3 Must-Reads for Secular Parents

The last month has produced an incredible little selection of articles relating to secular parenting, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss them. The pieces are, in turn, educational, insightful, funny and heartwarming. And all of them are written by women — which seems significant because the secular community is, we are told, still dominated by menfolk.

[To read the articles, just click on the titles below.]

1. Why My 7-Year-old is an Atheist (And Why I’m Okay With That) by Carolyn Castiglia

Castiglia, a comedian, writes about her daughter’s “conversion” to atheism, despite her own rather open-minded approach to religion. The piece is very funny but also has some nice advice to impart.  A friend found this on Jezebel but it was originally posted to Babble. Here’s a particularly good bit:

The way I imagine God has changed over the years – He’s gone from being a person, a man, to being more of a Thing, a notion. Goodness. The Oneness of the Universe. With something female in there. The energy that keeps the whole thing afloat. God as I know it now when I know it is kind of a cocktail made from a shot of Buddhism, a shot of feminist activism and a splash of ginger ale (because that, my friends, is something you can always count on). My daughter, on the other hand, at the ripe old age of 7, is convinced that there is no God. Not even a god. Yup, my kid’s an atheist. And she pretty much has been since she was 5. It’s not for lack of exposure to God or god or even gods and spirituality, because she has attended Church and church and a UU “church” and it has made no impact. We’ve prayed together. I talk about God sometimes, in a good way. When I asked her recently why she doesn’t believe in God she told me, succinctly, “Because I know too much about science!”

2. Losing Our Religion by Katherine Ozment.

Ozment is a writer who turned her attention to nonreligious parenting in this fun and honest Boston Magazine piece. Many parents are sure to find her situation all too familiar. Here’s the nut-graph:

Like most upper-middle-class parents, my husband and I have worked out a strategy for every aspect of our children’s lives, from cord-blood banking and on-demand breastfeeding to extracurricular math classes and strict limits on screen time. Religion is the big exception. It’s something he (raised Jewish) and I (raised Protestant) keep meaning to address, yet year after year we manage to avoid it. Most days I can shrug this off. Who has the time? I think. And does it even matter? But as ambivalent as I am about organized religion, I recognize there is something to it. Participation in a religious community has been correlated with everything from self-esteem and overall hopefulness to the avoidance of substance abuse and teen pregnancy. So I worry: Am I depriving my children of an experience that will help shape their identities in a positive way and anchor them throughout their lives?

3. The Curse of the Herd by Gwen DeWar

This is not a story about religion, per se, but it may as well be. DeWar is a writer and anthropologist fascinated by the strong pull humans feel toward conformity. The focus of this piece, published by Psychology Today, is how this sort of conformity can and does affect our child-rearing — and not in a good way. She writes:

It’s disturbing, and it should concern everyone. Yes, social conformity serves some helpful functions, and many people believe in the rights of various groups to enforce their own cultural norms. If a community wants to reject science in favor of folk remedies, or to punish people for teaching evolution, isn’t that their prerogative? But unless this group is composed solely of adult volunteers, there is a problem. Children don’t volunteer. They don’t choose their birthplace. They don’t choose their parents or the cultural setting in which they grow up….Is freedom of thought a human right? Do kids have a right to learn about the tools of critical thinking? Our need to question and tinker may be as primitive as our need for food and love.

And while I’m on it, two other worthy reads are:

• Molly Worthen’s One Nation Under God, an opinion published by the New York Times, in which which she argues that “the temple of ‘my personal opinion’ may be the real ‘established church’ in modern America.” (So true!)

•  Picture Books for Strong Girls, a list of book recommendations published by No Time for Flash Cards. The list has some great suggestions, to which I would add Big Momma Makes the World, a book that tells the Biblical creation story, more or less — only “God” is a Southern Momma with loads of laundry to do and a baby to take care of. (Don’t worry. She can handle it.)

Big Momma Makes the World


An Interview with the Guy Who Named the ‘Nones’

Barry KosminThere was a time, in the extremely recent past, when Americans with no religion were “the others.”

For decades, religious affiliation has fascinated researchers. Countless studies and surveys show document a painstaking analysis of each minor population shift. A switch from, say, Methodist to Baptist or Catholic to Protestant has been marked with great interest, year by year. Sure, the numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have remained relatively small next to Christians — but they, too, have been counted. Their numbers seemed to matter.

