- I am an American mother living in England with two sons aged 5 and 7.
- When Queen Elizabeth II passed away, my husband and I had no idea how their school would do.
- Here’s how the school communicated its plans for dealing with his death over the next week.
“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 around 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 real “how sad” while our youngest remained obsessed with how quickly he could get back 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 United States, my reaction to this global event was less like that of a Blitz-era Briton than that of an American student studying abroad. “Are we all going to wear black tomorrow? Is there school?!” I frantically texted another parent. “Yes, school. No need to wear black,” she replied.
As an American mother married to a Norwegian and raising two children born in England, we take many of our parenting cues from others, including our children’s public primary school in London.
When an email from the school with the subject “The death of Queen Elizabeth II” arrived an hour after the news, we felt relieved to have some advice. He informed the parents that the teachers would address their classes individually the following day.
Our children discovered Queen Elizabeth II for a week in May this year ahead of the Platinum Jubilee, the four-day weekend celebrating her 70th birthday as monarch. The whole school created crowns with pictures of the Queen throughout her reign to wear while forming a 70.
The next morning I remembered their platinum jubilee crowns and had them put on to show my support for the queen. However, upon arriving at school, the boys quickly pulled them off, noticing that only their American mother encouraged British nationalist outfits. I quickly put them away in my purse and headed for the school office.
Expecting the school office to be abuzz with worried parents, I noticed it was much like any other day; the parents have submitted the forms and registered for the 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 will not be closing during the mourning. As usual, we missed too much during the closings,” she said. She also kindly explained that there was no textbook for a state funeral on a school day. “Well, Diana’s funeral took place on a Saturday, didn’t it?” she said, assuming I shared that memory. However, I was not an Anglophile until I moved to London in the 2000s, when I occasionally saw Kate Middleton and Prince William in nightclubs.
It seems the way my boys’ school handled things was pretty typical for the area. Annie Natarajan, a UK-based education consultant and founder of Flying Patang School Development Services, said most UK schools focused on the human and historical aspects of the monarch’s death last Friday rather than any nationalist sentiment. “Obviously this is a moment in history and many British schools held assemblies on Friday morning about the events Queen Elizabeth II witnessed and participated in,” she said.
When he emerged after school in the afternoon, my 7 year old son said the second year pupils were watching 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 kindergartner shouted, “There’s going to be a king, Mommy!” as he ran out of his class.
Schools address grief – and we talk about it at home too
The UK does not require its schools to follow a particular curriculum during the period of national mourning. Many schools, including ours, use materials that Winston’s Wish, a UK-based child bereavement charity, explicitly created to discuss the Queen’s death. Natarajan thinks many schools strike a good balance by discussing grief in addition to history during their weekly assemblies. “For many children, this will have raised questions about death and the myriad issues that surround it,” she said.
That evening, the subject of mourning also reached our table. After school we continued to discuss the death of Queen Elizabeth II, what my boys thought of it and how it affected events in the UK. Their school will close for the Queen’s funeral and hold a school-wide assembly to discuss all the changes. One piece of news in particular struck them as so tragic that they found themselves screaming, moaning and writhing on the floor.
Crisis? Football – or soccer, as it’s known in the UK – was postponed out of respect for his death, and that included my boys’ first game of the season. Their tears didn’t last the whole weekend, however, and on Sunday they were all smiles, playing football – albeit unofficially – on the school grounds for a friend’s birthday. Maybe they learn to “Keep Calm and Carry On” in school, after all.