REGARDLESS of age, grief can be a crushing and life-changing emotion.

At whatever stage bereavement might strike in someone's life, it is important people feel able to talk and seek help to see them through their darkest days.

Schools are now backing a county-wide campaign to break the silence about death and dying, so pupils are familiar with a topic that most are hesitant to broach with children.

Oxford Mail: Sobell House entrance. Pic: Richard Cave

Sobell House Hospice revealed its schools project in February, encouraging primary schools to take a look at its lesson plans with a view of teaching them to pupils.

The Headington hospice launched the project ahead of Dying Matters Week, a national campaign taking place in May to promote conversation about death.

Schools to have signed up so far include Northern House School in Summertown, Hanborough Manor C E School in Long Hanborough, and North Hinksey CE Primary School just outside Oxford.

Lyn Colucci, a Year 5 teacher at the latter school, said they are teaching Sobell's lesson plans to Year 6 pupils in four weekly classes starting today.

She said: "I have had bereavement training and the first thing they tell you that's important [to teach children] is that 'things happen'.

"It's about talking and giving children the opportunity to do that.

"This [initiative] is a good focus and a way for them to feel safe talking about it."

She said she was slightly nervous about starting classes today, but it is an important discussion to start.

Mrs Colucci added: "It's hard when you're not sure if what you are saying is the right thing or you're worried about upsetting them.

"But sometimes at home [if there has been a death in the family], mum or dad are upset and don't talk about it, and the worry builds up.

"Some children are told not to speak about it and they have nowhere to go, not even their friends.

"This is something schools should be looking into.

"We are saying to them: 'It's okay to be sad'. That's the message."

Sobell has supplied detailed lesson plans drawn up by a teacher at St John’s Primary School in Wallingford.

Lessons are designed for children in Years 2-5 (aged six-10), and include stories, art and poetry.

The hospice, which is based at the Churchill Hospital site, will also involve partaking schools in events during Dying Matters Week.

Kevin Game, a fundraiser at the hospice, said the project had been well-met so far and more schools are still welcome to join in.

He said: "The Sobell schools project has been devised to give children an understanding of the concept of death, while helping them to accept that it isn't something we should avoid discussing, as this inevitably leads to confusion and isolation, especially in young people.

"This openness aims to help them in later life when they have to deal with a bereavement, but also to help them understand and offer support to others dealing with loss.

"The response from schools has already been very positive, with both schools and families understanding the value this project will have on our children in the long-term."

Mr Game said even though the project was launched to coincide with Dying Matters awareness week, which runs from May 14, the hospice hopes to continue the project beyond that.

He said: "We want it to be an ongoing and long term resource for our schools.

"Even if a school hasn't signed up yet, we are more than happy for them to get involved in the future."

Any teachers interested in taking part can request an information pack by calling 01865 225860.