The following examples are taken from teaching practice files.
They contain many generalisations, for example in the ways sacred
books are actually handled. At the appropriate time, the possible
variety of practice and experiences and viewpoints can be explored.
With younger children, however, the assumption is made here that
care and respect and good practice should offend no one, even
if one’s own responses are more casual or different. The assumption
is also made that one can carefully use the word God (gods, spirit,
etc.) in the classroom. The schemes seek to show that, to many
people, religion is important and relevant: that writings help
people learn about their faith and explore possible ways in which
God and people can communicate: that they help people think about
the meaning and purpose in life: that scriptures are not a dull
subject to explore: that there are different ways of expressing
and exploring truth. The content of the schemes with younger children
is integral to work with older children, so additions will be
mentioned rather than full schemes written up in each case.
An Infant classroom
The children were fascinated by the Book Corner, either because
they had much loved books at home, or because it was a new and
magic world of colour and discovery. Books helped organise their
experience, pointed to new insights, extended experience, pointed
the ways to new learning paths. They gave confidence, a sense
of achievement. They were to be used as well as looked at and
We talked about the part books play in people’s lives, why people
write them, how long it must take to write, illustrate, print
them. How important they are! Do we have favourite books? Why
are some books special? We should treat all books carefully, but
do we exercise extra care with our favourite books — keeping them
by our bed, taking them to show Gran, washing our hands before
using them, not lending them to our friends? People who pray to
God often have favourite books which tell them something about
the mysterious person who cares for them. They often treat these
books in a special way (The Muslim, Jewish, Sikh child will understand
this easily, though many Christian children will not have this
sense of reverence, and to many children the idea will be completely
We had two Muslim children in our class, so we decided to begin
by talking about the Qur’an. Because children love playing with
the sounds of strange words — especially in this age of space
technology and dinosaurs — we decided we would use some technical
terms, so we pinned a large paper word-tree to the classroom wall
and placed some large leaves in a box ready to be pinned on at
the appropriate time — for example, we explained that many children
all over the world worshipped God whom they called Allah. They
were called Muslims. We looked at pictures and slides. These children
had a special book called the Qur’an, given to them by a great
teacher called Muhammad.
Using a packet of ‘wet ones’, a small Qur’an stand (made by a
student), a small inexpensive Qur’an, a clean cloth, a string
of prayer beads (again made by a student) we explained how this
special book was treated. We showed pictures and slides of beautifully
hand-written illuminated Qur’ans. How long it must have taken
to write them! Why would someone spend so much time copying a
book? Copying or reading the Qur’an was like saying a prayer.
Muslims tried never to put anything on top of a Qur’an. It was
placed on the top shelf, or on top of a bookcase. No pictures
of Gran, or of a Womble or a footballer were hung above it. It
was often wrapped in a clean cloth. Muslims try to wash their
hands before using it. Wet ones were distributed and the small
Qur’an (which had not been used in prayer) was carefully handed
round, the strange script regarded with awe. Some Muslims kiss
and hold the Qur’an to their foreheads three times before reading
it. Certainly we would not put it down on a dirty desk, but only
on a clean piece of paper, a clean hanky, or on our Qur’an stand.
From cut-outs we all made a stand. Of course we would not eat
chips or chappatis, listen to the telly, laugh and chat when reading
it. Muslim children learn to recite some of the Qur’an in Arabic,
some learn to recite it all. How clever they are! Outlines of
the name Allah were handed out in English and Arabic script, and
were coloured in and illustrated with flower patterns.
Finally we looked at some slides of people reading the Qur’an
— at home, school, in the mosque, on pilgrimage to Makkah — each
face showing concentration, care, happiness.
(Of course most or all of the facts would be forgotten, but hopefully
the atmosphere of importance and relevance would remain to form
a good basis for later, more detailed study. It should be noted
that whilst some Muslim children will be proud to bring a Qur’an
to school, others will not wish to do so. Many Muslims fear the
book will not be handled properly. In addition, many are suspicious
of women teachers handling the Qur’an, for they believe a woman
should not do so whilst having a period).
Next we looked at two small Torah scrolls — one in a velvet cover,
as in the Ashkenazi tradition, one in a wooden case, reflecting
the Sephardic tradition. The words Torah, Scroll, Jew, Synagogue,
were added to the tree. We looked at pictures and slides of scrolls,
noting the beautiful decorations. The children were fascinated
by the yad and quickly understood how its use helped avoid dirty
finger marks on the parchment, and how it helped followed the
text. We discussed how carefully the large scrolls used in the
synagogue were written — the strips of parchment carefully prepared,
the prayerful way in which the copying is done, the fact that
corrections to the names or attributes of God cannot be made if
the copier makes a mistake. What happened to the spoilt strips
of parchment — and to badly worn scrolls? These are carefully
placed in boxes, covers, etc., even plain wooden coffins, and
placed in graves or caves. The class had recently buried a much-loved
goldfish. Because they cared for it, they had not just thrown
it away. Similarly the Jews loved their scrolls and treated them
always with respect. We made small scrolls, then looked at slides
of the scrolls being carried round the synagogue, being read.
