27th September 2021
Back at the end of the summer term, I found myself doing some substitute teaching in Seagoe Primary School Portadown. I was mostly there to offer key stage 2 literacy support but found that the confidence of many of the pupils was so low that they were struggling to think about literacy. And so, after a conversation with the principal, we decided to set aside literacy for one day, and instead, I ran a prayer space focusing on self-esteem and building up their confidence.
I created seven simple stations around the room that would allow the children to articulate their worries, confront their fears and remind them of their worth and value. I rejigged my usual format to make them COVID safe. The pupils in each session were already in the same class bubble and I put out fresh paper/pens/bubbles and wiped down surfaces in between sessions. I also had hand sanitiser available for the children to use before and after. It can be easy to think of why we can’t do something, but I think half the battle is finding new ways of doing these things. And boy, am I glad we did!
I’ve been running prayer spaces for a while now, and I know how important and impactful they are for kids. But I’d underestimated just how transformative they can be in this season.
After doing the various activities, one of my least confident pupils who would cry almost every day said, “it’s made me feel strong inside.” Seeing the transformation in him when we went back to doing literacy was phenomenal. His experience in the prayer space changed something inside him which has made a real positive impact in his school life.
At another station, I used the mirrors activity. On one side of a whiteboard, I wrote “Go to the other side to see someone amazing.” On the opposite side was a mirror with lots of positive words describing the children – brilliant, fearfully and wonderfully made, creative, brave, unique, loved etc. The station reminded the children that they were loved and uniquely made, then encouraged them to reflect on what might happen if they believed this for themselves. I found myself taking extra time with children at this station, having conversations, reminding them of who they are, and pointing to the amazing things that are inside them.
“Before this, I didn’t think anyone liked me but now I feel like maybe I am loved and special. I don’t have to believe people when they are mean to me.”Pupil
Another opened up about how they had struggled during lockdown but after the mirrors station they said, “now I know there are people who are there for me and who love me.” I watched as another child had a light bulb moment and exclaimed, “I can believe in myself!”
Despite already knowing how great prayer spaces are and how well they work, I hadn’t anticipated just how much the children I’d been teaching really needed the space to vent and let it all out. The last 18 months or so have been difficult for us all, but especially so for our children. They are incredibly resilient, but they need the space to breathe, reflect and process. Doing the prayer space has reminded me as a youth, a kids pastor, and also as a teacher, just how much we need to prioritise creating these kind of spaces for our kids.