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Interfaith activities are often left to adults, yet respect for other religions is ideally taught at a young age. Children’s natural curiosity about the world presents a wonderful opportunity to share about other belief systems. Here are some ideas for activities to encourage the values of friendship, respect, and unity when exploring other religions.
1) Themed Play Dates: Friendship
In our family we have found great success in inviting our friends to themed play dates. This idea came from our wonderful local multicultural mothers group (MUM), which hosts a variety of playgroups for young children based on learning aspects of different cultures, including religions.
These play dates are typically held in a home, which helps create a warm, friendly atmosphere. The emphasis is on sharing part of your family’s way of life with friends. Often this is done through food, crafts, stories, and games. For example, this past year my family hosted a spring party for preschoolers to celebrate the Bahá’í New Year (Naw-Rúz). We did a daffodil craft, ate fun foods, and generally celebrated the season.
Be sure to make the activities appropriate to the age of the children participating. Simple stories and activities are appropriate for young children, while older children may enjoy learning more about the historical aspects of a holiday, or the beliefs behind particular practices.
2) Outings to Places of Worship: Respect
Children will also gain valuable experiences through visiting a mosque, church, or temple of a faith other than their own. It is one thing to read a book or hear a story about other forms of worship, but quite another to see the altars and hear the chanting.
The emphasis here is on respect for the way others worship God. Be sure to research ahead of time the appropriate behaviors at the house of worship you will be visiting. For example, when we went to a Sikh temple with our multicultural mothers group, we learned the importance of removing our shoes and covering our heads before entering. In some cases children may be exempt from these rules, but often not.
Also keep in mind that the experience may at first be overwhelming, especially for young children. If needed, keep the experience short so to make sure they are left with a positive impression. A few minutes after the worship service began at the Sikh temple, for example, my three-year-old became agitated and wanted to leave. We took a break in the hallway to help him acclimatize a bit more then returned when he was ready. He definitely enjoyed the shared meal afterward!
For older children, inquire about attending educational classes or having an exchange with other children. For instance, when I was young, the local Unitarian Universalist church invited our youth group to attend one of their services and afterwards participate in a panel discussion with young people from other religious groups.
Sometimes the worship services themselves can be interfaith. When I was growing up, the city’s interfaith bureau arranged an interfaith Thanksgiving service every year, hosted by one of its members. Representatives from each religious group shared a scripture or song about being thankful then afterwards shared a meal.
3) Virtues Classes: Unity
Virtues classes are a popular way to teach values universal to many faiths. They may be based on the scriptures of one particular religion or may draw on those of many, as in the outstanding Virtues Project. The emphasis here is on learning the spiritual truths common across all the major world religions, as a bridge to understanding what links our faiths.
Again, these activities can be tailored to suit the age and temperament of the children. For young children, the classes may center on learning simple quotations and doing activities based on a virtue. Teachers could engage older children in dialogue about the virtues being taught or challenge the student to discover quotes from different religions about the virtues.
Exploring other religions with your children can be rewarding and fun. Choose a variety of activities to keep their interest and help them discover different aspects of other forms of worship. Tailor these to suit the age and temperament of the child, and remember to emphasize friendship, respect, and unity.
Leanna GM is a stay-at-home mother to of two. She draws inspiration from the writings of the Bahá’í Faith and tries to raise her sons in a fun, spiritual, loving environment. You can find Leanna online at All Done Monkey, on Facebook, Twitter (@alldonemonkey), and Pinterest. She is also the founder of Multicultural Kid Blogs.
Updated on 9.25.13