School Visits and Outreach: Learning from Sacred Spaces

By Rachel Hayward | 20 August 2011 | Updated: 26 August 2011
An image showing trees and tombstones through a window.

A view out onto Berwick churchyard, East Sussex.

Think of a sacred space and maybe churches and mosques spring to mind. But how about the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, the Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial garden at the Holocaust Centre or the Guru Nanak Sikh Sangat in Huddersfield?

So if sacred spaces are more encompassing than places of worship, where do you find the suitable gardens, museums, art galleries, ancient sites and even open spaces for learners to explore their spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding and their attitudes towards people and communities?

Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) is a good starting point for information, including learning opportunities and provision.

For more information and examples on sacred gardens, you can also try ARC (the Alliance of Religions and Conservation).

Sacred spaces aren’t just about RE; Geography, History and Citizenship are just a few of the subjects that can be enriched by a visit to a sacred space and many sites are keen to offer activities across subject area and key stages. One example is The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham with its cross-curricular activities for both primary and secondary level.

Maths and Islamic Art & Design come together at the V&A Museum’s Islamic Middle East Gallery. Here your class can study geometric Islamic patterns to support their learning about shapes, space and measures and their significance in the Islamic faith.

If you’d like an introduction to the kinds of sacred objects museums collect, take a look at Sacred Objects in the V&A. You can then explore the huge variety of the V&A’s Search the Collections. A useful link here is to the British Museum’s online tours, one of which is the Islamic Middle East tour. Here you’ll find related objects, themes, galleries and tours.

Exploring these objects online may prompt you to discover what’s in your local museum and art gallery and find out how their collections can enrich your class’s learning about sacred spaces and the importance of religion and spirituality in people’s lives.

Video and interactives are just some more of the exciting resources available on museum websites to help learners make the most of sacred spaces.

Learners can watch video footage of sacred sites in the V&A’s Islamic Architecture of the Middle East.

The British Library’s Sacred Texts is a wonderful interactive. It presents stories from six of the world’s main religions. The accompanying Understanding Sacred Texts enables readers to explore the meanings to the sacred texts of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Learners are invited to question a panel including faith leaders and young people and discuss their responses. To access further resources, including videos, podcasts, blogs and online texts, visit the British Library's Sacred Contexts pages.

The online educational resources offered by faiths can also help your class prepare for their visit, support activities such as observation and interviews and complete follow-up work back at school. The Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail (ASHT) contains a comprehensive UK map Anglo-Sikh related locations, institutions and artefacts. ASHT Kids’ Discovery Club is an example of online games that can enrich your class’s learning. For more resources from the main religions, click on the link to web resources document at the bottom of the page of LOtC’s Sacred Spaces

Whilst visits to sacred sites, such as as churches, are great places for raising questions, tackling sensitive issues and developing understanding, museums and galleries can provide a ‘neutral venue’ to address misconceptions. ‘Bigot Busters!’ at St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art’s deals with contentious topics such as ‘What sometimes happens when you mix religion, football and politics together with intolerance?’ This session is just one of their many workshops and events on offer to schools.

For more information about sacred places and the activities and exhibitions they offer, search Culture24’s database.

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