Finding Common Ground with Families from Different Religious Backgrounds
Human beings are more alike than we are different, right? We all need food, rest, love, and laughter, as every early childhood teacher knows well.
The good news, when considering how to cater for families from different religious backgrounds, is that the same principle applies. To a very large extent, all families want the same things for their kids.
When an early childhood education centre is considering how to meet the spiritual and religious needs of its children, here are three key things you might like to consider:
- Are there specific important things, unique to this family’s religious practice, that we need to be aware of (such as dietary needs, days of rest, clothing norms and so on)?
- Are there special celebrations, seasons and practices from this religion that we could appropriately join in with at our centre?
- What important values do these families share with families of other or no religious affiliation?
Today I want to look at this last one, because it’s surprisingly easy to tackle, and often just a matter of saying aloud what we already do.
We have a lot of values in common
Find the common ground and make the most of it. What are the values already in your curriculum that overlap with the religious values of your children and their families?
Most families want their children to be kind and caring, for example. Muslim families might express this in terms of the Prophet Mohammed’s teaching on kindness, just as Christian families might talk about Jesus’ teaching to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Parents from all religions will be delighted to find that their centre promotes kindness and empathy! Often it’s just a matter of communicating this aspect of the curriculum clearly to children and their families, so they know that you all share these priorities.
Some other values shared by people from most religions, and from secular backgrounds, too, include things like:
- being generous
- caring for the environment
- showing hospitality
- learning to be wise
- practising thankfulness.
I bet you already do plenty in your setting to support children’s development in these areas.
Are there ways you could build on what you do? Maybe you could try some of these ideas, and come up with others of your own.
Care for the environment
Children can make a real impact on the environment, both in how they contribute to tidying up and in helping with recycling and waste-reduction.
Help them get into gardening, or looking after animals, and make a point of explaining to them and their families that this is all about learning to care for the earth.
Celebrate making wise choices, chatting at circle time/mat time about what each child has done today that was a wise choice.
In our family, we define wisdom as ‘knowing what to do and then doing it.’
Model and practise making visitors welcome, and encourage children to act as hosts to guests (or even parents at pick-up time, for a week or two!), doing things like:
- greeting them
- taking their coats
- offering them a cup of water
- asking how their day has been
- seeing them to the door when they leave.
Could you have a focus on generosity for a few months?
Craft activities could become gifts, and perhaps there might be opportunities to visit a retirement home or animal shelter to deliver the presents.
What about featuring picture books about generosity?
Communicating how you support religious values
The next challenge is to help parents and families to see the value in what you’re doing, and how it connects to children’s religious development – even if you’re not expressing it in those terms at your centre.
You may wish to ask incoming families if they would be open to discussing religious matters with teachers. If you have an open dialogue already, you can highlight the connections in your learning stories and daily conversations.
How can you help parents to see the religious value in what you do, so they can carry on your good work at home, in their own context?
The more you highlight the common ground you all share, the more your centre will be supporting all children in their spiritual and religious development. Everyone wins!
How does this work in your centre? What tips can you share with us all?
Thalia Kehoe Rowden was a Playcentre kid before attending St John’s Hill Kindergarten. Some time later, she became a Baptist church minister, then a mother and a writer. She now lives with her husband and two small children in Wellington, New Zealand, and knows more about dinosaurs and astronomy than ever before. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.