Integrating loss and grief in Primary Education (Thesis)


“… This is how this journey began. […] It was my need to do something as a teacher and change something. It is great people to become able to say something to a mourner and to realize that one/any loss does matter, and it’s part of our lives.”
With the above excerpt I close the subchapter of my doctoral dissertation, in which I explain my personal interest as a researcher in integrating the concepts of loss and grief in Primary Education.

The purpose of my study is to investigate the perception of children on the concepts of loss and grief through an intervention educational program. Specifically, the study investigated the degree to which the integration of these concepts in Primary School affects the way children perceive and evaluate these concepts, as well as the impact of the intervention program on the emotions and behavior of children.
Since no other studies have been carried out on this issue, the literature review focuses on the way Philosophy, religion, Psychology, Sociology and Pedagogy approach the concepts of loss and grief. Educational Action Research was the method used for data collection purposes. Sixteen 5th grade students and their teacher were the main participants of the research. The limitations of the research involved the method of data collection used and the sensitivity required in approaching the concepts of loss and grief.

In the light of the research results, the intervention lessons seemed to have a positive impact on children’s understanding of the concepts of loss and grief and improved their verbal communication, whereas fewer nonverbal behaviors of perplexity were recorded. The influence of the intervention program strengthens the hypothesis that a well-structured program can help children form a supportive attitude towards mourners. It also appeared that the taboo of death persists, meaning that the discussion of death with the children is systematically avoided. Thus, children are not prepared for the real experience of a separation, nor for sharing this experience. The implementation of this intervention program showed that children can be assisted to express their feelings and share their personal experiences overcoming any perplexity. Additionally, it was found that children of 10-11 years old can gain the knowledge and skills required to support mourners respecting their uniqueness. They can also be supportive either verbally or non-verbally considering the relationship they have with the mourner.
The current research also highlighted that the reasons which require the discussion of the concepts of loss and grief with children. Such reasons are children’s interest for further discussions, their incomplete knowledge about the concepts, the unavoidable experience of loss and bereavement, and the fact that, indeed, children are involved in loss and bereavement. The above reasons highlight the need to integrate Death Education in Primary Schools as a way for the children to realize death as part of the cycle of life, something that modern society tends to forget.

Στυλιανού, Π. (2013). Η ένταξη των εννοιών της απώλειας και του πένθους στη Δημοτική Εκπαίδευση. Διδακτορική Διατριβή στο Πρόγραμμα Θεωρία της Παιδείας και Αναλυτικά Προγράμματα, Ανοικτό Πανεπιστήμιο Κύπρου. ISBN: 978-9963695-32-4.

(Although the dissertation is written in Greek language, three of the articles of this webpage are related to this research work.)

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