Exploring Picture Books and Primary School Children’s Spirituality

Jones, Darren Thomas (2021). Exploring Picture Books and Primary School Children’s Spirituality. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001275a


Primary schools are required to promote children’s spirituality, and this is regulated by the schools’ inspectorate Ofsted (DfE, 2019). Yet, the conceptualisation of spirituality and how to recognise and nurture it receives little attention; challenges exist between policy expectations and practice. In addition, whilst other empirical studies of spirituality have used story as a context, none have sought deliberately to explore its potential as a conduit to allow children to bring their innate spirituality into the open. In response, this thesis, theoretically framed by reader response theory, explored the use of picture books as a way of fostering children’s expressions of spirituality. It also examined how picture books themselves with their dual sign-systems and the teacher’s pedagogic use of them, offer support for children to express their spirituality.

Underpinned by an interpretive hermeneutic phenomenological approach, a case study of three children aged 10 and 11 years was undertaken to capture the children’s expressions of spirituality whilst they were engaged in responding to three picture fiction texts in their classroom. Findings reveal that when studying picture fiction, the children articulated their spirituality through empathy and concern for the human condition, by adopting a worldview, through meaning making and ordering experience, and by grappling with existential themes.

Findings from the study reflected that the teacher’s aesthetic reading of stories and the value they afforded to children’s authentic responses, allowed the picture books to facilitate abstract thinking and the cultivation of affective responses. Classroom dialogue along with the discussion of both word and image also supported children in nurturing their spirituality.

Consequently, the thesis argues for greater emphasis to be placed on the position of picture books in the primary classroom in order that, combined with a personal growth model of teaching and a situated literature spiritual pedagogy, pupils are offered the space to explore and express their spirituality.

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