Always absent from these studies and surveys was a specific category for Americans with no religion. Those of us who didn’t “belong” in an established group — for whatever reason. We were simply the “others.” Too few to name, much less care about.

But that all changed in the first years of the 21st Century.

After a decade (the 90s) in which religious affiliation dropped dramatically — by several percentage points (and, yes, that was considered dramatic) — the country’s top researchers realized they needed a new category.

Barry A. Kosmin was one of them. As the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and a professor at Trinity College, Kosmin had been helping to conduct the American Religion Identification Survey for nearly three decades. Once they’d evaluated data from the 1990s, Kosmin and his team were determined to name a new category.

“Nonreligious” was a possibility. So was “non-faith” and “non-affiliated.”

But Kosmin rejected all of these. The “non” part bothered him. “Non-affiliated” would be like calling people “non-white,” he said. “We didn’t want to suggest that ‘affiliated’ was the norm, and every one else was an ‘other.’”

“Nomenclature,” he added, ” is quite important in these things.”

So Kosmin began calling this group the “nones,” a shortened version for “none of the above” — which is what people often said when asked to name their religion. He never thought the term would stick.

“It began as a joke,” he said, “but now, like many of these things, it has taken on its own life.”

Indeed. Today, “nones” are everywhere. Both in a literal sense and a literary one.

“Nones” now make up an estimated 20 percent of the American population — or 60 million people. And most major research groups have given in to the verbiage, at least to some degree. (Some still prefer “unaffiliated” in their official questionnaires.) Journalists, especially, have embraced the word.

“Nones form Biggest Slice of Obama’s Religious Voters,” said an October headline in the Huffington Post.

“The ‘nones’ now form the worlds’ third-largest religion’ reported the Religion News Service  last month.

The list goes on and on.

That’s not to say the word is without its critics. For many on the more spiritual end of the “nonreligious” spectrum, “nones” sounds too dismissive. They liken it to “nothing,” and sometimes the response is: “I’m not nothing!”

Still, like Kosmin said, the word now has a life of its own. Even Gallup Poll, which published  a report today, saying that the number of people who prefer “no religion” leveled off a bit between 2011 and 2012, put “nones” in its headline.

[Special thanks to Hemant Mehta who referenced this blog on his website The Friendly Atheist.]

Quick! What the Hell is Epiphany?

OK, y’all, I have to apologize. First, I’ve been traveling without my laptop for the last week and haven’t been able to update. Second, I’ve been really busy finishing up my book (!!) which has pushed the blog to the back burner lately. Case in point: My somewhat ill-thought-out previous blog post. Hopefully most of you got the gist of what I was trying to say, but if you didn’t, you can be sure you weren’t alone.

That said, today is a new day, a new week and a new year! And there’s been a new holiday, too: Epiphany! It’s not a major holiday (which is why I knew almost nothing about it), but it’s worth noting if only to understand this fabulous array of photographs published by the Guardian this weekend.


Holiday: Epiphany

AKA: Theophany

Religion Represented: Christianity

Date: Jan. 6 (And/or on the Sunday that falls between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8)

Celebrates: The manifestation of God as a human being (Jesus).

On a Scale of 1 to 10: The importance of Epiphany varies by country. I’m guessing it ranks about a 2 here in the United States, but as high as a 6 or 7 in some other regions of the world, most of them in Eastern countries. (But if anyone knows better, let me know!)

Star of the Show: Jesus (always Jesus!) but also the Magi (AKA “The Three Kings”)

Background: Epiphany, which was first observed somewhere in the 4th Century, is a general celebration of Jesus as the incarnation of God. As such, it commemorates the birth of Jesus, his visit from the three Magi, all the events of his childhood, his baptism in the Jordan River, and his first miracle (turning water into wine).

Interesting Part: Despite the broad meaning behind Epiphany, most countries focus on only two narrow aspects of Jesus’ life: The arrival of the three Magi (preferred by Western churches) and Jesus’ baptism (preferred by Eastern churches).

Associated Literary Passages: Matthew 2:1-12; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:22; John 2:1-11.

