I'm an American mom in England. Here's how my kids' school handled the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
- I'm an American mother living in England with two sons who are 5 and 7.
- When Queen Elizabeth II died, my husband and I weren't sure how their school would handle it.
"We need to talk to you," I said solemnly to my 5- and 7-year-old sons on Thursday night as my husband nodded. We were about to tackle the same conversation that approximately 20 million other parents were having with their children over dinner in the UK: addressing the fact that Queen Elizabeth II had died.
"She was surrounded by her family," my husband said after I told them. Between huge bites of oatmeal, our eldest son said a genuine "that's sad" while our youngest remained fixated on how quickly he could return to his LEGO creation after dinner.
Navigating Queen Elizabeth II's death as an American mother
Having recently returned from a summer spent in the US, my reaction to this world event was less like that of a Blitz-era Briton and more like an American study-abroad college student. "Do we all wear black tomorrow? Is there school?!" I frantically texted a fellow parent. "Yes, school. No need to wear black," she replied.
As an American mother married to a Norwegian man and raising two children born in England, we take many of our parenting cues from others, including our children's public elementary school in London.
When an email from the school with a subject line reading, "The death of Queen Elizabeth II" arrived an hour after the news, we felt relieved to have some guidance. It notified parents that teachers would individually address their classrooms the following day.
Our children learned about Queen Elizabeth II for a week in May this year prior to the Platinum Jubilee, the four-day weekend celebrating her 70th anniversary as monarch. The entire school created crowns with photos of the queen throughout her reign to wear while forming a 70.
The following morning, I remembered their Platinum Jubilee crowns and had them put them on to show their support for the queen. However, upon arriving at school, the boys quickly removed them, noticing that only their American mother encouraged British nationalist attire. I promptly stowed them away in my handbag and headed into the school office.
Expecting the school office to be abuzz with uneasy parents, I noticed it was much like any other day; parents dropped off forms and signed up for activities. An office administrator spoke to me quietly; I was the only one there with further questions about the school's plan for the queen's mourning period.
"No, we won't close during mourning. Business as usual; we missed too much during the lockdowns," she said. She also kindly explained that there isn't a playbook for a state funeral on a school day. "Well, Diana's funeral was on a Saturday, wasn't it?" she said, assuming I shared this memory. However, I wasn't an anglophile before moving to London in the 2000s, when I'd occasionally see Kate Middleton and Prince William at nightclubs.
It seems the way my boys' school handled things was fairly typical for the region. Annie Natarajan, a UK-based education consultant and the founder of Flying Patang School Development Services, said most UK schools focused on the human and historical aspects of the monarch's passing this past Friday rather than any nationalist sentiment. "Clearly, this is a moment in history and many UK schools had assemblies Friday morning on the events Queen Elizabeth II witnessed and took part in," she said.
When he emerged after school in the afternoon, my 7-year-old son said that the second graders watched a segment of BBC children's news in their classrooms. Their brave teacher reportedly held a Q&A, answering questions such as whether the queen had a heart attack and why she didn't live as long as Prince Philip. Meanwhile, my kindergartener shouted, "There's going to be a king, mummy!" as he ran out of his classroom.
Schools are addressing grief — and we are talking about it at home, too
The UK does not require its schools to follow a particular curriculum during the national-mourning period. Numerous schools, including ours, use materials that Winston's Wish, a UK-based child bereavement charity, explicitly created to discuss the queen's death. Natarajan believes many schools are striking a good balance by discussing grief in addition to history at their weekly assemblies. "For many children, this will have brought up questions around death and the myriad issues around this," she said.
That evening, the topic of grief also reached our dinner table. After school, we continued discussing the death of Queen Elizabeth II, how my boys felt about it, and how it affected the goings-on in the UK. Their school will close for the queen's funeral and hold a schoolwide assembly to discuss all of the changes. One particular bit of news struck them as so tragic they were left screaming, wailing, and writhing on the ground.
The crisis? Soccer — or football, as it's known in the UK — was postponed out of respect for her death, and this included my boys' first season game. However, their tears didn't last the entire weekend, and by Sunday they were all smiles, playing soccer — though in an unofficial capacity — on the school field for a friend's birthday. Perhaps they're learning to "Keep Calm and Carry On" at school, after all.
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