Stories for Our Children and the Rest of Us
Groundbreaking Interfaith Curriculum Being Published
by Paul Chaffee
Interfaith Made Easy may initially inspire caustic remarks like “then it can’t be much about interfaith.” A closer look by either novice or seasoned interfaith activists is likely to inspire awe and appreciation. It is a long-term educational project based on the notions that “we are all on life-long faith journeys,” beginning when we’re children, and that all of humankind’s religious/spiritual traditions contain treasure that can inform and improve our lives.
However, Interfaith Made Easy is the least sexy kind of publication you can imagine – a curriculum for preschool, elementary, and middle school kids, ages 3 to 11. Wait – don’t stop reading! If you are interested in interfaith, you need to know about Interfaith Made Easy. This curriculum is about the birth and development of the spiritual journey in each one of us, starting with three-year-olds, and it reaches into the depths of what it means to be a person in community, enjoying a glorious creation in an exciting but frightening environment, illuminated by myths and religious stories from around the world. Congregations beta-testing the curriculum observed how adults wanted to get involved with what their kids were learning.
Vicki Garlock, who created the curriculum, points out that this is an alternative approach to interreligious education. Where the standard “Huston Smith” approach emphasizes basic theological, philosophical propositions – the Eight-Fold Path, the Five Pillars of Wisdom, the Ten Commandments, and so on – her “approach has been to look at the stories.” Her curriculum is grounded in a 10-year collection of hundreds of stories from the world’s spiritual and religious traditions.
Along with the Abrahamic traditions, these tales are drawn from South and East Asian religions, as well as Pagan, Sub-Saharan, and Indigenous traditions. And while it is called “A Christian Education Curriculum for Kids,” its Christianity is mainly expressed as a welcoming, non-judgmental inclusive attitude towards all religious, spiritual traditions.
Five volumes devoted to Peace will be published this year. The first, launched this month, is for Preschool-Kindergarten children (3-6 years of age) – over 180 pages of stories, activity suggestions, resources, and arts and craft possibilities. Unlike most religious curricula for children, where you purchase several different items, Interfaith Made Easy is an “all in one” approach. Each volume gives a facilitator/teacher all the tools necessary for the task. No expertise in world religions is required, just a willingness to learn from these stories even as the children learn.
In this first volume, three kinds of stories are selected for the youngsters to study: stories about Peace-makers, Peace for the World, and Finding Your Own Peace. In the process, 15 tales are explored in depth, drawn from Buddhist, Christian, Hasidic, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Native American, Sikh, Sub-Saharan, and Sufi sources.
Volume two of the 2018 Peace series, for Lower Elementary kids (6-9 years), highlights a different set of stories and publishes on May 1. Volume three, for Upper Elementary children (9-12 years), arrives on July 1, and the Middle School (11-15 years) volume comes on September 1. Finally, Peace Stories from the World’s Faith Traditions, full of peace stories for all ages, will launch in time for the holiday gift season.
Each of the four curricular volumes contains 15 lesson plans, each one focusing on a particular story. Lesson plans run from about ten to a dozen pages. Every story comes with engaging, age-appropriate questions as well as illustrative photos and graphics. Arts and craft projects come with lists of easy-to-obtain supplies. A sample lesson plan from the Preschool volume, which focuses on an African story about an elephant and hippopotamus who refuse to fight, gives a sense of the scope of each lesson plan.
The 2018 peace books are Unit One of Interfaith Made Easy. Future units will address Embracing the Darkness, World Creation Stories, Compassion, and Awe & Wonder.
Where Did This Come From?
First, full disclosure: Vicki Garlock has been a TIO Correspondent for the past three years, writing an article almost every month about interreligious education for kids. TIO was created, in part, to give voice to important interfaith news, opinion, and resources usually ignored by major media. Interreligious curricula for children totally qualifies – critically important and usually ignored.
Vicki comes to this interfaith ministry with impressive credentials. She did her undergraduate work in psychology at Brown and a Ph.D. in neuroscience and cognitive development at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. She spent eleven years as a psychology professor at Warren Wilson College teaching learning/cognition and human development. She left academe in 2008 to found Faith Seeker Kids and be hired as Nurture Coordinator (what used to be called Church School Superintendent) by Jubilee! Community Church in Ashville, North Carolina. Jubilee! became the laboratory for her work in interfaith storytelling for children.
Jubilee! is an independent congregation with Methodist roots and an emphasis on what Matthew Fox has called Creation Spirituality. Dr. Garlock is clear that her work grows out of a Christian context and that the Bible is a primary text in her curriculum. But there is nothing dogmatic or doctrinaire here, no dependence on a Judeo-Christian context or framework. Rather, one finds a welcoming attitude to all people who have told each other stories that make the world make sense for them. Indeed, Vicki’s teaching staff at Jubilee! includes non-Christians.
In TIO’s September 2015 issue, Vicki tells the story of her own personal journey, now blossoming in Interfaith Made Easy. She talks about her concern for the faith development of her two children: “I wanted them to possess the tools they would need to find their religious and spiritual home in our complex world. I wanted them to recognize how all religions attempt to address core human conditions and emotions. I wanted them to appreciate the various options for thinking about and connecting with the Divine. I wanted them to combat fear, intolerance, and extremism on a daily basis, simply by how they lived their lives.”
Vicki’s new curriculum ensures that parents everywhere can wish the same things for their children and know that there are now resources to make those wishes come true. Peace-Volume One costs $49.99 digitally, or $69.99 for a hardcopy version. For congregations, interreligious educators, indeed for parents everywhere, that is very nearly a give-away. You can meet her at the Reimagining Interfaith gathering in Washington D.C. July 29-August 1, where she will be offering a Kids Track. She is also on the program committee for the Children's Program of the Parliament of World Religions, to be held November 1-7 in Toronto.
Header Photo: Vincent_AF, C.c. 2.o sa