The noise of the classroom quietens down within minutes as children become still and calm during a series of new contemplative practices being piloted across the Diocese of Oxford.

That was what happened at Goring CE Primary School, one of the Church schools taking part in the Contemplative Toolkit pilot. It is one of a suite of similar resources being trialled among youth groups and families and set to launch in 2020.

Film and photos: Steven Buckley
Words: Jo Duckles

“When the whole of education sometimes seems to be about targets and results and pressure, it gives students the chance just to be rather than do.”

A response to an epidemic of anxiety

A team from the Diocese is currently working hard on developing contemplative toolkit resources that are tailored for use at home, in churches and schools.

Each version of the toolkit draws on Ignatian prayer practices. The schools’ version seen here is currently being trialed in four of our Church primary schools; Goring, Buckland, St Edburg’s in Bicester and Burchett’s Green.

There are 10 more pilot schools lined up for the spring term, and another 10 in the summer term. A youth version was also trialled at the Yellow Braces diocesan summer camp and in churches.

The project is a collaboration between Ian Macdonald and Charlie Kerr, our youth and school chaplaincy advisors. Their work on the Contemplative Toolkit aims to provide a resource that will help meet what one school has described as an ‘epidemic of anxiety’.

How does it work?

The schools’ version, in the video above, offers three modes; daily which is five to 10 minutes, monthly or half-termly, which is 15 to 20 minutes and termly, which is 30 to 45 minutes. The film shows the stilling practice, which is one of the favourites among the Goring pupils. The children are starting to use the contemplative practices at home, and every staff meeting now starts with contemplation.

The Contemplative Toolkit, when done daily, starts with Stilling on Mondays, Noticing on Tuesdays, Dwelling on Wednesdays, Mending on Thursdays and Blessing on Fridays. The family and youth versions, available in 2020, will offer similar contemplative spiritual practices.

In practice

Angela Wheatcroft, the headteacher at Goring CE Primary School, said: “We are about six to eight weeks into the pilot and we have found that it’s having a really positive impact, not only on the pupils but also on the staff as well.” She added that the children were seeing how the practices could be beneficial throughout their whole lives.

Ailsa Toolin, Year Six teacher and RE Co-ordinator, said: “What the children really enjoyed was that opportunity to be still, to take five minutes out of the busyness of the day and just stop and their feedback has been that those times of calmness and quiet have allowed them that time to think about themselves and their feelings and things they can do to improve their sense of wellbeing.”

Ian Macdonald, talking about the pilot at Yellow Braces, said: “It was so exciting to see not just how well the young people engaged with the Contemplative practices, but also how much they enjoyed and appreciated them.” One 16-year-old girl at Yellow Braces mentioned how much she enjoyed the meditation along with the games and frisbee. A boy aged 17 said: “I enjoyed the silence part, the breathing and calmfulness.”