Teaching about Easter might feel outdated to some, but taking a thematic approach can help to make the material relevant to all pupils, says Deborah Jenkins
Isn’t it a bit old-fashioned to teach the Easter story in 21st-century multicultural Britain?
No. Easter is one of several religious festivals celebrated in our country, such as Ramadan, Diwali and Hanukkah. Shops are filled with Easter eggs and people of all cultural backgrounds buy and eat them. It’s good for kids to know the background to this.
I’m worried, as some children have different religious beliefs and parents might complain
Start by explaining that everyone comes from different families. Some will have Muslim beliefs, others Hindu, Christian and so on. Some will not have a religious faith at all, but will still have clear ideas about how to live a good life. Tell them, as they will only know what their own families believe, that schools are required to teach children about all religions, so that when they are older, they can make up their own minds.
I don’t know the story that well myself! What if they ask me questions I can’t answer?
Be honest. It’s good for kids to know teachers don’t know everything. Explain that this is not your personal faith background. Ask what others think – there may be children from Christian families in the class – perform a Google search together, offer a reward for anyone willing to investigate, or say you will find out and get back to them.
Isn’t the crucifixion business all a bit much for young children?
Break it up into a series of lessons to set the context, choosing resources carefully, so the story is explained well, from the entry into Jerusalem to the Ascension. The Lion Storyteller Bible has a chatty, accessible version of these events. Next, show the main events using a cartoon version, which minimises the gore without leaving out important themes. I recommend The Animated Easter Story.
What if they ask questions about death?
Stay calm. Tell them that life is usually long, and does not end for most people until they are very, very old. Talk about “life ending” rather than using the D-word, which can be emotionally loaded. If anyone shares experience of a younger person dying, explain gently that this can happen, but it is very rare. Say that they must have precious memories of that person and no one can ever take those away. If a child is upset, take him/her aside at the earliest opportunity to listen and comfort.
How can I make the story relevant for children?
Focus on themes. The Easter story contains many of these, such as friendship and betrayal, jealousy and power, forgiveness, self-sacrifice and new beginnings.
If time, you can compare these themes to similar themes in other religious traditions – Hinduism (Rama and Sita), Buddhism (Prince Siddharta), Islam (Muhammad and the old woman).
Be inventive when using a thematic approach. We’ve planted seeds to demonstrate the dead coming to life, tie-died old t-shirts to show old from new and made friendship bracelets to echo the faith of Jesus’s disciples.
How do I relate the Easter story to the whole idea of Easter eggs and bunnies?
Link the themes of new life and new beginnings with the pre-Christian celebration of the Goddess of Spring (Eostre). This Easter presentation will help you, as will this lesson on Easter symbols.
And what if children ask if this is a true story or whether I believe it?
Tell them that faith is a personal thing. The Easter story is at the centre of Christianity. It may or may not be your faith (and I think it’s fine to be honest if they ask you) but, like all faiths, it has made a huge difference to the lives of many people through the centuries. And it’s important that we learn about that.
Deborah Jenkins is a class teacher at Heathfield Junior School, Whitton