How Its Celebrated: Look at these 11 Guardian photos to get a visual. Epiphany celebrants sing carols, put on nativity plays and hold parades. Many churches hold baptisms, or bless homes or entire bodies of water. In countries that focus on Jesus’ baptism, water plays a central role. In Hungary, people dive into icy water. In Bulgaria, they dance and sing in it. (All these people are crazy.) Countries that focus on the visits of the Magi sometimes treat Epiphany as a mini-Christmas celebration. The Magi are said to visit in the night (ala Santa Claus) and bring presents for children. A Spanish woman I follow on Instagram photographed her daughters leaving wine for the Magi and milk for their camels, and then placing their little shoes where they wanted the Magi to leave their gifts. How cute is that?

Fun Fact: The Magi have names. They are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Use the holiday to teach kids the lingo! Epiphany, Baptism and Magi are all great words (and culturally important words!) with decidedly Christian roots.

another-good-argument-for-infant-baptism-5Epiphany: Kids are likely to hear people talk about epiphanies a lot in their lives — I use the word all the time! — so why not take a few minutes to explain the secular meaning of epiphany (a sudden realization or insight into something) alongside the religious one (the sudden appearance of a deity)?

574 lizbeth zwergerBaptism: Let your kids know that many Christians get baptized to show their devotion to God, and Christian parents often baptize their children because they hope and expect that their children will worship the same God. People who are baptized can be standing, sitting or kneeling. They may be inside a church or out in nature. They may be completely submersed in the water, or water may be sprinkled on their heads. There are lots of ways to be baptized, but all of them carry the same basic purpose and meaning.

magiMagi: The three Magi in Christianity are also known as the three wise men and as the three kings. They were thought to be astrologers and gentiles (that is, they were not Jewish). Almost any nativity book will include the Magi, and your library is probably full of them. (books, not Magi.) Oh, and don’t forget to read O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi! Here’s a great version for kids.

For other Holiday Cheat Sheets, click here.



Learning to Ignore Religious Reactions to School Shootings

Photo by RexI’m on the freeway, heading back home from a doctor’s appointment, and feeling morose. For the last five minutes, I’ve been contemplating the Connecticut shootings, just as I have done about a billion other times since last Friday. Right now, I’m thinking:

Life is unfathomably cruel. The human experience is an experiment in limitless love and staggering loss. To be blessed by one is to be cursed by the other. It’s not fair — it’s not anything, really. It just is. And it feels terrible.

These thoughts are not helping my mood.

I take a deep breath. I want to feel better. I need to feel better. I challenge myself to find some silver linings in the tragedy. I think:

Only 20 kids were killed when it easily could have been been more. Because the victims were shot multiple times, they probably didn’t suffer much, if at all, before they died. The victim’s family members will be able to band together and support each other through the difficult months ahead. Foundations will be established in the children’s honor, which will help the living in countless ways. Legislators may finally be motivated to implement real, honest change in this country’s gun laws.

They are flimsy consolations, I realize, but they do console me. A little at least. And for the first time since I got in the car, I feel my body lighten, my muscles unclench, my spirits begin to lift.

But the gun-law thought has opened up another neural pathway. Now I start thinking about all the recent articles and Facebook posts I’ve seen about how school prayer would prevent school shootings. I start to mentally formulate my response to this, which, in very short order involves words like idiotic and garbage, along with a whole lot of profanity.

I check in with my body: It’s heavy again, muscles clenched, spirits fallen. Instead of being sad, I am now angry. I think:

If I wrote a blog post about this, what would I say about this push to put God back in schools? How would I respond to people who say that praying would prevent the violence caused by mentally disturbed individuals, and that secularism is to blame for what happened in Connecticut? Could I get through such a post without using the f word? 

I’m still driving, mind you, and am about to turn onto the freeway exit near my home, when the answer occurs to me — as if by divine intervention.

There is no reason to respond at all. 

We, on the “state” side of the church-and-state issue, know instructing children to pray in school is wrong, but school-prayer proponents are never going to agree with us on that. Therefore, i.e., ergo… there is no reason to respond because there is nothing to say.

Don’t get me wrong, if my kid’s school was contemplating reversing its policy on school prayer, I would absolutely speak to the school board. But it’s not. And I would bet that very few schools across the country are. So what’s there to talk about? Who cares if people who are wrong say things that are wrong? It happens all the time. Does it matter? Are we so insecure in our own knowledge that we must try to convince the unconvince-able of the truth?

No. No, we’re not.

