Yes, I said “beyond” religion. I am not a fan of the concept that there is only one right way, central to so many major religions. I’m very much a freethinker in that regard, and I raise my kids to be freethinkers as well. As a parent and as a homeschooler, I don’t want to shield them from the world–or religion. We approach religions of all sorts from a place of finding the commonalities, instead of focusing on the differences. I also want to offer my kids the opportunity to be culturally literate in terms of religion–to think critically about the information they get from the world.
Most importantly, I want them to be in touch with what they feel in their hearts, and whether any form of organized religion speaks to them. I don’t view beliefs as something external that one should try to conform to, but rather, something that is already inside oneself, waiting to be discovered and given words to.
Learning about different religions is, in my opinion, just one way to figure out if there’s a name for what you already know, feel, and believe to be true.
(Another fun way is by taking the Belief-O-Matic quiz, which sounds silly, but is actually a really in-depth and useful tool for the spiritual seeker or belief-questioner, to fine-tune and zoom in on their true beliefs.)
Got ten spare minutes? Why not take it?!
That said, it’s hard to find books that approach topics of values and morality from a non-religious standpoint. It’s even harder to find children’s books about religions that are informative but unbiased. Now, I’m a pretty big book nerd, and have been amassing kids’ books on spirituality and religion for over ten years now, so I’ve got a pretty fat stack of them.
To be clear–I don’t make my kids read these or any books. I don’t “teach” religion of any sort. I do, however, strew these books (and many other interesting things) across their paths–perhaps leaving them on the kitchen table, or in the bathroom, or in the car. I might do a random read-aloud, and they’ll gather round, or more often, be listening while drawing or playing with toys. That’s just how we do things, though.
So, if you’re new to this concept of introducing religion and beliefs to kids without expectations, this post includes some basic titles to start with. Some discuss general spiritual topics, while others are more historical and informative in nature. All are free of any “one right way” dogma, however; which makes them pleasantly readable for many religious folks, agnostics, atheists and spiritual seekers alike.
- This first book is for the parents: Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. I know it has the phrase “without religion” in the subtitle, but really, this book is not against religion, so long as nobody’s being forced to practice it. Parenting Beyond Belief is a book that addresses the concept and approach of morals, values, and beliefs in a conscious, thoughtful way. It purports that unexamined beliefs, whether religious or otherwise, are some of the most staunchly held, most inflexible and most difficult to uproot. If you already consider yourself a secular family, if you are “spiritual but not religious”, or if you just want a sort of roadmap on how to model ethics and values outside of any cumbersome religious pretext, this is an excellent book to check out.
- One of my very favorite childrens’ books is Old Turtle. This book is gorgeously illustrated in watercolor, and very artfully put together. It’s enjoyable from preschool-age to, well, adulthood. The book is about an argument that began among all the animals and things of the earth, about what God is like. Each creature or creation believes that God is like itself–and therefore NOT like the others. It also touches on how we humans are prone to forgetting to see the connectedness around us, and instead focus on the differences and disparities. Old Turtle has spurred many thoughtful discussions in my house–and it’s also an award winning book.
- What Is God? is a very thorough if somewhat wordy book, with one-page overviews of five of the world’s major religions. It also touches on the concept of religious freedom, and the fact that some people don’t follow any religion at all. It talks about what prayer is, and it focuses on the similarities among many religious beliefs. It mentions that some people believe in many Gods, while others believe in one. What Is God? also talks about how you can try to “feel God” by thinking of the ways in which we are all “connected to everything”. I really like this book as a nice introduction to the idea that other people might have different beliefs and worldviews outside of a child’s own family. The wordiness might not appeal to very young kids, but I’ve read this to mine at 3 and 4 years old, and they were interested.
- One Earth, One Spirit – A Child’s Book of Prayers From Many Faiths and Cultures is a lovely, poetic book with glossy photos–a compilation of many prayers, from short four-line couplets to page-long verses. The back of the book has a section of notes on each prayer, highlighting the culture or belief system they come from, and what they’re about. When we did handwriting practice, I offered this book for my kids to copy from. If they memorized a verse here and there while doing their copywork, that was great too. I especially like that One Earth, One Spirit includes prayers from Native American cultures, and less conspicuous belief systems such as Sikhism, Russian Orthodox, and Taoism.