The children appreciated the fact that you took the shortest route
to the reading desk, eager to hear the story, and the longest
route back to the Ark because you did not want to put the scroll
away. They also appreciated the symbolism of touching or pointing
to the scroll with the fringes of the prayer shawl, then kissing
them, thus promising to listen carefully and to obey. They learnt
the blessing spoken before the reading of the Torah. Very gently
we explained the festival of Simchat Torah, when the reading of
the scroll was both ended and begun — they all knew the feeling
of wanting to read a favourite book again! They were fascinated
by slides of people dancing with the scrolls, sharing their joy
in the Torah and its service. They looked at painting books of
the Sabbath and the Torah, coloured in the pictures, drew their
We then explored the Bible, using words like Bible, Church. We
looked at slides of beautiful, illuminated manuscripts, and a
book containing illustrations from the Book of Kells. After talking
of the time and effort involved, we coloured in templates of capital
letters and decorated the page with colourful patterns. We looked
at some of the books which explore the Psalms with beautiful coloured
photographs, also The Bible in Focus with quotations and passages
from the Bible illustrated by beautiful photographs of contemporary
scenes. We looked at postcards from the British and Foreign Bible
Society. A local priest brought a copy of the Bible and the Gospel
and Prayer Book used during the Sunday liturgy to show to the
children. We spoke of the way in which some churches (Orthodox)
carry the Bible in procession from behind the screen (iconostasis)
and show it to the people. Some children had heard of Christ’s
baptism and we explained that the procession represented Jesus
after his baptism going out to preach to the people.
The Bible in Focus was placed on a reading stand for a week,
a small bowl of flowers beside it. One child had brought in the
battered, rather overwhelming-looking Bible given to an elder
brother, now in year one at the Secondary school. The student
wished to preserve the idea of reverence for the Christian Scripture.
The Sikh Scriptures
In another classroom the children learnt abut the Guru Granth
Sahib, its raised position in the gurdwara, its careful covering
in a cloth, the use of the chauri. They looked at slides of the
use of the scripture during the service, of processions in the
gurdwara, the street, the Hari Mandir at Amritsar. They understood
that its preciousness and cost meant that many families could
not afford a copy — they liked the idea of borrowing one for special
occasions — i.e. weddings. They considered carefully how it would
be kept and used in a home if a family were privileged to own
one. They appreciated the random opening of the book to find the
initial letter for a baby’s name. Copies of a small book Sayings
of Guru Nanak were passed round.
The Hindu Scriptures
We looked at slides of Hindus worshipping in the Temple and at
home. Hindus often sing some of the prayers and stories found
in their special books. We looked at some beautifully illustrated
copies of the Vedas and the Gita. In the Temple a copy of one
of the Scriptures is often placed on a stand in front of an image.
On a side table we placed a puja tray and a small statue of Krishna
and Radha and placed one of our illustrated books beside it. Then
we shared the story of Rama and Sita, putting the names Rama,
Sita, Hindu on our Word Tree. We looked at slides, made masks
and garlands, exchanged sweets and lit indoor fireworks, talking
briefly about Divali.
Additional material used in the Junior Classroom — and with
1. Stories of how the Scriptures came to be
written — Muhammad, Moses, the Gurus, Hindu teachers, Jesus’
disciples. With the ten/eleven-year-olds some simple work was
done relating to revelation and truth, with reference to the
fact that some believers feel God actually speaks to them and
they reproduce His words, whilst others believe that they pass
on God’s message in their own words.
2. Stories and/or verses from the Scriptures,
often copied and illustrated carefully by the children.
3. An exploration of festivals arising from
a) Passover, Succot, Shavuot, Chanukah,
Purim, Exodus, Ruth, Maccabees, Esther.
b) Qur’anic references to fasting and the
Kaaba and Hajj, Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Also the Night
of Power and Muhammad’s first revelations.
c) Baisakhi — the Khalsa and the Book replace
the human Guru — the reading of the whole of the Book during
d) Divali, Holi — based on religious stories.
e) Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide.
4. One class of ten/eleven-year-olds explored
Easter in terms of liberation from/liberation for. If you believed
the story, how would your life be altered in terms of conduct,
emotions, how would you view the world and the things which
happened to you, how would you think about meaning and purpose?
The children then explored Passover in a similar fashion, looking
forward first to Sinai and the covenant, exploring many of the
laws re human life and property which accompany the more familiar
Ten Commandments, and secondly to some of the tragedies suffered
by the Jewish people. The children realised that the same words
and concepts kept appearing in both festivals — responsibility,
mutuality, confidence, freedom from fear, a sense of direction,
a sense of belonging.
