Primary school pupils are involved in a pioneering project enabling them to learn about hospice care.
Children aged nine and ten are taken on several visits to St Barnabas House in Worthing, where they are paired with a patient to get to know each other and take part in activities together.
The St B’s Schools Project explores concepts of life, death, dying and bereavement, introducing the children to hospice care in a safe and non-threatening environment.
Project lead Marcelle Palmer said: “Across the whole of West Sussex, approximately 2,830 schoolchildren aged five to 16 have been bereaved of a parent or sibling.
“One aim of the project is that children, parents and teachers feel better informed and more comfortable talking about death and dying.
“Children, parents and teachers will also have a better understanding of St Barnabas House and hospice care, while patients have reported improvements in wellbeing and reduced feelings of social isolation.
“The project is also important to the charity in terms of building links in the community and raising awareness of the hospice and its services.
“We have had some great feedback with some of the children saying they didn’t want to leave and they are no longer afraid of going to a hospice. Some parents who were initially apprehensive have said their perceptions of the hospice have changed.”
Visits are made once a week for the three-week course and the children are encouraged to ask patients questions about their illnesses and experiences, with support and guidance from hospice staff.
The course also includes a tour of the hospice and the opportunity to meet staff from various different departments across the charity, so the children learn through discussions, stories and creative exercises.
At the end of each course, the children are presented with certificates during a celebration party with patients and parents.
Marion Smith, head teacher at Storrington Primary School, said the course was of huge value to the children.
“The course has been hugely valuable in developing the children’s ideas around empathy, mortality and the elderly,” she said.
“Our children have come back with so many fantastic thoughts and ideas about the course.
“Children were able to talk about older members of their families who had died and were also able to talk comfortably about this to their parents.
“Two of our children do not have grandparents, so they have taken hugely from the experience of socialising with the elderly.”
The project addresses national curriculum requirements such as health and wellbeing, relationships, living in the wider world, resilience, loss and transition. It also explores emotions such as loss and bereavement.
Mrs Rebecca Jackson, former head teacher at Holmbush Primary Academy in Shoreham, said: “The fab team at St Barnabas pick up the children and a couple of staff in the minibus and take them to the hospice. They have a tour and get paired up with a patient.
“They do activities together for three weeks and in the last week the parents can also come in and see what they have done.
“The hospice provides a workbook for the children and they learn about the hospice, acts of kindness, dignity, and much more.”
Places on the course during the 2018/19 school year are now fully booked but any school interested in taking part can be put on a waiting list. Email Marcelle.Palmer@stbh.org.uk or call 01903 706357 for more information.