August 28, 2014

Atheist Mama: What's your secular parenting reading list?

Parenting is a journey. A very long, fun, but exhausting journey.

Secular parenting, for me, often feels lonely. All of my parent friends have the support of their respective religious communities, whereas I feel isolated. I'm starting to delve into our local secular community, but it takes time to get used to it and I haven't attended any kid-friendly events yet (although just meeting other nonbelievers was a huge morale booster).

So right now, my solace comes from reading and interacting online. Today, I'm sharing some of my favorite secular parenting resources.

You'll be seeing more about those tomes as I put together my family time project that I've been working on (yup, that's still in progress!).

These links are not sponsored, and all opinions are entirely my own.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my favorites.

On Parenting

For parenting, I've read Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, both edited and partially written by Dale McGowan. I also follow Dale's blog at The Meming of Life.

Parenting Beyond Belief

Amazon's Description

Foreword by Michael Shermer, Ph.D.
Contributors include Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, Julia Sweeney, and Dr. Donald B. Ardell 
It’s hard enough to live a secular life in a religious world. And bringing up children without religious influence can be even more daunting. Despite the difficulties, a large and growing number of parents are choosing to raise their kids without religion.
In Parenting Beyond Belief, Dale McGowan celebrates the freedom that comes with raising kids without formal indoctrination and advises parents on the most effective way to raise freethinking children. 
With advice from educators, doctors, psychologists, and philosophers as well as wisdom from everyday parents, the book offers tips and insights on a variety of topics, from "mixed marriages" to coping with death and loss, and from morality and ethics to dealing with holidays. Sensitive and timely, Parenting Beyond Belief features reflections from such freethinkers as Mark Twain, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, and wellness guru Dr. Don Ardell that will empower every parent to raise both caring and independent children without constraints.

My Experience

My favorite part of this book was that it was not a parenting guide. Wut?! Counterintuitive, much?

Not really. If freethinking is about discovering the answers for ourselves--often by synthesizing information from a wide array of sources--then this book is exactly what a freethinking parent needs.

The book approaches the subject not by offering guidance, but by presenting a variety of essays on the subject of parenting. The essays come from the point of view of parents, children raised in freethinking households, and a variety of authorities on subjects related to development. It draws from a wide variety of sources, and presents even more resources beyond what is printed in the book.

The essay-format allows the reader to experience a wide variety of viewpoints, and to glean information from each. Many of them are hilarious. Others are informative (I truly grasp the basics of evolutionary theory from one chapter, for the first time in my life). All work together though to present the challenges and advice and stories in a way that seems like you are talking to a group of friends.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

Because this is a collection of essays, you could probably comfortably check it out from the library. Just be ready to start a list for the wide variety of resources that it gives you. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I bought it and I have no regrets about the decision. #NOREGRETSDAMMIT

Raising Free Thinkers

Amazon's Description

Praised by Newsweek as “a compelling read” and Library Journal as “accessible and down-to-earth,” Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief offered freethinking parents everywhere a compassionate introduction to raising caring, ethical children without religious guidance. Now, for the more than 40 million people in the United States who identify themselves as nonreligious, Raising Freethinkers offers solutions to the unique challenges secular parents face and provides specific answers to common questions, as well as over 100 activities for both parents and their children. This book covers every important topic nonreligious parents need to know to help their children with their own moral and intellectual development, including advice on religious-extended-family issues, death and life, secular celebrations, wondering and questioning, and more. 
Complete with reviews of books, DVDs, curricula, educational toys, and online resources relevant to each chapter topic, Raising Freethinkers helps parents raise their children with confidence.

My Experience

I'm putting the cart ahead of the horse here, because I am only mostly finished with this book. But I don't feel like I'm out of line in sharing it. If something changes during the last quarter of the book, I'll let you know. ;)

This book IS a parenting guide. Each chapter tackles a different subject, with a short overview of relevant information, then launches into a Q & A section. Again, the writers manage to pull of this conversational tone that leaves me feeling like I  am just chatting with other parents.

The Q & A's tend to take the overview of information and apply it to specific concerns that could come up. This is a great format, because questioning is such a fundamental aspect of our nature.

