Like I said... I'm a non-stop talker and this is one of my fav topics so please, just wave a white flag or something when you've had too much!
Neo-pagan and historical pagan- you've hit on one of the divisions. "Historical pagan" or "classical pagan" generally refers to people practicing a non-christian religion in the past. However, neo-pagan is a bit harder to define. Some modern pagans practice what are called "reconstruction" or "recon" religions... members of these religions try to the best of their ability (lots of research, history, archaeology, etc) to practice their religion the way it would have been done thousands of years ago. So they learn the original language, do a lot of research, often adopt the traditions of the culture that supported the original religion, learn traditional crafts or practices of that culture, etc. Perhaps think of some of the Orthodox christian groups as a comparison? The religion and it's surrounding practices are preserved as "unchanged" as possible since the underlying belief is that the religion "has it right the way it is" and so to change it would be to lose or dilute something special/sacred.
Now, these "recon" groups are technically modern... and so might be considered "neo-pagan" but the people who practice these faiths would probably dispute that categorization. Just like someone in an orthodox christian group might dispute being placed in the same group as, say, a charismatic protestant group that has a more "recent" founding and "fluid" set of ritual practices. If that makes sense?
And some "modern" pagans are no more "neo" than "modern" chirstians. They are simply following the teachings and traditions of their people as they have evolved over time. So religions like those practiced by some First Nation groups, or in more isolated regions of the globe, or among communities that have simply carried their religions forward through the generations. The members of these religions are "modern" and their religion is "modern" but it's not a modern invention or recreation. Just like the christianity today is not the christianity of 2000 years ago but you wouldn't call the church on the corner a "neo-christian" church (well, you know what I mean
Self identified neo-pagan individuals and groups tend to be more fluid... they are often more open to adopting beliefs, practices, or symbols from a wide variety of historical religions as well as placing importance on individual revelation. Meaning they can change quickly to accomodate current cultural trends and are more focused on individual/personal beliefs since they are knowingly creating something new instead of trying to rebuild something that existed before. Similar maybe to a home church with just a few families or one of those smaller charismatic christian churches that exists at the community level (instead of at a national/international level)? In smaller groups the specific needs and beliefs of the individual members can be addressed, and their "flavor" varies a lot depending on the members and the leader. A congregational christian community in town A may be very different from a congregational christian community in town B ten miles down the road and it's the same thing with many neo-pagan groups... each one is different and will have different beliefs, practices, and "style".
May Poles- yes... the original symbolism is, well, more or less just sexual. A fertility ritual for the land/community. It's one reason why a traditional May Pole was danced with a specific number of ribbons and with a specific boy/girl ratio (certainly not children, pregnant women, elders) and wasn't to be cut down during the year.
But like so many other things, the May Pole has mostly passed from "ritual activity with specific sacred focus" to "folk tradition that looks good on tourist brochures" and in the process the meaning has changed. I have to admit I always get a giggle when I see people dancing a May Pole with no idea of the symbolic history, but like I said, I'm a religion geek and easily amused.
Children and ritual- It's hard to generalize since there is such a wide variety of practices and beliefs in the Pagan umbrella. Two very popular books about including children in pagan or nature based faiths are Circle Round
(published by members of Reclaiming
, so it's very strongly influenced by the specific beliefs and ritual practices of this group) and Celebrating the Great Mother
(a more generic "good for any family interested in celebrating nature" sort of book, it's my personal favorite and is a good choice for families that aren't necessarily pagan but want to add more seasonal/natural activities).
But like anything, different pagan groups involve children to different degrees. Some groups are adult only, some are more focused on family participation, others arrange seperate activities for children while the adults have their own ritual. Same thing with many christian groups... some have nursery or RE for the children while the parents attend the service, others expect families to stay together, some offer a "children's church" service at a different time than the regular service.
And the reasons for the different styles are pretty similar... some groups feel that information should be presented at an age appropriate (or attention span appropriate) level. So the kiddos might enjoy a holy day celebration focused more on the "fun stuff" while the adults participate in a ritual or sermon that delves deeper into the symbolic meanings or responsibilities that come along with that holy day. Like a child's bible that tells a simpler version of stories, leaving out the deeper complexities until the child is better able to understand the context or the meaning behind the complete story.
Hmmmm... this may be a polarizing example, but the christian All Saint's Day and the pagan Samhain celebrations come to mind. In some christian communities children are encouraged to attend church based Harvest Festivals where they can dress up, share sugary treats, and learn a bit about the beliefs of their faith surrounding death and the afterlife. The adults in these communities are probably not just dressing up and eating candy but are instead participating in more serious rituals honoring the dead, praying for salvation, and exploring the role of death/dying/renewal in their personal lives as well as in their wider spiritual community. Obviously the specific focus varies by christian community, but in general you might expect to find the children indulging in some sort of celebration with a little philosophy thrown in while the adults participate in a deeper spiritual event with some celebration on top. Same thing with Samhain (which is basically a celebration of the cycle of life-death-life and a time to honor the ancestors and remember the dead though again the specifics will vary by pagan group). The children might be dressing up and eating sugar with a few ritual activities mixed in while the adults focus more on the deeper meaning of death as part of life. A child might find a ritual devoted to death and dying more than they could handle emotionally, so the two rituals (the one for children and the one for adults) might be kept seperate. A "fun" ritual for the kiddos and a "deeper/scarier appearing" ritual for the adults.
Personally, I was raised in a very conservative and all-encompassing catholic community. Weekly fasts, daily mass, family bible reading and rosary before bed, the whole nine yards. So when I started exploring paganism and non-christian religions I also felt a lot of "wow" crossed with "scary". Sometimes when a thing is very similar the differences become more disturbing... in part because you expect one thing and get something different? And since pagan images were often placed in a negative light during the conversion process there is a lot of unconscious emotional baggage surrounding certain symbols now if you've been raised in a standard christian community.
After I left the christian umbrella I practiced in a recon faith for a while (it was a comfortable "stepping stone" since recon faiths are organized, have set beliefs and practices, there is a clergy, etc). Then I joined Reclaiming (the group mentioned above) and really enjoyed the natural/environmental/social revolution aspect of the group (Reclaiming focuses a lot of gender issues, social equality, peace efforts, conservation, etc). Plus while it has a fairly clear organization with ritual formats and specific traditions/songs/celebrations it's more fluid with more opportunity for self experession and determination. Eventually I moved away from Reclaiming and now describe myself as a Kitchen Witch with Reclaiming roots.
I'm in a blended family... DH is christian, I'm pagan. We attend a Unitarian Universalist church to provide a common family spiritual experience for our children and then practice a more specifically nature based religion at home. So far it works for us. DH and I share a lot of very similar beliefs (though we tend to describe them differently) and agree that there is "no one true way for everyone". Hopefully it'll keep on working out and our girls will have the experience, knowledge, love, and support they need to find their own paths as they grow!