Nurturing Worldviews with Children
of Religiously Liberal, Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic, and Freethought Families

"The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds irresistibly on the young, but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own." William Ellery Channing (1780-1842)

Freethought, as expressed by William Ellery Channing, is perhaps the most valued and widely applied philosophy for guiding the worldview nurturance of children by humanist, secular, and religiously liberal parents and teachers.

In 2013 Dale McGowan gave a plenary talk at a Freethinkers convention in Oklahoma that superbly conveys the freethinking style and foundations for parenting and teaching.

Also in 2013, Connie Barlow gave a presentation that grounds parental and teacher guidance of children on a foundation of evolutionary humanism — another noteworthy tradition, especially in her chosen faith of Unitarian Universalism.

DIRECTORS OF RELIGIOUS/HUMANIST/SECULAR EDUCATION in private institutions are encouraged to consider offering a half-day or multi-session workshop for teachers, volunteers, and parents of children enrolled in the programs of liberal institutions (or homeschool). The TWO VIDEOS (immediately below) would be the program content, to be followed by group or small-group discussion.

PURPOSE: to help teachers and parents actively consider options and gain clarity about their own preferences for guiding children.

NOTE: A third video (featuring Seth Andrews, at bottom of page) may also be helpful for its depiction of the strong tactics used by some Christian fundamentalist groups for "indoctrinating" children and attracting teens.

"Raising (Actual) Freethinkers"
  Freethought As Foundation

  • VIDEO (48 minutes)

  • THESIS: Although an atheist himself, Dale parents his own three children and encourages others to do so in ways that encourage youth to actively develop their own worldviews and skills in freethinking. His aim is to foster religious literacy in children without indoctrination and thus to help them interact productively with religious friends. Important, as well, is to help children develop their own moral reasoning, a healthy understanding of death, and a joyful love of life. Overall, he favors a family atmosphere that promotes fearless questioning and boundless wonder.

  • DALE MCGOWAN is co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion and Raising Freethinkers. He teaches nonreligious parenting workshops across North America and is founding executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist charitable organization. In 2008 he was named Harvard Humanist of the Year. In 2010 he delivered the Fahs Lecture at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. He writes a secular parenting blog: The Meming of Life. Dale's website hosts the Parents Beyond Belief, "a blog by, for, and about secular parents." His most recent book (2013) is Atheism for Dummies.


    00:29 presentation begins
    01:33 children pick up God belief
    03:48 Parenting Beyond Belief (diversity within)
    05:42 raising freethinkers v. atheists
    09:12 affirm a child's continuing search
    13:43 the fundamentalist approach
    16:06 what to do about Santa Claus
    21:40 what if girl wants to wear a cross?
    26:00 problem of religion: stifles curiosity
    27:55 Q: How encourage critical thinking?
    30:10 talking about masturbation
    32:03 Q: problem of hiding one's own belief
    33:28 influence — not indoctrination
    36:08 Q: dealing with fundamentalist family
    38:19 Q: talking about death and afterlife
    43:55 Q: dealing with religion in schools


    "Celebrating the Epic of Evolution"
      Evolutionary Humanism As Foundation

  • VIDEO (58 minutes)

  • THESIS: Evolution has provisioned children to not only accept but deeply imprint on what trusted adults tell them. Only when puberty looms will free-thinking arise naturally (especially if nurtured). Until then, we owe it to our children to offer them a coherent cosmology that nurtures identity and healthy values for exploring the wonder years of childhood. Failing to do so risks their falling into either the postmodern confusion of "amythia" (lack of a coherent worldview) or the allurements of religious fundamentalisms they may encounter on the playground.

  • CONNIE BARLOW, an evolutionary humanist, has been advocating the science-based "Epic of Evolution" in Unitarian Universalist and other liberal contexts (both adults and children) since 2002. Formerly a science writer specializing in evolution and ecology, she began writing children's curricula in 2001. Examples include evolutionary parables, great story beads, sacred sites of the epic of evolution, and multi-session participatory programs. She contributed the chapter, "We Are Stardust: The Epic of Evolution in Children's Religious Education" in the 2009 edited volume, The Whole World Kin: Darwin and the Spirit of Liberal Religion.


    00:25 Pt 1: How religion is failing our youth
    02:07 loss of a "one-story world"
    05:44 growing up in a "fragmented world"
    08:54 What is the Epic of Evolution?
    12:04 the malady of "amythia"
    12:38 reflect on your own childhood experience
    15:10 why children will "imprint"
    16:03 Pt 2: What can we do about it?
    21:30 Born with a Bang kids books
    22:36 don't teach bible stories (says Sophia Fahs)
    23:06 "evolutionary parables" (4 examples)
    31:01 stardust: science + curriculum
    38:57 teaching about death
    42:42 Great Story Beads curriculum + timeline
    51:19 "We Are All Cousins" curriculum
    54:55 children sing evolution song

  • Note: Both Dale McGowan and Connie Barlow approve of the above summaries and content listings for their videos. Seth Andrews also approves of the summary and contents list of his video, below.

    ADDENDUM: Dale McGowan was interviewed by Seth Andrews on "The Thinking Atheist" Radio Podcast series. Titled "Secular Parenting", this podcast (#119) aired 23 July 2013. Listen to the AUDIO interview. Highlights are when Dale talks about how he peacefully navigated the religious components of child-raising with his Christian wife (even the issue of baptism). Near the end you will hear his calm wisdom in advising a secular call-in listener about a very difficult issue following divorce from a religious spouse — that is, how do you respond to a five-year-old who says, "Mommy told me you were going to hell."

    Additional Video Resource

    "Get Them While They're Young"

    Seth Andrews spoke in 2013 at the Freethought conference in Oklahoma. A former fundamentalist and Christian Radio host, Andrews is now a leading atheist and producer of the most-viewed atheist online videos: TheThinkingAtheist (youtube channel). Here he vividly describes (and illustrates) how biblical literalists use highly effective carrot and stick approaches to allure both children and teens into an unquestioning faith.

    DIRECT VIDEO LINKS: • 00:01 presentation begins • 02:52 creationists use dinosaurs to allure kids • 08:51 teaching kids to never question the bible • 09:50 bible games and superheroes • 19:25 alluring teens • 23:16 Christian Haunted and Hell Houses • 28:03 Seth's personal story of the power of Christian fear • 35:23 clip of "Jesus Camp" video • 36:50 personal story of being rejected by his own father • 39:25 Seth's powerful anti-fundamentalist video: "Welcome to the World"