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This blog is all about all the things that make me up. I am a Mother, I am a Pagan Witch, I am a Wife, I am a homemaker, I am a student, I am Spiritual, I am a Teacher, I am Liberal Hippie, I am a Voter, and I am extremely opinionated! Plan to see it all! If you don't like what you see, feel free to leave! However, chances are, if you stick around, you'll find more to love than hate!

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Exposing Children to Religion Without Teaching

As I have explained before, my husband is not Pagan. But we both agree that it's not our job to teach our children how to see the world.  Instead, we feel it's our place to encourage our children to explore and make their own choices when it comes to faith.  Because of that, neither of us really attempt to "teach" our faith to our children, instead choosing to expose them to many faiths. Although I will admit the vast majority of this falls to me as my husband is generally confused and unsure of his own faith and knows very little of any other faiths beyond what he has seen on television.  He claims to be "Christian" but uses the term loosely and knows little beyond what he was told as a child, he has less faith than fear is really what it comes down to, and he doesn't wish to pass that view on to our children - which is good because I don't want them to have it either.  I, of course, was taught Christianity as I grew up, but rejected it at a very early age for Paganism - although at the time I didn't know what to call it.

While I believe I would do things differently if my children had two Pagan parents or if for some reason I were a single mother, I generally believe that I would still not be attempting to "teach" them any one path and I HOPE that I would still encourage them to find their own way and think for themselves.

But, as I am where I am, I can only speculate on what I would do if I were elsewhere.  Because of that I want to place somewhat of a disclaimer on this post. I am NOT in any way attempting to tell others how to raise their children or what they should be doing.  I am simply sharing how our family does things, take from it what you will, leave what you won't - hopefully, you take something you can use.

The question of HOW to expose without teaching is a common one.  Many Pagan parents choose not to teach their path but to simply expose their children to it, and many others.  This is because for them, as for me, spirituality is a personal issue. If your faith doesn't feed your spirit, it's useless. But it's often difficult to find a balance between exposure and indoctrinating.  For me, keeping this balance means not involving my children in ritual or spell work directly.  It means using the seasonal changes, mythology and crafts to involve them without pushing.

My faith is very Nature based. Although I have a deep belief in the Gods, they are secondary in my Sabbat celebrations to nature itself.  Because of this, I generally do not explore this aspect with my children, leaning instead towards showing them the natural elements of the Sabbat.  I use the Wheel of the Year as a guide, teaching them what each spoke means - Equinoxes, Solstices, Cross-Quarters.  We explore the changes that the Earth (locally) is experiencing, what are the animals doing, what are the plants doing and what is the weather doing.  When weather doesn't allow for us to get out and explore more hands on, we tend to focus on what we can see from our backdoor. Thankfully our house has a beautiful panoramic view of the valley we live in and the river which runs through it, so even when we can't go out, we can observe what's going on. And of course, being a gardener, I have plants around, in various stages of growth, all the time, so that helps.

I also try to get them to do crafts with me which fit in to the Sabbat in question... For example, for Yule we make Bagel & Bird Seed Ornaments for the bushes and trees in the yard.  It's our way of both decorating and honoring those animals which have remained local to us.   We also do coloring pages and read myths which fit with the day.  I will say that while I do not focus on the Gods, we do read a good bit of mythology.  However, we present it as we would any other story.  Some parents read Curious George, I read the Story of Brigid or the story of Persephone.

One of my favorite thing to do is to read the kids a story and then have them draw me a picture about it.  This encourage them to think on it, and focus on it both while it's being read and afterwards.  Making it easier to remember. One thing I have NOT done, but which I want to start doing, is taking their myth artwork and making a book out of it all. Something they can look at later on and remember all the stories.  There are a ton of books out there that focus on the Sabbats and/or Pagan mythology.  I have a copy of Circle Round by Starhawk which I use quite a bit for craft ideas and stories.  But I also love the Baba Yaga books, and quite a few others which are less "Myth" and more "Story."

While the Sabbats are my children's biggest exposure to any one faith, I do, as I said, strive to explore other faiths with them as well.  Again, I tend to do this around their holidays.  When Easter comes, we read the story of Jesus.  When Chanukah comes we read the story of that story.  When Diwali comes we read about Lakshmi and Vishnu.  And so on...  Many of these stories can be found in the Public Library, and others can be found online.  I have also attempted (unsuccessfully in most cases) to find movies or children's programs that depict these myths or lessons. While it's rare to find any holidays other than the main stream ones in children's programming, it IS possible to find a few.

The final piece of the puzzle comes in when the children have questions.  It's rare, but once in a while they will ask things like what happens when we die or what are ghosts or whatever else that will open the door for a discussion.  While it would be easy to simply answer them with my beliefs I don't feel that encourages them to think for themselves, nor does it give them a full picture.  So when the questions come up, I DO explain to them what I believe. BUT, I always preface it with "Lots of people believe different things, but here's what I think.  Then, depending on the subject matter, I will give them examples of what other cultures or faiths teach. And if their father is here, I attempt to get him to chime in with his beliefs as well.  After a day or so, I will go back to them and ask them what THEY think on the subject.  Sometimes this will bring up more questions, sometimes not. But it allows me to know if they understood the ideas presented and encourages them to think through everything they were given and then come up with their own answers.

So there you have it.  Exploration without teaching - or at the very least, attempting to explore without teaching. As I stated above, it's not fool proof and I'm certainly not attempting to tell anyone this is how they should do things.  But I thought putting how I approach things out there may help someone else facing the question of HOW to do this... In fact my children are 7, 6 & 3 and for the first half of my parenthood, I didn't really do anything with them. Why? Because I wasn't sure how. I didn't want to step on my husband's toes and I was afraid if I told them anything I would be teaching them instead of helping them figure things out. And I didn't want that. I didn't want my kids to feel obligated to follow my path, just because it was what they were told was right. So I did nothing.  By the time Madeline (my youngest) came alone I had started reading myths to the older two and decided I was going to really make an effort to explore things with them. I do with I had started earlier, but I grew up without doing this kind of thing (we didn't celebrate holidays at all and were only taught my mother's faith, never exposed to others) so I didn't really know how to do any of it. I am certain there are others out there like me, who are unsure of how to do this, and all I can hope is that my example helps them.

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