Jan Devor writes in Raising Freethinkers,
“By being a nonreligious parent in the United States, you have chosen the road less traveled. With this position comes the responsibility to educate your children about both religion and your nonreligious stance. It is never enough to tell our children ‘We don’t believe,’ and leave it at that.”
No matter what we believe, we want to empower our children to make a truly informed decision about their own beliefs, which means they must have access to information about religion along with whatever secular viewpoints we, as parents, may have. For me, this means finding children’s books that are informational and accurate without promoting one religious view over another and adding them to our home libraries.
My favorite overview of religion for young kids is The Story of Religion by Betsy and Giulio Maestro. This, rather lengthy, picture book begins with why religion began (“People began to create stories about the events that mystified them.”) and follows as various religions (Confucianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Chistianity, Islam) developed. It provides plenty of information about the beliefs of each of these religions, but the primary focus seems to be putting religion into historical context. I especially like that it is carefully phrased so as to not present any one religion as true. Every disputable reference to beliefs is softened–e.g. “His followers believe that on the third day after his execution, Jesus was resurrected, or rose from the dead.”
For similar coverage, in a different format, try One World, Many Religions by Mary Pope Osborne. This book is for the same age group (grades K-4) but is broken up into chapters and illustrated with photographs in a way more typical to nonfiction. Both books are good overviews that present a positive, if distant, view of religion for nonreligious families.
Perhaps my favorite book for exploring religion is a new title from DK. What Do You Believe?, which came out earlier this year, is a great book for comparing and contrasting worldviews with the goal of opening a discussion as to what young people themselves believe. I found it to be balanced in its coverage of world religions, and I was pleased that it included atheism as an option. It brings up some controversial topics (religion & science, ethical dilemmas, etc) without providing one definite answer. Instead it outlines the opinions of various people–Richard Dawkins, for example, is quoted regarding evolution–are included to illustrate the possibilities. Kids are invited to make their own decisions about what they believe. This book is a great opportunity to explore big questions with upper elementary and middle school students that is designed to get kids thinking critically about their own beliefs.
This is just the beginning. If you are familiar with the books Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, you know that there is a lot to consider when raising children without religion in a religious world. Giving your kids a context of the beliefs and history with these books is just one of many steps involved (probably not even the first step) in empowering them to become freethinkers in their own right.
This post is part of a series inspired by my appearance on Atheist Talk where I spoke about children’s books for secular families. These posts are not intended to be taken as insulting to my religious friends in any way. I merely want to empower secular families to encourage their children to engage with the world through books. Read more: Behind the Scenes of Atheist Talk and there is more to come.