Each chapter finishes with a set of activities, clearly noted by appropriate ages, and lists of resources. Again, McGowan's work leaves us with a jumping point to continue to grow as parents.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

This one I would buy. The activities would be good to have on hand to re-visit as necessary.

Coming Up

That's all of the parenting books I have accrued thus far, but I have a lot on my list coming up. Here's a quick rundown of the books I am looking to read on parenting (all descriptions come from Amazon):

Parenting Without God: Experiences of a Humanist Mother

by Jane Wynne Willson
Most children ask their parents about everything from death and sex to God and fairies and they expect, and deserve, sensible answers. So if you are a parent who does not hold any religious beliefs, whether you call yourself a 'Humanist' or not, how do you answer your child? The author argues that a Humanist approach to child rearing is satisfactory and honest, both for the parents and for the children. She also shows that Humanist parenting can provide a firm and sound basis for morality. She was herself brought up in a family where there was no religion and now writes from her own experiences as a mother of four grown children with children of their own. Jane Wynne Willson is a former teacher who has written books on non-religious weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies and is an active member of the Humanist movement nationally and internationally.

Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing

by Michele Borba
Gain a new understanding of moral intelligence, and a step-by-step program for its achievement from bestselling author, Michele Borba. In this indispensable book for parents, Borba has created a new break-through in conceptualizing and teaching virtue, character and values under the auspices of a measurable capacity -- Moral Intelligence. This book confronts the front-page crisis we now face in our country regarding youth violence, alienation, self-destructive behavior, cold-heartedness, lack of compassion, insensitivity, intolerance and the break down of values. The author provides a new way to understand, evaluate and inspire our kids with the seven essential virtues which comprise moral intelligence.

The War for Children's Minds

by Stephen Law
How do we raise good children? How do we make good citizens? In defiant yet acute fashion, Stephen Law urges us to re-evaluate the liberal tradition of thinking about morality. Tackling authoritarian rhetoric head-on, he argues that children should learn about right and wrong, and respect for others, but that their education should be grounded in the hard-won values of the Enlightenment. Taking on neo-conservatives and religious and media commentators, The War for Children's Minds is a candid and controversial call for a liberal, philosophically informed approach to raising children. Rejecting accusations that liberal parenting is a Sixties hangover that entails an aimless `whatever' attitude to morality, Stephen Law exposes the weaknesses of arguments calling for a return to authoritarian styles of moral education. He clearly shows that thinking for oneself does not mean that all moral points of view are equally good, or that we must reject faith in order to think freely.

Raising Lifelong Learners

by Lucy Calkins and Bellino Lydia
Here the nationally acclaimed educator who transformed the way our children learn to read and write in school shows us how to nurture our children’s imagination at home, from the earliest days of babytalk to the time when we see them off to school. Drawing upon her influential philosophy of active learning, as well as her personal experience as a parent, Calkins shows parents how to stimulate curiosity and spark creative thinking in children. Having an open and creative approach to conversations, chores, and games can matter just as much as reading, writing, and math. And even in traditional skills like reading and writing, we need to encourage our children to read for meaning and write for expression, rather than focus only on mechanics like phonics and spelling.By giving parents new and imaginative techniques for educating children, and by providing them with an insider’s view of what goes on in the early grades, Raising Lifelong Learners creates the ultimate partnership in learning between home and school, parents and teachers.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Internationally acclaimed experts on communication between parents and children, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish “are doing for parenting today what Dr. Spock did for our generation” (Parent Magazine).  Now, this bestselling classic includes fresh insights and suggestions as well as the author’s time-tested methods to solve common problems and build foundations for lasting relationships, including innovative ways to:  
·      Cope with your child's negative feelings, such as frustration, anger, and disappointment
·      Express your strong feelings without being hurtful
·      Engage your child's willing cooperation
·      Set firm limits and maintain goodwill
·      Use alternatives to punishment that promote self-discipline
·      Understand the difference between helpful and unhelpful praise
·      Resolve family conflicts peacefully 
Enthusiastically praised by parents and professionals around the world, the down-to-earth, respectful approach of Faber and Mazlish makes relationships with children of all ages less stressful and more rewarding.  

