Teaching by touching - setting up a school resources centre with £100 - or less!

In increasing numbers students in our schools no longer experience involvement in the practice of a faith whereby they share an experience with those who have made an act of commitment. They do not explore at first hand what it means to be a member of a faith. For them, the use of materials borrowed from a resource centre can bring some measure of shared participation through sight, touch, sound and the written word. Alternatively, for the minority for whom religious experience is an integral part of their home life, there is a need for a deepening of that experience through an affirmation of its worth in a shared exploration with others. Pictures, slides, tapes and especially artefacts are of increasing importance in this area of the curriculum. The R.E. Resources Centre must become an integral part of any school which takes seriously the study of religion.

Funds are seldom available for individual classroom collections. A rich central source, from which a moderate amount of material can be borrowed, should give teachers confidence, motivation and inspiration. Ideally, curriculum development and the provision of resources will take place side by side — but I suspect this is seldom possible. Therefore, certain questions must be asked.

Should the centre concentrate initially on building up materials for an exploration of several different faiths, or themes, or both? Should it concentrate progressively over periods of one or two years on one area at a time? Should it compromise and select a few areas for development? Should the resource person concentrate on a theme within a faith rather than adopt a ‘blanket’ approach — Jewish festivals, Christian symbolism, the Sikh amrit ceremony, Muslim pilgrimage, Hindu puja? Or on a ‘blanket’ theme — pilgrimage, initiation rites, weddings, funerals, buildings, sacred books? Or on more general themes — people whose lives have highlighted religious questions and responses, the challenge of suffering, violent and non-violent action, light, water, beginnings? Or, should the resource person collect material wherever he or she finds it, evolve a method of cataloguing, and leave the teacher to decide how it shall be used? The nature of the material must also be considered. Should different types of resources be collected together — slides, film strips, cassette tapes, books, artefacts? Or should there be a concentration every one or two years on one particular form of teaching aid? Or should there be a careful balance between the different kinds of material?

Lastly, should one choose, in each area, a beautiful central object, worthy of the reflection of deep commitment, together with a few inexpensive items? Should there be a small collection of moderately expensive objects? Or should one concentrate on quantity and the inexpensive? Individual teachers, or teams of teachers will have their own preferences tailored most meaningfully to their own situation. My own predilection would be to make an initial choice of three or four areas, e.g. the Sikh religion, Muslim pilgrimage, worship in the home, beginnings, the use of story in R.E. Thus, colleagues would be prompted to consider different ways of building up material (and possibly to re-think teaching methods!). Hopefully they would consciously, or unconsciously, respond by collecting much supportive material for their own use — or for that of the centre — travel brochures, advertising material, magazine articles, radio or TV broadcasts that could be taped — treasure from holidays or the loft! The centre should inspire personal collections a well as be a supportive loan service, however impressive. The following comments may be helpful.

1. Artefacts should inspire deeper understanding and exploration on the part of teacher and student, as they inform, awake interest, give a feeling of reality and sensitise to experience. They should help children ask relevant questions about what it means to be committed, and through their use and symbolism help them to articulate important questions about their world, relationships within that world, meaning and purpose. Artefacts must not merely be shown. They must push teacher and students steadily along that road we call insight. As objects they are dumb; as artefacts aiding faith, they speak.

2. Muslim prayer beads not only lead to an exploration of the concept and value of prayer. What understanding of God do Muslims capture within The Excellent Names? Select two or three. How should their recital reflect a believer’s behaviour? If we were to believe that God is Mercy, Just, Light, how would our behaviour be affected? List specific examples. There should be no lack of material for incisive, thought-deepening discussion.

3. What does the symbolism of a Hindu statue tell us about the possible mind-defying description, who creates, cares for (preservation) and controls our changing lives (destruction) as in the Trimurti? How should people live their lives if they believe God created them, their world and wants to help them (Krisna)?

4. What does the Christian baptismal candle tell us of the power we each have to be lights in a dark world: what does the Paschal candle, placed beside a Christian coffin, tell us of the possible power of love over evil, life over death?

5. Artefacts should be part of a chain of illustrative materials. The Passover plate leads to a discussion of the meaning (or non-meaning) of suffering when used at the seder with the Haggadah, the spilling of drops of wine and the story of God rebuking the angels who rejoice over the Egyp- tians suffering . . . a retelling of the Passover in the Warsaw sewers in Leon Uris’ Mila 18, a record of children singing Passover songs, an exploration of a Holocaust Haggadah — a discussion of forgiveness, justice, revenge.

