How Can Teachers Explore Religions in the K-5 Classroom?

Posted On 14 Jan 2022 by religionmatters

How Can Teachers Explore Religions in the K-5 Classroom?

Guest Blog: Rev. Dr. Vicki Garlock

Teaching About the World’s Religions (K-5)
World Interfaith Harmony Week: Sacred Spaces

World Interfaith Harmony Week is a United Nations event that takes place during the first week of February (Feb. 1-7) every year. The goal is to promote peace, mutual understanding, and cooperation across faith traditions. One way to approach this with K-5 students is by exploring sacred spaces.

Sacred spaces are simply the places where members of a particular religious community gather together. Typical examples include Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, and Buddhist temples. Kids can easily recognize some of the typical features of sacred spaces, and it’s a great way to share the religious diversity that probably exists in your very own neighborhood.

Here are a few tips to get you started, or simply click here for our free, age-appropriate PowerPoint presentation.

And be sure to let us know if you have questions, concerns, or comments!

Common Features

Sacred spaces vary widely both within and across religious traditions. Some spaces are large, while others are small. Some spaces have been around for thousands of years, while others are more modern. Some spaces are extremely ornate, while others are quite simple. And some spaces are used for religious purposes only part of the time. For example, some Christian congregations now meet in schools, Y’s, or theaters, and many religious communities share their space with other companies or organizations.

Despite all the variability, there are some common features – both outside and inside – that kids can easily recognize. Here are some you can mention.

Christian Churches

  • Cross – seen both outside and inside; the primary symbol of Christianity because Jesus, the primary figure, died on a cross
  • Steeple – a pointed structure on the roof that might also have a clock or a bell
  • Dome – a rounded structure on the roof
  • Pews – long benches where people sit during services
  • Altar – a table at the front of the church that almost always has a cross on it. Might also hold candles and a Christian Bible.

Jewish Synagogues

  • Star of David – a 6-pointed star that looks like two, overlapping triangles
  • Altar – a table at the front that holds the Jewish Bible, which is usually a set of scrolls, rather than a book
  • Menorah – a candle-holder that contains either 7 or 9 candles

Islamic Mosques 

  • Dome – mosques almost always have at least one dome; some mosques have many
  • Minaret – a small tower containing a speaker that plays the call to prayer five times a day
  • Carpeted empty space – which leaves plenty of room for Muslims to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, to pray
  • Décor – colorful flowers and geometric designs since it’s considered disrespectful to depict the faces of prophets or other important religious figures

Buddhist Temples

  • Stupas – dome-like structures on the outside of temples. They often contain sacred objects or relics
  • Buddha statues – Statues of the Buddha, the primary figure in Buddhism, are sometimes seen on the outside, and almost always seen on the inside
  • Altar – Buddhist altars often hold candles, incense, and small offerings of food, water, flowers, or money.

Keep It Local

If you are feeling motivated, consider visiting the websites of your local religious communities. Many sites contain images of their sacred spaces that you can copy/paste into your own presentation. Or, drive by and take your own photos!

Ask Questions

Students whose families have a regular religious practice will be familiar with their sacred spaces, and they might have interesting things to share about it. Similarly, students who live near sacred spaces might have noticed some of the features mentioned.

Invite Guest Speakers

Faith leaders in your community or family members of your students would almost certainly welcome the opportunity to visit your classroom. They could bring a few ritual objects and share how they are used in religious practice. Or, they could read a book about the sacred spaces of their tradition. Published titles can be found for all the major world’s religions, and many of them can probably be found at your local library. Click here for our list of suggestions.

Additional Links

Vicki is the founder of Faith Seeker Kids, a company dedicated to interfaith education and religious literacy. She earned her Ph.D. with dual specialties in Neuroscience and Cognitive Development and worked as a full-time Psychology Professor for over a decade before becoming the Nurture Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist at a progressive-type Christian Church in Asheville, NC. She is the author of We All Have Sacred Spaces and Embracing Peace: Stories from the World’s Faith Traditions. Visit her website for archived blog posts and additional information on available resources. Or, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.