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason

By Alfie Kohn
Most parenting guides begin with the question "How can we get kids to do what they're told?" and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking, "What do kids need -- and how can we meet those needs?" What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.  
One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.  
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting -- including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents. 

All of these books are on The List to be read. I'm sure they'll come up later too.

For Kids

These are four of my favorite books (so far) for secular kids.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story

by Lisa Westberg Peters and Lauren Stringer

Amazon's Description

All of us are part of an old, old family. The roots of our family tree reach back millions of years to the beginning of life on earth. Open this family album and embark on an amazing journey. You'll meet some of our oldest relatives--from both the land and the sea--and discover what we inherited from each of them along the many steps of our wondrous past. 
Complete with an illustrated timeline and glossary, here is the story of human evolution as it's never been told before.

My Experience

I love the brevity and the accuracy. The illustrations are wonderful. The story is engaging for both my three year old and my seven year old.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

This would be fine to check out from the local library for a couple of weeks of snuggly reading.

What Do You Believe?

By DK Publishing

Amazon's Description

What do you believe? Do you know why you believe what you do? 
What Do You Believe? introduces readers to the many religions of the world and its equally numerous philosophies, from global religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, to lesser-known faiths, and from ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, to modern thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kant, and Sartre.

My Experience

A beautifully illustrated book that explores a variety of religions from a variety of viewpoints. It also talks about atheism, which is a bonus if you are like us and have kids who are watching your deconversion.

The book is factual, but also presents philosophical questions and many different answers.

Bonus: If your child is in a state that is under the Common Core State Standards, books by DK Publishing make great reading and often reinforce concepts they are learning in class, such as different types of infographics and how to get the most out of nonfiction texts. This book is a great example of a variety of the ELA standards for grades 1 through 4.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

This book is very busy. I would recommend buying it, so you can take your time and reference it for future questions. I feel like trying to cram it into a typical library loan period would result in a lot of renewals and rushing to get it all done.

What Do You Stand For? For Kids: A Guide to Building Character

By Barbara A. Lewis

Amazon's Description

Even elementary school children can build positive character traits like caring, citizenship, cooperation, courage, fairness, honesty, respect, and responsibility. The true stories, inspiring quotations, thought-provoking dilemmas, and activities in this book help kids grow into capable, moral teens and adults. Previously titled Being Your Best, this award-winning book has a fresh new cover and updated resources.

My Experience

This book starts off with a couple of quizzes to see what character traits to start with. Each chapter then aligns with the trait, with activities and thought exercises to build it. You could, conceivably, go through every chapter in order, but the book's format encourages you to focus on the chapters that have the most opportunity for growth according to your quizzes first.

I like the format because it gives kids a starting point and a goal. I don't encourage this for really small children, but my seven going on eight year old is comfortable with it.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

Definitely recommended to buy.  It takes time to get through.

In The Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World

By Virginia Hamilton

Amazon's Description

A thought-provoking collection of twenty-five stories that reflect the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind. With commentary by the author. “A must for mythology shelves.”--Booklist

My Experience

Beautifully illustrated. I think this is one of my favorite book purchases ever. I love myths, and it's been intriguing to say the least.

Hamilton provides commentary at the end of every myth that allows kids to explore the deeper themes and make connections between different traditions.

Not only does it encourage children to see myths for what they are--allegories from a time when we didn't have scientific answers--but it also encourages empathy and cultural sensitivity by pointing out the similarities between different stories from diverse backgrounds.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

You could conceivably check this one out, but be prepared to plug away at a myth or two a night to try to avoid those late fines. We bought it, and I have no regrets about the purchase.

Wrapping It Up

These are just the books I've chosen to start with.

Everyone has different needs, and I highly recommend exploring and finding the options that are best for you. In our family, I needed practical information on parenting from a secular perspective, and so that is where I started. For our kids, I need ways to introduce them to different faiths and mythologies and begin the process of encouraging true freethought, and that is why I selected these four to add to our library.

Your needs may be vastly different.

What parenting and kids books are you enjoying most?

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