Addressing death illiteracy: findings from an evaluation of a death and grief education programme for children

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Background: The function of education in developing health, and death, literacy, is as a key tool in health promotion. In Scotland, schools are identified as an important target for health promoting palliative care to ensure that children develop the skills and capacity to talk about, and cope with death and bereavement; yet, death is not included in the curriculum and teaching about death and grief is not common practice.
Aims: This presentation discusses the evaluation of a death and grief education programme for children, aged 9 to 12, in one Scottish school. The programme was designed as part of an action research study, in response to children’s questions about death, which they, and school staff, determined the school had a role in answering. Written evaluations, focus groups and interviews were facilitated with children and teachers post teaching to: understand experiences of the programme, identify key areas of learning; and ascertain opportunities and challenges for integrating death and grief into the curriculum.
Findings: The evaluation revealed that despite initial reticence, staff enjoyed teaching the programme and were surprised by how readily the children engaged with the learning. Likewise, the children revealed that it was unusual to talk about death in class yet they enjoyed the programme and described how it supported them to share personal stories and develop their understanding of organ donation, funeral customs and grief.
Conclusion and application to PHPC: The research suggests that a short and targeted education programme, led by the questions of children, can develop knowledge of death and grief and that this impacts on children’s ability to understand and engage with these experiences: thus building death literacy. This is significant as, whilst the experience of caring, dying, death and grief impacts on everyone, children’s experiences of and relationship to health promoting palliative care remains under-explored.


Conference6th Public Health and Palliative Care International
Internet address


  • death and bereavement
  • death illiteracy
  • children


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