I am aware that this question is more a parenting question.
The reason I ask the question is, to me and many young children around me, it was just told that idol worship in a temple is holy and wish-fulfilling. Some think is a very narrow definition of religion and feel there has to be a better way. Also, teaching them meditation and such may not be appropriate till they attain a reasonable age.
While children don't question our opinions and will accept what we say, have any Hindu rishis, saints or gurus thought about this and found a mature way of introducing Hinduism to children in various stages of their upbringing?
Do any of our scriptures also prescribe a way to do this i.e., how to introduce Hinduism to children?
Note: I'm not looking for personal opinions of users on this website!
Let me start from the last question, YES, there is prescribed ways in our texts. Shodasa Sanskara is the answer for your question.
The parenting actually starts before the birth of your child. Because it is scientifically proven that the child learn when it is in the womb. The thoughts of mother at the time of pregnancy will deeply influence the child. Take the case of Prahlada, Rishi Narada told stories of Vishnu while Prahlada was in womb of his mother, which helped him to become a great bhaktha of Lord Vishnu.
So according to Hindu culture there are some practices to be followed until the birth of the child when one women is pregnant. Actually the time of conceiving a child and mindset of husband and wife will influence the child.Most Brahmins communities used to follow these rituals in connection with major events in their lives, such as pregnancy, childbirth, education, marriage, and death. These are known as Shodasa Sanskara or 16 Samskaras.
The very first of these Sanskara have an important role in deciding your child's behavior,
Literally it means, gifting the womb, is the act of conception. This is the first sacrament which followed immediately on every matrimonial union. There are a number of rites performed before conception. Brahmin community usually follow Shanthi Muhurtha, which is decided based on the astrology.When one child is conceived at a Uttama Shanti Muhurtha, he will have it's benefits and qualities.
This is the second of the 16 Sanskaras and starts after the 2nd or 3rd month after the Garbhadhana. As the food of mother will effect and influence child, this sanskara instruct what food items and medicines to have during pregnancy. The pregnant woman should have a calm and quite mind. It instruct not to be angry, not to be listen or involve in any bad karmas. (Now in the modern era, they must avoid watching violence in films, serials, and any other activities including angry, sorrow, etc.).
This is performed for the right growth of the child and to have the pureness of the mind of pregnant woman. It starts at the 4th month of pregnancy. At this stage, child will form his/her body parts. During this period hearing good songs or keerthana will help the child to be an expert in art. This is like growing a plant, if you give enough water and fertilizers, you get beautiful flowers:).
These are just a small summary of these practices, very short in fact. In Gharbadana Sanskara itself there are numerous practices such as eating sattwik food items, need of Brahmacharya before the marriage, etc. The above practices are related to parents rather than the children, so first of all parents must be aware of such practices and follow them. Fortunately, our ancestors was very keen in developing a good society by instructing to follow such practices.
Now I can ask you why was Vivekanada born in India? Why was so many great saints and intellectuals born in India? You have your answer, don't you?
Another question, Why was Brahmin people not involved in any violence compared to other communities? Because now also they follow Shodasa Sanskara practices as such, so the children are born with intelligence and good qualities. Yes, India have the power to change the world in it's culture.
There was a one day class about these 16 Sanskaras in our area and it was taken by acharya Dr.Sreenath Karayatt(clinical hypno terapist(RMP) at Psychology), Kozhikode, Kerala. He works with Sreshtacharasabha in Kozhikode. It was very useful for all people, especially for young people who are yet to marry. He has represented India in international conferences regarding this subject. Here is his facebook profile, you may contact him for the details. I will request him to provide a detailed answer in the stackexchange if possible.
And for the young children around you,
Let them hear stories from their grand parents, let them hear stories from our puranas like Ramayana, Srimad Bhagavata, Mahabharatha,etc. Panchathanthra will be also helpful for small ones. It will make them capable of identifying what is good and bad in their life. It is not just for introducing them to Hinduism. Our stories introduce them to the Life.
Let them develop the habit of reading books, introduce great saints like Swami Vivekanda through small books will be great. Then eventually give them the books like Bhagavat Geeta.(Keep them out of mobile and internet until they are capable of using them wisely. If they fall in love with the books, you don't need worry about that much).
