
Quality of materials and construction are also important.
The objects are not just visual aids for a story but are
there to be played with and explored.
Objects are then placed upon appropriate coloured felt
underlays to help keep the focus.
Many of the objects are either kept in baskets, on trays
or boxes.
It will depend upon the genre of the story.
4. Possible resources and approaches
Listening to children’s thinking and using their
ideas to shape future teaching
Reggio Emilia
4. Possible resources and approaches
Experiencing community, celebration, acceptance,
Shared experiences, the significance of meals
Continuous provision – an idea
The place of food
Shared meals
The practice of hospitality
The enjoyment of God’s creation
The use of our gifts
“Food connects” (Tim Chester)
Meals as enacted grace - Luke 5
Meals as enacted community – Luke 7
Meals as enacted hope – Luke 9
Meals as enacted mission – Luke 14
Meals as enacted salvation – Luke 22
Meals as enacted promise – Luke 24
A Meal with Jesus: Tim Chester 2011 (IVP)
“Meals also have the power
to shape and reshape community.
A person to whom we may have
related in one role becomes a
person to whom we relate as
a friend. Serving another
changes the dynamics of
a relationship.
The leader who serves at table
is no longer aloof.”
Chester T, A Meal with Jesus p52
“Meals indicate social status and
they thereby allow us to transform
social status.”
“The marginalized cease to be
marginal when they’re included
around a meal table.
The lonely cease to be lonely.
The alien ceases to be alien.
Strangers become friends.”
Chester T, A Meal with Jesus p52

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