6. Reproductions of many objects can be made by the resources person, colleagues, and of course, the students. There is very little which could cause offence, although of course, you will not make a statue of Mohammed! Judaism is especially rich here, as there are so many excellent books provided for Jewish children for exactly this purpose (e.g. Jewish Holiday Crafts by Joyce Becker, pub. Bonim 1977). Apart from models of synagogues, reasonably able fingers can produce scrolls, phylacteries, mezuzahs, tallits, passover plates, miniature succahs, festival cards, Hanukah menorahs, etc. — even a ram’s horn can be produced.

Festival cards, wedding garlands, candles, prayer beads, prayer mats, models of buildings, puja trays, are all helpful provided they open doors and are not ends in themselves. Students themselves can produce many charts to help teach others — a sequence of pictures showing how a Muslim washes before prayer, or illustrating a creation myth; photographs taken by the family of a wedding or festival; a set of slides related to the symbolism of the local church.

7. Cut up film strips into slides and assemble them into themes. Strips are usually far too long for effective use in a 30-minute lesson. If carefully chosen, eight film strips can produce twenty sets of slides when thematically re-arranged, e.g. Muslim pilgrimage, hands, the child in the Christian church.

8. Perceptive, forward looking booklets, or work-cards, will help colleagues and students to move away from the descriptive ‘Here are people praying’ to ‘What can be learned from the symbolism of the action in its relationship to commitment?’

9. Sheets of card are expensive but are well worth the outlay. Holiday postcards rare a treasure! Pictures are given authority by firm mounting and become much more effective as a vehicle for shared experience and understanding.

10. Try and produce edited cassettes for thematic purposes (very time consuming but very valuable). Long tapes may be of great value as background to colleagues, but students usually want sharp, short extracts. The involvement of others in individual assignments could lead to a more involved use of the Centre as a whole.

11. Some resources are very expensive — e.g. video tapes — yet very important. If four or five schools could collaborate, and each contribute to a particular topic, a simple exchange system could be evolved. Such an exchange system might be used, if conditions were favourable, for many other resource materials.

12. Invest in one or two expensive glossy books. So much can be gleaned, e.g. by studying faces in good photographs.

For specific help, consult your local R.E. Centre or R.E. Adviser.

Inexpensive beginnings


  • A small icon or pictures from a calendar individually mounted,
  • Candles — for advent, Christmas, Easter (especially the Orthodox Easter), funerals, weddings, baptisms, daily prayer.
  • Chalice and patten — a simple pottery goblet and plate will suffice; also small individual glasses.
  • A packet of Eucharist wafers
  • Incense
  • Confirmation presents; prayer book, Bible, cross and chain.
  • Cards with ‘teaching’ pictures and words for feasts and family festivals.
  • Sticker badges — ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘I Love You’, ‘Why Hate Me’, ‘It’s Good to be Alive’, ‘Peace’. A tambourine.


  • Small shrine figures: Krisna as cowherd or with Radha.
  • Saraswati, Ganesh, the Trimurti — God as creator, Preserver, Destroyer.
  • The Puja tray with dishes, incence holder, bell, lamp, wedding garlands.
  • Divali lamps.
  • Cards for communal and family festivals. A decorated elephant.


  • Prayer carpet — try to find one with a mihrab motif upon which one stands and a picture of Makkah etc.
  • A Qur’an stand.
  • A small, carefully wrapped copy of the Qur’an (If this is unacceptable to your local community, use a book Of Qur’anic sayings or stories from the Hadith).
  • A compass which can be fixed to point to Makkah.
  • Prayer beads.
  • A tape of a call to prayer.
  • Two pieces of white towelling for pilgrimage dress.
  • Calligraphic wall hangings.
  • Chart of the Excellent Names of Allah.


  • A capel (skull cap)
  • A boy’s tallit (prayer shawl)
  • A small Torah scroll
  • Two candlesticks for Shabbat
  • A wine cup/glass for Shabbat and Passover
  • A braided Havdalah candle
  • A mezzuzah, not containing the scroll
  • A Passover plate
  • A packet of Matzos.
  • Let the children make their own Hanukah menorah
  • Family and festival cards.


  • A small statue of Guru Nanak
  • A small statue of Guru Gobind Singh
  • A photograph of the Golden Temple of Amritsar
  • A rommala — any bright, attractive piece of material is appropriate
  • A length of turban material
  • A comb, bracelet and dagger (3 of the 5 K’s)
  • Festival cards


  • Small statues of the Buddha in various symbolic positions
  • A lotus flower (from paper craft)

May the list inspire another — and better — list for your classroom.

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