I am having a dilemma: there is a preschool close to us that seems wonderful in every single way, but it is part of a church. It is open to non-church members, and one review I read said that the religious aspect was "not overbearing", but I am still nervous about it. It is a Montessori school, which is what I want, and of all the Montessori schools around, it is the ONLY one that we can even come close to affording. The guide and assistant are fantastic, and when I observed in the classroom, I felt really great about it. It's only now, after talking with a friend who said she would never send her kid to a religious school, that I am questioning.
Have any of you sent a child to a religious school when you weren't religious or of a different religion? Is there a way to explain things to my child to bridge the gap? A respectful way to make sense of what they are saying while also communicating to her that it is just one of many ways to interpret the world? When a child is 3 years old, is it really important for all the major adults in her life to share the same worldview?
I'd really appreciate any insight you have to offer!
Two of my best friends grew up attending religous-based schools that were for different religions than their families practiced. One family was LDS (Mormon) and the children attended a Jewish school. The other one from an Agnostic family and attended a Catholic school taught by nuns. Neither of them seem any worse for the wear. Their parents were open to the children being exposed to religious beliefs that varied from their own, and would teach their children at home regarding their own beliefs. When we've talked about it as adults, neither of them thought it was conflicting or difficult as a child. I would say go for it.
We don't think it is important that all adults in our kids lives share the same world view - actually, we think it is important that they don't all share the same world view! We explain religion as a belief system that is very personal, that most religions have the same ideals (loving people, being kind, etc) with different ways of expressing that and that every person has to decide what they believe, etc. We also explain that no religion is better than the other or "right". We have books on different religions, know families of different religions and attend events related to different religions. So when explaining religious stories or practices to our son, we explain that "some people believe that....." but not everyone holds the same beliefs.
So, I would say that if the school is a good fit in many other ways, and you find the aspects of religion that are drawn in to the classroom are something you feel comfortable enough with, I wouldn't rule it out just because of the religious component.
There's a preschool connected to a church a few blocks away and whereas our kids didn't go there I have friends whose kids did (and the families weren't religious). They only brought in religion during story time once a week-- it was a christian story, jesus stuff, etc. It didn't seem like a huge deal. I would investigate how much religion is brought in to the classroom and go from there.
Jean, feminist mama raising three boys: W (7), E (5) and L (2.15.13)
My dd did her second year of preschool at a Jewish preschool near our house. We are not remotely Jewish. There was a fair bit of religious curriculum - there was a big focus on Shabbat and on learning a blessing in Hebrew, they learned a song for each Holy Day in the year, and we got a lot of craft projects featuring frogs around Passover. My dh spent more time in the classroom than I did. They had a pledge about Israel that they said each morning.
The school was really, really close to our house. DD rode her scooter to school most mornings. The staff were lovely and caring. Every time a kid drew a picture, someone asked them what it was a picture of and wrote exactly what the kid said on the picture. I loved that. They sent us a welcome loaf of Challah at the beginning of the year. I'm picky about where my kids go, but the occasional, mild issues I had surrounding school (and which I would probably have surrounding any school) had nothing to do with the religious curriculum.
Check it out before you assume that they really bring religion into the classroom. Both my kids attended a church-affililated pre-school (the school was a "mission" of the Methodist church), but it was truly non-religious. There were so many ethnicities/religions there that they actually did not celebrate holidays at all, except the festivals/celebrations specific to the school - a Harvest dinner, International Family Day, etc. We had a great time there.
Mom "D" to DD1 "Z" (15) and DD2 "I" (11) DH "M"
My boys go to a religious (Anglican) school and we are atheist. It isn't a problem. They are told stories, go to Church for Christmas/harvest etc. and we talk about it at home. They have both been through quite a religious phase but I think a lot of children of that age do. I just say, 'Daddy and I don't believe that but it's fine if you want to'. The 'Christian principles' of the school aren't really things anyone could argue with; sharing, kindness, tolerance.
We are in the UK, however, where I believe the religious climate is a little different.
I'm ethnically/culturally Jewish and DH is an atheist (from a Catholic family). Our DS went to a Catholic pre-K through the middle of 2nd grade. We felt completely comfortable. They got bible stories (mostly from Jewish scripture! "Old Testament") once every so often, did little craft projects such as Noah's ark and that was about it. The school explicitly said that it was open to families of all backgrounds and faiths which also helped us feel more comfortable. Honestly, I think it's great DS got a background in some of these stories that are central to our cultural heritage, whether you believe in them or not.DS' now at a Waldorf school and we're not anthroposophists! It's just a great fit for him as a person and I love the focus on mythology, also as a part of our cultural heritage.