- The Golden Rule. How much more is there to say? This book is full of amazing artwork, and a conversation between a boy and his grandfather about the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. It mentions how this concept is found at the core of most major religions, and also the irony that there is so much fighting and disharmony in the world, despite people knowing about The Golden Rule. This book is appealing even for toddlers–an easy yet thought-provoking read.
- On My Way To A Happy Life, by Deepak Chopra. This book is another of my favorites, because it’s written to show that we are each ultimately responsible for our own happiness, and that everything we encounter is affected by us. To me, this is a liberating and empowering line of thinking–for kids and adults alike. On My Way To A Happy Life includes seven principles or life lessons: Anything is Possible, Giving and Getting, What You Do Comes Back to You, Creating Peace, Growing What You Want, Be Open to Life, Your Place in the World. The whole book is written in verse; which might seem trite, but it’s well done–and the vibrantly colored illustrations are joy-inspiring just by themselves. This book does not talk about religion, but rather, a new way of looking at–and relating to–the world around us.
- Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher. This book, in all honesty, I have not yet read myself–but I have done a LOT of research and a lot of talking to other parents, trying to find a children’s book that is an accurate yet objective look at Christianity. Meet Jesus is the best one I’ve found thus far. Now, for the record, I am not a Christian. I think that even in our secularized society, you can’t avoid coming into contact with Christian beliefs–and I would never try to prevent this. However, I think that it’s very desirable for kids to learn about Christianity in a historical, factual, non-proselytizing sense. Meet Jesus–if it really is what it seems to be–fills this glaring void in the realm of children’s books.
- Muhammad, by Demi, is an amazingly-illustrated book about the life and times of the prophet who wrote the texts of the Koran, Islam’s holy book. Interestingly, Muhammad‘s body and face are not pictured; only his silhouette, as per Islamic artistic tradition. Scripts from the Koran and an account of Islamic beliefs are included–yet it’s written as a biography–very engaging and readable for both young kids and adults. I think this book is excellent as a starting point for dispelling myth and misinformation about the world’s second-largest religion.
- The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching is another visual masterpiece by Demi. This book includes a short biography of Lao Tzu, who “may or may not have been born, and who may or may not have written the Tao Te Ching”–and it includes 20 passages from the Tao Te Ching, or “Way of Heaven”. The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching does not present a lengthy explanation of what Taoism is, but instead, the short, simple passages are allowed to speak for themselves.
- Prince Siddhartha: The Story of Buddha is a book my kids especially love. This is not a book about Buddhism, but a biography of the Buddha–which interestingly, amounts to the same thing. It’s a long, deeply engaging story even for adults, but also speaks to the younger kids. It’s broken into short chapters and is perfect as a bedtime read-aloud. The book talks about how Siddhartha was born into riches as a prince, and had everything he could dream of handed to him. Later, he walked away from it all for a life of poverty and suffering–and embraced it. The values of nonviolence, loving-kindness, and selflessness are embodied vividly and tangibly within Prince Siddhartha–not in a preachy way, but in a way that is easily identifiable and able to evoke emotion in the smallest of children.
- The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today. This book is more of an informative read than a bedtime storybook, but it’s nonetheless fascinating. It highlights the eight solar festivals of both ancient and modern Pagan traditions: Where they came from, what they signified, and how they are still celebrated today. This book discusses the nature-based roots of modern holidays, from Groundhog Day to Halloween. The Ancient Celtic Festivals explains how the solar cycle of the year was used to tell time, and why the sun’s cycle was intimately important to daily life 2000+ years ago. I love this book because it’s a technical “why-manual” explaining the Pagan wheel of the year, in practical and spiritual terms. The Celts are a common ancestor of many Europeans, and so their heritage is very much our heritage, as well.
- All I See Is Part of Me. This book is an excellent story that describes a decidedly Pagan worldview. At its heart, Paganism is about recognizing the interconnectedness and blessedness of all things. All I See Is Part of Me highlights those two central, far-reaching concepts in lovely color-pencil drawings that have a dreamy, ethereal quality about them. It gently offers the concept that we are all connected, and everything is blessed, divine, beautiful.
I have lots–LOTS! more books to share regarding spirituality, both for children and adults–but this list should give a pretty good idea of where I stand and how I approach religion and spirituality with my family. I hope these books are helpful and enJOYable for you!