Let them know the science in our culture. Make them aware of the benefits of Yoga. Now most of the western countries insist to follow yoga for physical and mental health in schools. We don't need to look to west for that, but we need to realize ourselves and should follow such practices in our daily life.
Teach them to practice vrathas and fast from the childhood. Explain them the benefits of those practices, you may not need to explain them first as children will not ask for them. When they ask explain them.
As @sai has mentioned, teach them to chant Mantras like Gayathri Manthra. Introduce great words from Vedas and upanishads like 'Ahimsa Paramo Dharma' , 'Sathymeva Jayathe',etc. when possible.
Most importantly SANSKRIT, help them to learn SANSKRIT
Swami Vivekananda said he wanted children from an early age to be taught Advaita, not only worshiping murthis. There is an old story of a queen that rocked her children to sleep when they were babies with "Soham, soham"
I myself started reading about Brahman and first tried meditating when I was 8 years old.
My guru's father had him start memorizing the Upanishads when he was 4 or 5.
Children's minds are very pliable. You will be amazed at what they can start doing at an early age.
Is he a man who worships idols, or meditates, or chants names of Hindu deities 16x108 times daily, or the one who is tolerant?
Notice that I am just talking about what a Hindu appears to do on the outside.
Like when someone who wants to recreate a continuous function from discrete samples, you also want to recreate a "Hindu" by sampling as many physical traits, outward appearances of a "Hindu". But believe me, there is NO "sampling theorem" valid for such recreation.
Even if one mugs up all the verses in Upanishads, he can NOT exactly simulate a true "Hindu brainwave". And this is why Hinduism is NOT like Christianity, or Islam. It is NOT a Religion, rather it's a way of life. It's NOT to be "followed word-to-word" either (like what Christian and Muslim scholars do), rather it's to be "absorbed" instead.
So the "definition of religion" is irrelevant here in case of a Hinduism. Many westerners have tried to "define" Hinduism, the same way they defined Abrahamic religions. But they ALL ended up in creating MORE confusion and false interpretations, about it.
A child's brain is mostly plastic. He learns what he sees. Indeed, the "sampling" of traits and habits, that I mentioned earlier, suits an immature mind (of a kid), and not to a grown up.
So first you should ask yourself whether you ARE a real, "mature" Hindu yourself, or Hinduism is just another "good thing" for you. Again, remember that one can NOT just read a bundle of pages and be Hindu.
Frankly, there is NO "prescribed way to do this in any of our literature", nor there can be such a thing. Because in Hinduism, Spiritual transformation of a human occurs ONLY through another human being (whom we call 'Guru') and NOT solely through some DEAD pile of text (which are just tools). All important is an enlightened Guru. And in fact, a Hindu is REALLY HARD to "follow", but is REALLY EASY to "see through".
Let the kid see through you the light of Hinduism.
This one little idea in Hinduism, says that "Whats Outside is JUST a reflection of our inner Self..."
What is "Outside"? Its the overall perception due to the PRESENT (ONLY) and NOT whats due to the nostalgic memories of PAST, or Dreams and Desires for Future. Actually, Memories and Dreams are nothing but illusions.
WHO is "Self"? The one who perceives.
So this idea separates the perception from the perceiver. Just like water is a separate from the ripples or currents in it.
Why do people worship idols?
Its root lies in the above mentioned idea itself.
A deep sea fish CAN ONLY notice the current in the water rather than the water itself. Similarly, most beings can only perceive the ripples or currents in their inner Self, rather than the Self itself. And Nashvar materials and the rituals associated with them (apart from mantras), are like "tools" to generate an intense "current" of spirituality in them. Thus making them rise and somehow come closer to the "Self".
I am NOT implying anything like e.g 'the description of Lord Vishnu in Hindu Texts is mere an imagination'. NO!! Rather I am only saying that the means to communicate with Him could be many, and one of them is "through" a Vigrah. Because a Hindu "upasana" itself mean '"sitting" next to' a deity, and its ways could be many.
Interestingly, its not just Hindus , who do that. ALL other religions have their own rituals JUST for the sake of the spiritual ripple.
So worshiping Idols (or hating Idols) is not as narrow as you think. For some its the only way.
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