First and foremost I want to teach my kids skepticism: to question and think for themselves. The conclusions (the myths of magic are fiction, the gods don't really exist) are secondary. The last thing I want is to teach them atheism as a dogma.
My 6-year-old son Nicolas adores science and nature shows. I mentioned that we've taken up watching broadcast television, but left to his own devices Nico would rather watch his DVDs of C'est Pas Sorcier ("It's Not Magic," a French science show) and Walking With Dinosaurs. As a special treat for Nico, his daddy recently brought home the DVD set of the David Attenborough series Life in Cold Blood about all different types of reptiles and amphibians. Partially because Nico is fascinated by snakes:
rattlesnake cross-section, by Nico
And partially because the DVD case had a picture of a chameleon on it -- an animal we've seen live in the Masala rainforest section of the Zurich Zoo:
chameleon, by Nico
So what's the problem? None of this is controversial.
Well, sort of.
Naturally Nico's naturalism extends to the study of primates (as we see from his family tree I posted here on Main Street Plaza), and he likes to talk about our cousins among the other great apes. Again, there is no controversy on this point in the scientific community. But...
There is controversy about it in my family. And we'll be visiting them back in Minnesota this summer. And I'm kind of wondering what will happen if he starts talking about primates with his (human) first cousins. Nico's not yet aware of "the controversy" -- is he going to get told about "Adam & Eve" and "Noah's Ark"? I'm a little concerned about this, and I imagine my sister is equally concerned about my kids telling hers about their ancestors among the great apes.
We've been blissfully sheltered here in Europe. We haven't had to tell our kids anything about Jesus either way because the subject simply hasn't come up, even when we were visiting Lourdes. And now -- for the first time -- my kids will undoubtedly witness people praying, and it will be up to us (the atheist parents) to come up with some sort of reasonable explanation to give them.
Any of you parents out there have any suggestions on how we should prepare them before setting off on our trip this summer?
One more thing to keep in mind is that all of this science and biology we've got going on at our house is about genuine fascination with life and how it works, not about indoctrination (as much as the "I don't believe in evolution" crowd have made me neurotic about it). Take this whale evolution video. It's true that I found it on a (rather famous) atheist blog, but you'll note that the video says nothing about God. (At least the science one doesn't.) I showed it to Nico once, and he insisted on watching it so many times that my husband finally just downloaded it to Nico's computer so he could watch it whenever he wants. It inspired him to draw this picture:
Basilosaurus, a whale ancestor with tiny back legs, by Nico
And then later, while hiking through the woods, he gathered sticks and taped them together to form a basilosaurus skeleton so he could play paleontologist. (Nico's so funny, always asking us when it was that the dinosaurs left their bones in the ground and whether we'll one day leave our bones in the ground too...)
And -- to continue this absurdly shameless brag-fest -- he totally gets it from me.
Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes has always been to observe all of the little animals I could find: frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, insects. As my family can attest, when I was Nico's age I had an extensive collection of live caterpillars. Now that I'm grown up, if I see a lizard, I can share the fun of observation by pointing it out to my little family as I did in Lourdes or we can sit around watching bees gathering nectar from flowers:
abeille, guêpe, frelon, bourdon, by Nico