A new resource aimed at helping children handle death and dying has been produced by the team at Oxford’s Sobell House Hospice.

Graham (right) and Kevin, working hard on the Dying Matters resources. Photo: Jo Duckles

Photo: iStock

THE Revd Graham Sykes, hospice chaplain and Kevin Game, from the fundraising team, have worked to develop a guide for primary schools, including lesson plans and other materials. The aim of the project, entitled Life and Death in all its Fullness is to help teachers to equip children to be able to better understand death, bereavement and grief.

The project is to be rolled out in the run-up to the national Dying Matters Week (14-18 May), when Sobell House and other hospices will be encouraging people to talk openly about death and dying and to consider what might be important to them as they approach the end of their lives.

Kevin says: “We think this has value as a long-term future resource. We felt we could provide something quite important, not just for children but for teachers as well who are often cast adrift when there is a bereavement to deal with. This is early intervention, equipping people from a young age to deal with death and dying. Children in the age group we are looking at have the most inquisitive minds. We are helping them deal with bereavements which hopefully won’t happen to them for a long time.”

After the materials were produced, Kevin spoke to someone in his village whose husband had died, asking if she thought the pack was helpful. She thought it was. If she had said ‘no’ the whole project would have been a waste of time but she came back to me positively.”

So, what should people do if they are experiencing a bereavement and need to help children deal with it? “First of all, ask for help,” says Kevin. “If it is the first time someone is dealing with bereavement, everyone is cast adrift and they need to know that help is available.”

One place to go is SeeSaw, an Oxford-based charity that provides grief support to children and young people in Oxfordshire. “Help is there and it’s fine to ask for it.” SeeSaw even has a dog, a Labrador that children can talk to as a way of dealing with their grief.

“It just enables the child to chatter away. It can be a horrendous situation but someone being able to talk about it and process it without people shutting you up is helpful.
“The whole Dying Matters project is about release. It’s important children get the chance to deal with grief. When you cosset them away it causes more harm.”

The lessons are:
Lesson 1 – What is alive?
Lesson 2 – Death is inevitable
Lesson 3 – Emotions and grief
Lesson 4 – Funerals and ceremonies
Lesson 5 – What to say/not to say

The sessions are creative and include using the story Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney. The story follows a waterbug as he bursts through the surface of the pond he shares with his friend. As his body is transformed into a dragonfly he can no longer honour a promise to go back underwater to tell the other water bugs what it is like above the water. It is used as an analogy for death and dying.

As well as the lesson plan for teachers, the Sobell House team has suggested schools run a non-uniform day, and/or an after-school cake sale or tea party with the suggestion of making donations to the hospice.

Schools taking part in the project are being encouraged to ask pupils to run an art contest, exhibiting children’s work around their premises. They have the option of holding an exhibition of the work for parents, in aid of Sobell House. Each school can then choose two pieces to be exhibited in a wider exhibition at Sobell House during Dying Matters Week.

“There is nothing more profound than seeing a piece of art inspired by death. Art therapy is one way of allowing people to express their grief,” says Graham.

Winning pupils will be invited to deliver the artwork to the hospice in person and receive a tour of Sobell house.

Where to find help


Katharine House, Banbury, Oxfordshire

Katherine House’s annual open day takes place during Dying Matters Week, on Friday 18 May from 1.30pm to 4.30pm.
Communications officer, Chris Higgins, says: “It’s a relaxed afternoon, open to anyone – perhaps they have a family member who may need a hospice, or maybe they’re interested in volunteering/working for us, or just curious to see what a hospice is like.
There’s no need to book, although if a group is larger than six it would be useful for us to know in advance if possible.”
As part of its Care for a Cuppa fundraising campaign, the hospice will be providing tea and cakes all free of charge and there will be display of artwork created by patients as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks.

Sue Ryder’s Duchess of Kent Hospice,

Florence Nightingale Hospice, Aylesbury, Bucks

Helen and Douglas House, Oxford: