Educating children

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Discussion by: PeterMcG

I like to joke I am a devout atheist! I have four children, and they have been brought up in a totally non-religious secular upbringing – to the extent they are totally unaware of God or organised religions.

My eldest is now 8 and has started to ask questions which is totally natural – a recent conversation on reincarnation has led to my daughter getting upset, and my kids have encountered awkward moments with cousins who are brought up in a faith.

So, I now realise I need to educate my kids – so I need help.

My thoughts are I need to give them an overview of the world, its history, and the evolution of animals and humans. To give them a knowledge of all the organised religions and practices so there's no more awkward shrugs of the shoulder in conversations.

SO, is this the best route to take? Are there books/videos that can help me that are aimed at young inquistive kids?

All suggestions and advice most welcomed, kind regards Peter

18 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Peter,

    I’m certain you’ll receive quite a bit of feedback, so I’m delighted to be the first. I stumbled upon this website about 10 years ago and found it to be an objective and robust resource for the topics you mention above. Here is the intro to the site:

    “We welcome evangelicals, secularists, religious conservatives, religious liberals, Deists, Wiccans, other Pagans, progressives, animists, theists, fundamentalists, Atheists, polytheists, humanists, Agnostics, etc.

    Almost all other religious web sites explain only the beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring faith group. We are different: we try to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, world views, and systems of morality, ethics, and values.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org

  2. IMO you are the best resource for your children’s questions. Books, videos, blah. Just talk to them. I’d also suggest not to pussy foot around issues because the other children they talk to sure won’t. My oldest is 12 and she’s a fighter. She gets into it with her friends and supposedly a couple of her friends and one friend’s mother are now atheists. (And no, people don’t go around talking to other people’s children about religion…my daughter’s friend convinced her mom). My youngest (also 8)…she’s gotten into it with a few people at school but she’s a bit too young to really grasp anything that deep. Of course, your children might be different. For my 8 year old, she’s calls herself an atheist. She knows she doesn’t believe in god. She thinks god as she does ghosts or fairies. I’ll also note that we don’t trick our children into believing in Santa or the tooth fairy. We sometimes (at least when they were younger) play pretend and pretend things are real but everyone is in on the game. And one last thing…being dead is like being before you were born is something my children grasped quite easily. Don’t let people play the afterlife card. I’ll stop here because parenting is my life and I could go on forever.

  3. Peter,
    It’s surprising that your children have never heard of God or organized religion. Which part of the world do you live in, where there aren’t churches all over the place and God isn’t on the school curriculum?

  4. My thoughts are I need to give them an overview of the world, its history, and the evolution of animals and humans. To give them a knowledge of all the organised religions and practices so there’s no more awkward shrugs of the shoulder in conversations.

    Some myths and stories from various different cultures illustrating a variety of religious beliefs would expand their education and world view.

    SO, is this the best route to take? Are there books/videos that can help me that are aimed at young inquistive kids?

    I would suggest The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really Truehttp://store.richarddawkins.net/products/the-magic-of-reality-hardcover as a book to read with young children on science and religions – or for teenagers to read on their own. You could buy a copy or borrow one from a library.

  5. “they are totally unaware of God or organised religions.”

    It’s pretty arguable that they fall somewhat short of any meaningful definition of “educated” then.

    We’re an atheist family, but my kids attend RE lessons at a state, non-faith school (in the UK). I could opt them out but I choose not to.

    So much of our culture, history, law etc is founded upon religious values that it is almost criminal to try to airbrush it out. Far better to understand where some of the nonsense comes from – right down to the fact that on a Sunday morning I can buy a soft-porn lad’s mag at my local supermarket at 9.00 a.m. but I have to wait until 10. a.m.to buy a bottle of wine to have with Sunday lunch. And of course, knowledge is power: I can probably quote chapter and verse from the Bible better than a lot of pious Christians, and sometimes you need to do so to understand the paucity of their arguments.

    As long as the school simply teaches about faiths (plural) without saying “but only ours is the one true faith”, and without degenerating into worship, RE probably creates atheists. You quite quickly work out that not all of these contradictory faiths can be true, so there’s a a fair chance that none of them are. Whereas countries without RE (like America) seem to have far more believers (in whatever faith their parents have).

    My eldest (nearly 7) hates RE. She says “but it’s all nonsense isn’t it”? Excellent. A result!

  6. Thanks to everyone for their comments so far, please keep them coming.

    Aldous – you are right to say they have have heard of God, but only in a vague second hand sense – as in if I asked my eldest who or what is God it would be a very vague rambling answer – a bit like asking her what Nuclear power was!
    I’m European but we live in the USA, so you are again correct that in our local town there are numerous churches for instance, but I honestly believe if I asked my eldest what those buildings were she probably wouldn’t know, just as if I pointed to an office block or warehouse she wouldn’t really know what they were for, outside of an educated guess…
    So I suppose I should refine my initial comments to say that I have totally neglected educating my kids on God(s) or religions [having been brought up in a culture where it was force fed to me all through my early years], and now I realise that I need to close this gap in their knowledge (which they probably have vague notions of from School and friends and cousins etc.)

    Thanks again

  7. Simply say – other people have beliefs that I do not share. They have views that cannot be justified by facts or science. I would like for you to grow up questioning what people say and do. When someone presents something as truth ask them for evidence and then see if you are able to verify their claims.

  8. It is encouraging to hear that you intend to foster an environment that will provide your children’s curiosity with the stimulation and support that it deserves. Denying children the right to a rich and comprehensive education is an egregious injustice, in my opinion. I do not possess special knowledge or qualifications in the area of education, but the best recommendation that I could offer you would be to approach the instruction of religion from a secular angle, as always. Your children are growing up in a world that is full of religion. It is important that they learn about the various religions of the world (i.e. history, theology) but without the superstitious nonsense. Good luck to you.

  9. This is great! You have raised 4 kids without religious education and they are totally unaware and confused when confronted with the topic! Fucking AWESOME!!! You should video their responses. You can submit the videos as evidence. You couldn’t have done this 20 years ago where I live without a big headache, but, I live in the USA. Have fun teaching them and Alan is correct with suggesting The Magic of Reality. One of my kids(age 9) started reading Percy Jackson books and got excited about gods in a fantasy kinda way. I bought her a Jesus action figure because she loves gospel and horror film style religious music. She often sings the freaky parts at the top of her lungs (classic). You can transfer a kids conversation from religion to Star Wars in one sentence and if the parent hears you do that then they know your opinion and appreciate the polite ridicule which the kids will never pick up on. You’ll be left alone or maybe find yourself a closet atheist. Harry Potter or Superheroes work too.

  10. Maybe teaching your kids about religion from a geographical angle would be good. For example, I was involved with a Buddhist sect, Japanese Jodo Shinshu, which is an offshoot of Chinese Buddhism, which is an offshoot of Buddhism in India (but not Tibet). Shin Buddhism was the only sect of Buddhism I was familiar with until researching the other ones. What I found was that Buddhism in Japan vs Tibet vs Myanmar was like completely different practices and teachings (Japanese Shin Buddhism doesn’t teach reincarnation yet Tibet does). Had I learned about this as a kid I would have had a better understanding of religion had it been taught to me this way, but more importantly, it would have provided a better understanding of the world and different cultures, as each region merges their own customs, dress, food, etc. and way of life into their religions. Religion makes more sense to me when I learn the history of a country and how politics, discrimination, oppression, war and environmental conditions shaped the way people viewed gods and beliefs. So instead of starting with books on religion, bring out the big map of the world and break it down from there. Just a thought…

  11. “Look now, it’s a bit like Santa Claus. Or the Tooth Fairy…”.

    Too early, maybe? :)

    Maybe educate about religions, not just Christianity, but Greek, Egyptian, Norse, Indian, or even Aztec. Then it’s a level playing field. Besides, the old religions are way more fun. They have more interesting, fantastical stories stories, that’s for sure.

    Also important to know what is true, what is not, and what you wish to be true. How do we know what we know. Much more interesting to look at the world through science. And it’s rather easy. You just look at stuff all around, why the sky is blue, what are the stars, Why is the ‘sun going around the earth’, why does it rain or snow, why are the plants green, where are the dinosaurs, ect… There is just a wealth of things for kids.

    I don’t really know TBH, I don’t have kids. But I would keep it light-hearted though.

  12. My son is 5. I’m and Ahtiest, my wife comes from a rellgious family (father is a minister) and she has a shakey sort of faith. My son knows of god knows I don’t buy it, neither does his other grandparents. I teach him about science whenever the opportunity comes, he watches documentaries with me and knows who Jacob Brownoski, Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox are. When he is old enough to handle the information about why I don’t believe in God exactly without nightmares I’ll tell him frankly by reading him bible stories and talking to him about the questionable morals involved (I remember being more terrified of god as a child than any other superstious nonsense). He can ask his religious grand parents anything he wants – there may be a rebuttal from me.

  13. I highly recommend this online ‘critical thinking’ training school in Australia. It has the BEST FREE training on how to THINK for yourself etc.. Go to the link BELOW and signup for their 30-day e-mail training. This training includes information that shows you WHY we think they way we do. Have you ever heard of Plato? Feel free to read about its founder Michael Hewitt-Gleeson.

    http://www.schoolofthinking.org/who-dr-michael-hewitt-gleeson/about/training/10-dfq/cvstobvs-universal-brain-software/

    Lastly, I also recommend having your children learn about ALL of the religious sects and mythologies.

    Education is always the BEST path…but one can also be very lonely around those who want to remain ignorant.

    Peter, you be their example!

  14. Hey, if you have access to iTunes (through an iPhone or apple computer) I’d suggest you hit the iTunes store and go to iTunesU. I just did a precursory search of the phrase “comparative religion” and I found resources that are free from such places as Stanford, Berkeley, and even Trinity college.

    These may be a bit academic for your children, however, spending an hour listening to a lecture could help you develop the thoughts and ideas that you’d like to instill in you children’s world views.

    If you spend some time on iTunesU, be sure to check out the awesome science podcasts and resources that they offer!!

  15. The best route to take is to read THE MAGIC OF REALITY by Prof. Richard Dawkins. Read it together. Find the book for FREE in the public library. Or just buy it. It has pictures illustrated too.

  16. Why not talk about it just like an other subject? What’s unique about religion?
    We often find ourselves answering questions in
    - “Some people believe that there is a god, and that he created the world and that he tells them what to do, what do you think about that?” Let them tell you what they think. Discuss it with them.
    - Tell them what you think “well, I/we don’t believe that because… (explanation depends on child’s age)”.

    Keep it real. You can tell them about how you were taught about religion and how you made up your mind.
    You can tell them about different religions out there.
    You can talk about people you know who believe different things.

    This is an excellent opportunity for the kids to exercise critical thinking and making up their mind.

    There is nothing wrong in knowing about religion, just like we know about many other things that are not part of our life, but are part of the world around us.

  17. Sorry, not an answer to your question but I am intrigued as to how your children have not come into contact with ideas regarding religion and god? I thought that even in secular schools they had to teach something of religion, at least the basic concepts? That presupposes, of course that they were not taught at home nor in the UK

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