I am off the freeway. I’ve turned onto my block. I relax again. I think:

School prayer, like so many things, is a nonissue for me. From now on, I’ll ignore the articles and Facebook postsI’ll tune out radio and  TV commentary. And if anyone tells me to my face that schools should bring back prayer, I will simply say, ‘okay.’ And I’ll probably even smile.

Because my spirits have been lifted again. And I am home.

Discussing Death with Little Ones (Whose Deaths We Fear So Much)

Not since 9/11 has a tragedy so deeply affected our nation as the massacre of 20 first-graders and six school administrators in Connecticut on Friday. It seems to me, words were not meant to communicate this level of horror. Our capacity for emotional pain is so much deeper than our capacity to verbalize what has happened. Sometimes silence and tears are our only option.


But when it comes to children, we have a duty to discuss death and dying. It is an important part of parenting, and we mustn’t shy away from it. Yes, it’s hard. Our children might fear our deaths more than anything else, just as we fear their deaths more than anything else. That’s only natural. But there are things our children must hear, and they deserve to hear them from us.

Here’s a bit of advice, should you need or want it.

• Heaven Doesn’t Help Us: Talking to Kids about Death

• 12 Mistakes Parents Make When Talking to Kids about Death 

As for nonreligious children’s books about death, these are the best I’ve found so far:

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny Brown. I can’t say enough great things about this book, which is why I dedicated an entire post to it.

The Tenth good Thing about Barneywritten by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Erik Blegvad. This adorable classic is about a boy losing his cat. Such smart writing. “Barney is in the ground, and he’s helping to grow flowers,” the boy’s father says at one point. “You know,” the boys responds, “that’s a pretty nice job for a cat.”

About Dying by Sara Bonnet Stein. I’m crazy about this oldie, which is a book for kids and parents to read together, but also has some great information in smaller print off to the side.

When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers. Did Mr. Rogers ever do anything that wasn’t awesome? No. No, he didn’t. This is no exception.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia. The main character in this book is a leaf who is coming to terms with the fact that he will fall (die) at some point. It’s quite gentle and calming and would be great introduction to death, particularly for sensitive kids who may be prone to anxiety over the subject.

Now One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaola. Okay, this one is not about death, but about the reality of growing old and getting sick. It is one of my favorite children’s books of all time — so sweet and poignant, it is guaranteed to make you cry. And it has a happy ending. My daughter loves it as much as I do. (DePaola’s Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs is really nice, too.)

My Last Will and Testament (Sort Of)

One thing about being a nonreligious parent is that I have no expectation of an afterlife. I believe that when I leave the universe, I leave it for good. And whatever “spirit” I have survives only in the memories of the people I love.

Which is enough. Honestly, it is.

But it also makes me hyper-aware of what I leave behind. And that is especially true when it comes to my daughter. For the first few years of her life, I couldn’t help but be concerned that I would die, and all of what we’d experienced together would be lost because she would be too young to remember of any it. She might not know how much I loved her. She might not know how special she was.

So I started making books. I guess you could call them scrapbooks, although they’re as much about the stories as the pictures. In them I pour all the funny anecdotes and quotes I have amassed over the years (usually found on scraps of paper scattered throughout the house, but also culled from my Facebook page and Twitter feed). I put in conversations (like the one she had with my husband about what God looks like), essays (about what she was like at that particular age) and personal messages (that center on my feelings for her.)

At first, she ignored the books, of course. She was too young to really understand what they meant. But now that she’s 7, that’s no longer true. These books are some of her most prized possessions. In fact, I’ve started to print two copies: one for her room and one for keeping. The copies in her room are already quite tattered; that’s how often she opens them. It’s hilarious how little she remembers of things that happened only a few years ago. She thinks the things she said and did and thought are terribly cute and funny. Sometimes I hear her telling her friends the stories she has read in her books.

In a way, these books are my last will and testament. Much more important to me than any instructions I’m leaving behind about money. (Although she may not think so one day!) Everything of any consequence that has happened to us is included in these pages. Everything wonderful and insightful and just plain funny that has come out of her mouth is listed. Everything I want her to remember — it’s all there.

I make one of these books every year for Maxine’s birthday, and every year when I finish it and send it off to print, there’s this little voice in the back of my head that says, “Now I can die happy.”


