With the arrival of preschoolers, the role of the adult is slowly changing.
According to a new study, preschoolers are less likely to believe in God, and are less religious than previous generations.
“Children, it turns out, are less religiously involved,” says Dr. Susanne Tucholome, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who worked with the researchers.
That makes sense given the growing number of preschool kids attending preschools.
“They’re more socially isolated, more disconnected from adults, and they’re also having more frequent contact with adults.”
A number of studies suggest that preschoolers’ brains are less developed than children, which could explain why they’re more likely to be skeptical about religion.
Tucho says that’s a good thing because preschoolers can be more socially engaged.
They’re more interested in their peers, and in sharing stories, Tuchot says.
It’s a lot easier for children to interact socially with peers, which might also help to keep children engaged.
Ticholome says preschoolers also tend to be more religious than older kids.
“It’s a really strong correlation between religiosity and religious experiences in preschool,” she says.
The study also looked at the role that preschool teachers play in preschoolers lives.
According, to the researchers, “We found that the primary teacher was a big part of the role model role in preschool children.”
Tucholt says the role-model role is important, because preschool teachers are likely to teach the preschoolers how to relate to others and how to communicate.
“So, they may be able to help children get into better and better relationships,” Tucholy says.
Tacholome and Tuchole says that a number of factors can contribute to the growth of children’s beliefs about God, including how they were raised.
For example, preschool parents may believe in the importance of a sense of purpose, or the importance that faith and religion play in their lives.
And preschoolers may be more open to questioning religion, which is another key factor for growing up to believe.
“I think we have to be careful about the way we talk about religion in children, because they’re really different from adults,” Tacholt says.
“That may be a big reason why children are more religious.
They don’t have to accept things that adults say.”
A recent study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics suggests that preschool educators can help children learn about different religious traditions and beliefs.
“Teachers may help students understand that there are different beliefs, beliefs that they might believe in, and also that different people have different beliefs,” says lead author Jessica R. Egan, a psychology professor at the College of William & Mary.
“Some of these beliefs might be very different from one another.”
That’s important because preschool educators may be teaching children about beliefs that don’t fit their own religious beliefs, Ticholt says, like atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism.
But even when children do get to talk about their own beliefs, they don’t always get to do that with the same intensity that adults do, Tacholy says, because it’s a little bit harder for preschoolers to understand what’s important to them.