So . . . all this to say, I think religiously-based schools *can* be a great fit. However, you really have to check out how religious they are and if that religion can fit in enough with what you believe. For instance,(to counter-balance all these positive stories) an atheist-Jewish couple of our acquaintance briefly sent their DD to a protestant school and quickly moved her back out. That school is quite religious, including daily prayers, songs about Jesus, and a strong focus on the centrality of the bible. Not a good fit for them at all and they should have investigated further before sending their DD there. They assumed it would be like the Catholic school where we sent our DS and it definitely wasn't.
we are non-Catholic and my DD attended a Catholic K and was on a waiting list for another catholic school-when she got in we got a phone call asking why we didn't take the discount plan (because of the parish) I explained we were not Catholic and the other school was shocked! My DD knew far more vs the kids at the other Catholic school (those being Catholic)- we ended up leaving in 2nd (teacher issue/home-schooled)-2nd also was a year when the children were preparing for their first communion and being a non-Catholic (and there were others in her grade as well) it did really separate the children-after we left all the other non-Catholic children left within two years- I later learned that many non-catholics did not do will at 2nd grade when the push for the first communion started (there was lots of in-class prep besides out of school prep) and the school later reversed their policy and no longer does any communion prep in school
1st grade also started Brownies (held after school at the school)-you may deal with a Daisy issue like the Brownie one we did- the troop worked on their religious award they told me flat out my DD was banned (I even went to council over it!) and she ended up earning another religious award but they would not let her take part in the award ceremony and receive it with the others- in 1st grade she earned the Hindu award (we had a wonderful ashram and they were very welcoming and open and could care less that we were not Hindus) in 2nd she earned a Hebrew award- we attended a local synagogue and we ended up with a great Rabbi that had only one other girl DD's age who was in GS and she later went on to attend another GS troop not affiliated with a church
as the others have said, it is really important to know exactly what and how they present the religious teaching-what is mild to one is not to another-some children are fine with it-others are not
looking back my DD felt religious alienation not from the children but mostly from the parents and their attitude towards others not of their religion (she mostly disliked her GS troop leader and that left a lasting impression)
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My kids are unschoolers who briefly (for seven weeks) tried school. Because the local public school wasn't an option, we decided on a Montessori that had a Catholic overview but was not operated by the local diocese. Religious education was optional, and the students who were enrolled in religion were pulled out of the classroom, instead of the non-Catholic students having to leave the classroom. I was very reluctant (I'm a former Catholic turned atheist who has lots of baggage) but dh wasn't so concerned and thought we should let the kids try it out. We visited and the facility itself was lovely, full of natural light. The children seemed happy and fairly relaxed, and our kids had a wonderful visit. One of the kids didn't want to leave.
We ended up enrolling our kids, and it wasn't a great experience. There were lots of problems unrelated to religion (and largely due to the fact that the kids are very autonomous learners, who found they didn't like having so little freedom over their learning). However, there were some problems related to religion, too. One of my kids was accidentally sent to religion class the first week of school, and while the teacher apologized to my kid for the mistake, she didn't bother to tell me about it. My children (including the third grader, who is an excellent reader) was sent home with a flyer for a pro-life rally the school was participating in, and I didn't really appreciate being put on the spot to explain abortion to my eight-year-old, nor am I a fan of involving third-graders in abortion politics in general. There were frequent references, just mixed in with classroom life, to Catholic teachings and God's will, etc. Of course, it was a private school and their right to do this, but I never would have guessed from our previous visit how intense the Catholic focus was. I think the school probably was fine for people who were of various Christian faiths, but not for non-Christians.
My advice is to be really honest about what your tolerance level is. Also, I'd set up a private meeting to ask questions about different situations that might concern you.
I wouldn't have problems with a school affiliated with a religion unless the curriculum was based on revisionist history or some biblical view of science (i.e. the earth is only 5000 years old). I wouldn't mind my child learning about tradition in her own culture or religious tradition in other cultures, but if the education itself is based on one dogma, then absolutely not, I would not subject my child to that sort of education. I think first I would take a long, hard look at the educational philosophy. If the children are required participate in observances or whatever, that is okay, but if the education revolves around a faith-based spin on history and science, no.
I thought that these two points were very important. I'd definitely be honest if you are atheist, for instance, and see what type of a response you get from the teachers and administration as well as other parents whose kids attend the preschool.
Also in regard to Ruby's post, we've found that even some public schools utilize "character education" programs that skirt the line between church and state very, very closely and sometimes overstep it. My dh is atheist and I lean pretty much toward Buddhist. Our neighborhood public school, which dds attended for K and my oldest for a bit longer, had a character education program that was created by a religious group. The character traits that they taught about deliberately excluded tolerance (I asked about that trait when dd was told by her classmates that God wanted her to eat meat and that she was going to get sick and die b/c she didn't and after a little girl approached me after school to tell me that my dd was going to go to hell b/c she didn't have Jesus in her heart). We were told that some parents didn't want their children to be taught to tolerate things that they believed were wrong (i.e. my dd's family's religious differences and vegan diet).
I guess that I'd say that in addition to being upfront about how much your beliefs may differ from those of the church that runs the preschool, it might be worthwhile to meet parents of other kids who attend the school and see if they are "your people." We have, for the past six years, driven our children to different schools in a different school district b/c the fit for us socially and otherwise is much better which leans toward it being better for our kids as well.