A Shopping Guide for Nonreligious Parents (Part II)

Are you looking to introduce religion to your child in a neutral and decidedly non-devotional way, but don’t know where to start? Do you lack the knowledge you think you should have? Do your eyes sort of glaze over when you hear the words “religious literacy?” Then this shopping guide is for you! In honor of the Judeo-Christian month of giving, I’ve amassed some of my favorite resources in hopes that you’ll encourage your child to learn a bit more about the religious world around them — and have some fun while they’re at it. This is the second of two parts; the first is here.

11. DK Children’s Illustrated Bible. You just can’t do religious literacy without a Bible in the house, folks, and not all of them are created equal. The DK, with stories retold by Selina Hastings and pictures by Eric Thomas, is the best I’ve seen on a number of levels. Small, compact, accurate, and readable, it’s also packed with excellent illustrations and photographs. In second place: The Kingfisher Children’s Illustrated Bible. Available on Amazon for $9.35

12. Plush Krishna: As a kid in the ’70s, “Krishna” was a word I heard only when “Hare” was in front of it. I have vivid memories of bald-headed Hare Krishnas dressed in robes and handing out flowers at the airport. (They rarely do that anymore, I’m told.) I didn’t know until I was well into adulthood that Krishna was actually a flute-playing, blue-tinged Hindu deity, an avatar of the god Vishnu. Krishna is hugely important in Hinduism, and ubiquitous in artwork all over the world, which makes him a natural choice for a stuffed friend. Plus, he’s cute as all get-out. Available from Gopal Soft Toys: $41.95

13. Alphabet Kaba. This is such a cool toy! The Alphabet Kaba is a rendition of the classic alphabet blocks, this time depicting both English and Arabic letters and numbers, and stored inside a wooded Kaaba — which, if you remember from this post, is the name of the black-shrouded building in the center of Mecca. It is toward the Kaaba that all Muslims throughout the world pray five times a day. A great little piece of knowledge for kids to grasp. Available from Islamic Goods Direct for about 8 pounds (or $12.85)

14. Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. Native American traditions deserve as much attention as any other system of religious belief, especially considering their role in the history of the Americas. Written by Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Thomas Locker, this book depicts a conversation between Little Turtle and his uncle, Old Bear. It also includes a neat map of North America back when it was just tribal territories, as well as a pronunciation guide. There are a lot of beautiful books about the tales and legends of native American religion, but this one will get you started. (Amazon, $7)

15. Yoga mat: In the course of only a couple of decades, yoga has gone from a relatively unknown activity to completely mainstream. Some yoga studios regularly schedule kids’ classes, and even schools have begun offering yoga as physical education (with mixed results, unfortunately). There is absolutely no “religion” in any of the yoga classes I’ve attended over the years — it’s all about deep breathing, deep stretching, and clearing the mind — but yoga did start out as a religious practice and still is used that way by millions of people. Let’s not forget to make that connection for our children! Available on Amazon: $15 and up.

16. Bang! How We Came to Be. Religious beliefs are fascinating, and understanding them bring us closer as human beings. But science is equally fascinating and equally likely to bring us closer together as human beings. The science of evolution is incredibly important for kids to understand, and the sooner the better. This one breaks down evolution in language even little ones can enjoy. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but can’t wait. Available on Amazon: $11.56

17. Muhammad by Demi. The famed illustrator created this breathtaking book a couple of years ago — managing to do what few others have done: Illustrate Muhammad without suffering a major backlash from the Muslim community, which strictly forbids depictions of the prophet. Demi treads the line beautifully and respectfully by putting Muhammad in a golden shadow throughout the book. Very imaginative. The story, also, is accurate and well-told. Great for kids 9-ish and up. Available on Amazon: $14.96

18. Jewish Holiday Calendar Magnets. One of the best ways to teach kids about Judaism is to honor some of the many Jewish holidays.  There are plenty to choose from — and this 14-piece magnet set can attest to that. Most Jewish holidays center on significant events and legends from Hebrew history. I adore these magnets, which can be used as space holders on magnetic calendars or as conversation starters for little ones. Available on Etsy: $16 for the set.