Thus Easter was seen not as a rejection of Judaism, but as
a different way of helping people in the same situation, and
many points for future thought and dialogue were established.
We explored the titles given to Jesus — The Way, The Truth,
The Light, and realised these also applied to the Torah, which
is rolled upon Trees of Life, and which is referred to by the
Psalmist, e.g. as ‘Thy Word is a Light unto my feet and a lantern
unto my path’. A local minister, a rabbie and two mums came
into the classroom and talked through some of the points with
the children. Later, on The Night of Power we talked about the
Qur’an being The guidance for following the straight path, of
the certainty and confidence that comes from believing that
God has sent His clear guidance to men, of the liberation from
the fear of ignorance. Then a local Muslim came to the school
and again talked with the children.
5. Whilst exploring the theme of symbols,
the coverings of Torah scrolls were carefully studied together
with the embroidery of parochets, e.g. lions, crowns, the star
of David, the tablets of stone given to Moses, bells, breastplates.
The meaning of the Ner Tamid was explained, Mezuzah and Tefillin
were also studied and film strips and artefacts shown, the student
explaining why, e.g., an empty mezuzah was very inexpensive,
but one containing the parchment much more expensive. Gradually
the children realised the importance of the Torah for the survival
of Judaism after the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. We then
referred to the Guru Granth Sahib, its Lordship represented
by the use of the chauri. We also referred to the custom in
some gurdwaras of decorating a small bedroom in which the Granth
Sahib was put to rest on the bed each evening, and taken in
procession to the takht each morning, reflecting its living
6. Whilst exploring the theme of beginnings,
a class of 10-year-olds split into three groups. One researched
the origins of the scriptures, one the origin of festivals,
and one myths and stories of the beginning of the world. The
latter stories were mainly selected for what they taught us
of meaning and purpose for the universe and for human beings.
Amerindian and Aboriginal stories were very popular. The children
looked at Indian stories, at the stories in Genesis and the
story in the Qur’an, developing especially ideas of service,
responsibility, working with the materials God has given us
to become creators ourselves. We also talked about the difference
it might make to people’s attitudes and behaviour if they believed
7. A class of nine/ten-year-olds explored
the ways in which the Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and
Islam came to be written down and discussed the reliability
of copying and translating. The Muslim believes it is impossible
to translate the Qur’an accurately. Such stories as the discovery
of a scroll of the Jewish Scripture by Josiah and the work of
the scribes in the Jewish exile were discussed. Why were there
sometimes two differing stories of the same event in the Jewish
Scriptures? Was it because of different traditions, emphasises,
aims? We looked at the two different stories of the birth of
Jesus and talked about the differing audiences for which the
gospels were written. We talked about the value of letters and
of the letter to Philemon. Using material from the British and
Foreign Bible Society we discussed how the Bible came to be
translated into English and the dangers and difficulties endured
by Christians to make it available.
This raised the question — why was it worth dying for? We read
transliterations of the passages in Mila 18 and My Glorious
Brothers, realising how awful it is for a Jew to witness the
desecration of the scrolls. Finally we talked about the collection
and writing down of the chapters of the Qur’an. This led to
a discussion on the accuracy of transmission and a discussion
on the finding and importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The resulting
exhibition of work achieved at the end of nine weeks filled
the hall and resulted in talks and slide shows being given to
the rest of the school.
8. The theme of justice was explored by classes
from nine year olds upwards, using the book of Amos, verses
from Exodus, also from the Qur’an and from the Gospels. A very
interesting experiment was attempted with a class of eleven-year-olds
when we very gently explored some of the activi- ties of those
engaged in liberation theology in Latin America, basing it on
the passages mentioned above. We spoke of the work seen by Derek
Winter and recorded in Hope in Activity, of the work of Dom
Helder Camara and Camillo Torres, and the student shared with
the class the story of a young Volunteer Worker told in The
Light of Day by Franz Lang. This led to a discussion of whether
we should fight to achieve justice, freedom of worship.
Much of this work can be used in different ways with classes
in secondary schools. It has many gaps. It raises many questions.
How soon can you mention God in the classroom? How soon can children
speak of other faiths outside their immediate environment? It
raises questions regarding aims, objectives, methodology, content.
It raises questions regarding the presentation of similar content
at different levels — in earlier years are we guilty of superficiality
or are we laying firm foundations?
The above experiences are shared with the reader firstly to point
to the many and rich possibilities of work with Sacred Scriptures,
and secondly in the hope that critics will at least take them
seriously and consider the introduction of similar work in their
- My Glorious Brothers, H. Fast. Bonim Books 1948. Mila 18,
L. Uris. Corgi 1963.
- Exploring The Bible: Chichester Project, P. Curtis. Lutterworth
- Dom Helder Camara, N. Cheetham. People with a Purpose SCM
- The Light of Day, O. F. Lang. Collins 1980.
- Hope in Captivity, D. Winter. Epworth 1977.