Example #2 The Meaning of Time

What if children were helped to think about the quality of different times in history?

Magda’s Primary class were exploring historical language, such as century and decade, as part of their history topic on Tudor England.

“We learn historical language as we explore different periods in history but I wanted pupils to understand more than the technical terms. I wanted them to understand not just different lengths of time but that time has different qualities and feels different if you are living through it; not every decade or period is the same and even the same time can be experienced differently depending on who you are.

“The children came in to find party music playing and a balloon on my desk. I asked them to keep a balloon in the air for two minutes, while remaining seated. This was followed by them sitting silently at their tables listening to some peaceful music for two minutes. Afterwards they discussed which felt the longest and we listed words to describe the quality or characteristics of the different 'times' we had just experienced ('fun', 'calm', etc.) and the way we reacted ('cooperation', 'patient', impatient', 'trusting', etc.). We went on to learn about the different units of time and words to describe them. We cut lengths of wool to represent each unit. We used different coloured wool to represent exciting times, sad times, dangerous times, etc.

“In English we only have one word for time but the Bible has more. It has a word for sequence of time (Chronos) and a word for the significance or character of time (Kairos) and we can use this way of thinking about different times to explore different times in history.

“We talked about how the same time could be comfortable for some but distressing for others, and what could give hope in a distressing time.

“I ended the session with a short story I made up about a boy and a girl who were children in Tudor England in very different sections of society. I wanted to end with a story and whet their appetite for the topic to come.”

What’s going on here?

Magda saw her history lesson as a place to emphasise personal meaning and significance and reflective attentiveness, not just information, and she helped pupils to imagine time differently.

She engaged pupils experientially through her introduction, and continued to do this throughout (adding the different colours). Magda also used storytelling as a way of helping pupils make personal connections and used the discussion to encourage a relational focus.

She reshaped her practice by using features of the environment such as music, party objects, silence, and colours to create the atmosphere she wanted, by using key phrases ('sad times') to emphasise empathy, and through using an approach involving storytelling and discussion.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Faith, hope and love are about finding meaning and purpose in life. Life is not just one thing after another in time; events have significance and meaning. History is not impersonal; it is about people who experienced those events with joy and sadness, patience and fear. Life was sometimes faced with faith in God, hope for the future, patient endurance, and love of others.

What difference does it make?

The way Magda taught this lesson raised her class’s awareness that there is more to time than just quantity, an insight that could help them reflect on their own times as well as past times. It also raised the possibility for empathy as it focused on how other people may have experienced particular times.

Where could we go from here?

Insights into the quality of times could help children appreciate minority perspectives on history and the multiple experiences of a particular period.

Digging deeper

Life has been described as 'one thing after another' but such a view would have puzzled biblical people; life was never just a collection of events and facts. Life was rich with meaning, not only for people in the Bible but for much of our history. Belief in a good creator assures people that he has not created a meaningless universe.

The Bible shows God intimately involved in human history and ultimately as Lord of history. Christian and Jewish spirituality is not ahistorical; it is experienced in the ups and downs of people’s lives caught up in world events.
The Bible has more than one word for time: Chronos is the Greek word used in the New Testament for length of time, Kairos is the New Testament word which often denotes the quality of time, its character and significance.
'What is the purpose of life and what does it all mean?' has been asked by every generation. Human beings are people in search of meaning. In the western world people are more affluent than earlier generations but still life seems empty for many. The Bible recognises the struggle to find meaning in life. The book of Ecclesiastes is about a man trying to find purpose in it all. Only after a long struggle does he find some purpose in life.
St Augustine described the search for meaning as being restless.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. St Augustine
Faith in God gives purpose to life, and meaning is there to be discovered in the experiences that come to us, we do not have to create it. Purpose and meaning come through a relationship with God and others – we were made for love.

Explore similar examples:

What if history were about different types of riches and poverty?
What if drama were about others and not self?
What if teaching history included people's spiritual legacy?

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