"Go and get the books off the religion bit" I said to A earlier. Off she went to the bottom left corner of the left-hand bookcase in the living room and pulled out a pile of books. "Why, what is it today?" she said. "Hanukkah". A dutifully looked up Hanukkah in the indexes and put back the Usborne Young Reading Diwali in favour of The Story of Hanukkah.
"Why do we have to look at the religion books anyway?" said C, with just enough of the whinge in his tone to get my hackles rising. Unfortunately for him, I had just listened to the news, which was telling the sad tale of the Iranian born Bristol man who was murdered by two of his neighbours, who wrongly assumed he was a paedophile. It followed a campaign of bullying which made me feel sick and very, very sad.
My Understanding Cultural Difference speech went on for some time. Time enough for C to agree that looking at the books was a good idea, anyway, whether or not because he was persuaded by my argument, or because he decided that reading about Hanukkah was infinitely more interesting than listening to Mummy rant at him.
Kids have an inherent interest in what other people get up to. They are essentially nosey. This is why good RE books and teaching are so important. If children are brought up to understand why people look/dress/pray/don't pray/eat the way they do, and it is seen as a normal everyday thing that people are not all the same, then that is the sentiment they grow up with. Babies are not born with prejudices, and it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to stop these from forming - for everyone's sake. Can we achieve this through "label this picture of a church"? No. But good RE encourages children to think about what makes human experience, why people might be motivated to do the things they do.
One of our favourite books when the kids were about 3-5 was this one which follows a day in the life of four children around the world. It's lift-the-flap, which always helps, but they were genuinely interested in Keiko's school, and why all of the children had to wear special school slippers rather than outdoor shoes, for example.
What Do You Believe? by Dorling Kindersley is a good one for KS2 children, and is arranged as a series of questions. It's a little crazily arranged for the adult eye, but has good snippets of information about different belief systems, including atheism. It also answers very difficult questions such as "If religions preach peace, why is everyone fighting?" and "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It doesn't give easy answers. Even the title of the book is not easy, as I would imagine most people's answer would be something along the lines of "well, I'm not really sure." Perhaps that's just me. I subscribe to Father Ted's view that the hospitals are far too full of people who thought a little bit too much about religion.
A was having a look at this book. When asked what she thought, she said "it's good, but I can't be bothered to explain why I think that because I'm still in a mard with you for making me put my clothes away before I was properly dry". Fair enough. It has the most gorgeous pictures, and I think will come in very handy for KS3 RE homework.
It has to be said, the food pages of any religion-based book are always the most popular in our house. Once again, whilst I insisted that a cursory description of the actual story behind Hanukkah was given, the kids wanted to focus on what there was to eat. "It's basically stuff fried in oil. That's awesome." "Well, you see, it's fried in oil because.." "yeah, we know the miracle of the oil and stuff. So which side of the dreidl means you win ALL of the chocolate coins then?"
Ah well. Sharing food is an absolutely brilliant way of enhancing cultural understanding. I am going to go with that as a reason for my offspring being obsessed by what food is eaten in other cultures and religions. Definitely food sharing as cultural exchange. Nothing to do with the fact that they are a pair of gannets. And it's better than their previous obsession with presents which led A to declare a couple of years ago that she was going to convert to Judaism because "they get eight whole days of presents, whereas we only get one." What was that about coveting your neighbour's ass?