19. The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper. This is a must read, in my opinion. Gorgeously illustrated by Gabi Swiatowska, The Golden Rule tells the story of a little boy who sees a billboard while walking with his grandfather. The billboard says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What follows is a sweet, poignant discussion about “the Golden Rule,” where it comes from (it predates Jesus by a lot) and why it’s so important. It also goes through each religion’s iteration of the Golden Rule. I love this book. For children ages 4 to 10. Available on Amazon for $11.53.

20. Pocket Buddhas.Because they’re small, cute, and — well, do you really need a third reason? Available from Amazon: $8.95 apiece.


Being Happy In Our Own Skin

I need to apologize. Although I was very excited to finish my shopping guide today, fate intervened and I’m now at the University of Kansas Medical Center while my brother undergoes skin-graft surgery for third-degree burns to his chest.

A few nights ago he was warming something on the stove when his tie caught on fire. The fire immediately moved all the way up to his neck and set his shirt aflame. Somehow, and I’m not sure how it was even possible, he managed to get free of his clothes and save his own life – and probably the lives of his daughters, who were asleep upstairs at the time and might not have awakened until the house was on fire. 

Now, I’m going to assume you think this a decent excuse not to have a decent post for you today, but if you don’t, you may register your complaint by unsubscribing to my to my humble blog. At which point I will promptly begin cursing you for being ONE HEARTLESS BASTARD.

Seriously, I hope you all are having a great Monday, and that you and yours are safe and sound. One thing I’ve learned from all this is how grateful I am to be living in my own skin. We as a society complain an awful lot about what we see when we look in the mirror – freckles, birthmarks, acne, age spots, sags, wrinkles, you name it – but those complaints seem so petty after just a couple of days in a burn unit. Skin is truly an amazing organ, and we owe it so much more than our constant criticism.

Oh, and my brother would like me to add one more thing: Don’t cook with your tie on.

A Shopping Guide for Nonreligious Parents (Part I)

In honor of the Judeo-Christian month of giving, I’m offering a few recommendations to add to your shopping lists. These are items I have bought myself, or will buy, or might buy, or probably won’t buy but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Seriously, if you want some assistance in “introducing” world religion and religious concepts to your kids, these are excellent tools. I’ll be publishing this in two parts: The first today, the second on Monday.

Don’t look for this list to be repeated next year, by the way. In 2013, I’ll be recommending you buy only one book: Mine.

1. People by Peter Spier. Touted as “a picture book for all ages,” People is the best celebration of diversity I’ve ever seen in book form. Spier is a spectacular illustrator, and offers the sweetest introduction to religion and culture. His little figures are charming, and for children who may never run into Arabs or Africans on the street, it’s all the more important. You’d never know the book was written in 1980, but for one single page devoted to different kinds of “communication.” Records and cassettes and walkie-talkies are among the most “modern” communication methods pictured. Available on Amazon: $10.36

2. “What Do You Believe?” This book, published just last year by DK Publishing, is a stellar example of how to talk about world religions in neutral terms. The design is excellent and very modern, and the book is full of great information — but not too full. That is, it’s not exhausting to look at, as so many of these types of books can be. It includes pages on world religions, as well as atheism and agnosticism — all of which are handled with a high degree of respect.  This is likely to appeal most to slightly older children, 9 and above, but I’d get it early and make it a book shelf staple. Available on Amazon: $11.55

3. DYI Paper Buddha. These things are just plain cool. They come in kits and would be great for kids who like to build things. I love the idea of having my daughter make this little guy — or one of the other Hindu gods offered in kit form — and reading a little bit about Buddhism or Hinduism out loud to her while she does it. The kits are made in New Delhi by cartoonist and animator Kshiraj Telang. They are all limited edition and sold in Indian rupees. Hurry while supplies last! Available on Toonoholic for 99 rupees (roughly $1)

4. Dreidel. I wrote about how to play the game of Dreidel last year as part of my Hanukkah post. It’s such a fun game for kids — and cheap! I highly recommend it as and entry into talking about Judaism and the origins of Hanukkah. Plus, it’s got a fun song that goes with it. (South Park’s version is here.) Simple wooden dreidel available on Amazon: $1.89

5. Fulla Doll. I referenced this doll in a recent post. It’s a line of Barbie-like fashion dolls for Muslim girls, and I’m TOTALLY buying one for my daughter. The abaya and hijab that Muslims wear is really interesting to kids. Getting little ones used to different styles of religious dress (so they can see it as something normal, rather than something weird) could go a long way in building an understanding of Islamic customs. (By the way, check out these pictures published on Slate today — it’s a photo series on  documenting the Arab woman’s experience of being veiled!) Fulla dolls available at Muslim Toys and Dolls: $34.99

6. Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow.  When it comes to giving kids and parents an overview of Hinduism, this book by Sanjay Patel is the best. It’s small and cute and bright and to the point, and a fantastic resource for getting a handle on the deal with Hindu gods. Just having on my bookshelf has been wonderful for me. When I need a quick reminder of who Krishna is or why Ganesh is important, I know exactly where to go. Available at Amazon: $8.82

7. Voodoo dolls. To heck with major religions, right? Let’s get into some of those fun-filled folk religions! In Africa and Haiti, as well as in New Orleans, voodoo dolls are used to focus energy and blessings to those they represent. They are commonly made with items that are easily found in those regions. The instructions with this cute set advises kids to send good blessing to your friends or turn them into mean people to relieve stress and have some fun. They really are just fun little toys, but it would be a great excuse to explain a bit about the “magic” believed by some folk religions. Set of 11 available on Amazon: $6.74

8. Sikh Play Set. It was ridiculously hard to choose between all the Sikh play sets on the market! My gosh! There are just so many to — oh, wait. No. That was nativity sets. Sorry. When it came to Sikh play sets, there was the one. This one. And it seems only to be available in England. And it’s expensive. So I’m doubting a lot of you will buy it, but I still think it’s terribly neat. I love the book about the gurus that comes with it, and kids would have a great time inspecting the “artifacts” in the bag. Available at TTS: 74.95 pounds (roughly $120)

9. Meet Jesus: the Life and Teachings for a Beloved Teacher by Lynn Tuttle Gunney. This book came highly recommended by reader Kimberly B. The book is described as emphasizing the “humanity rather than the divitity of Jesus, giving the story broad appeal for liberal or progressive Christians and non-Christians alike.” Kimberly said her kids loved it. I’m definitely buying it. Available on Amazon: $10.26

10. The Tao of Pooh Audiobook. (You cand find it free on youtube, too.) I read this book in college, and loved it so much I also read the Te of Piglet, which was good but not as good. Author Benjamin Hoff shows that “Pooh’s Way” is amazingly consistent with the principles of living envisioned by the Chinese founders of Taoism. It’s very fun and cute. The audiobook would be great for a road trip with a slightly older child — 11ish maybe. Available on Amazon: $14.59

For Part II, click here.


Research Shows Baby Jesus Crazy Popular

For the last few weeks, I’ve been prepping for the first edition of Relax, It’s Just God’s Shopping Guide, which, if all goes according to plan, will appear here on Thursday — just in time for the Christian and Jewish month of giving. (See how I timed that? Aren’t I clever?) The guide will give reviews and buying information about my favorite “props” — including toys, books, movies and music — all of which are intended to help parents talk to kids about religion without confusing them, scaring them or boring them to tears.

Feel free to let me know if you have favorite books or movies you’d recommend — and be sure to point out any of your favorite science-centered resources, as well. As interesting as it is for kids to hear how world religions answer the Big Questions of the universe, it’s just as interesting (and even more important) to hear about how science has gone about answering those same questions.

One thing I thought would make a great prop — particularly for “cultural Christians” who are celebrating Christmas in their homes this year — is a nativity set. There are not a lot of things better for the under-10 community than little figurines that can be “played with,” and nativity sets certainly lend themselves to that. I even went online a couple of weeks ago to see if I could find one for Maxine. I figured I’d store it with the other “special holiday toys” that only come out at Christmas time. Just to be clear: The nativity set wouldn’t be a decoration in our home, but rather an educational toy that is kept in Maxine’s room for one month out of the year. Anyway, I went online thinking I ought to be able to find something that would suit, and was quickly and completely overwhelmed by the options. Apparently, and I say this as a result of my tireless research into this area, this country loves itself some Baby Jesus.

On Amazon alone, I found a little something for everyone. Here is a tiny fraction of what you can find.

For those with toddlers…

 For those with a puppet theater…

For those loyal to Playmobil…

For those loyal to Lego…



For those on a budget…


For those not on a budget…


For those short on storage…

For those who love vintage…


For those who love handmade…

And for those prone to nostalgia…

The question is: Which one do I buy?