The Sunday School Alternative: Starting a Children

By Bob Bhaerman

As director of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center, whose mission is to offer lifelong education resources that teach positive humanist values, I often have been asked how the American Humanist Association plans to address the need to instill morality and ethics—without a belief in god—in our children. Traditional religions have long created children’s religious education programs in local churches. These Sunday Schools have provided children with a moral foundation that their parents desire.

But what about humanist or atheist parents? Where’s the Sunday School alternative for us?  The alternative is Humanist Children’s Programs through the Kochhar Humanist Education Center, and our ambitious goal is to have a children’s program in all 140 humanist chapters and affiliates throughout the United States.

A Humanist Children’s Program benefits chapters in many ways. It provides the necessary outlet for parents in the community who are nonreligious and would like to see their children participate in a program that emphasizes critical thinking, compassion, and values without a belief in god. It can bring in younger humanists—parents in their 20s or 30s who are beginning to start a family. But most importantly, a children’s program helps secure the future of the humanist movement.

The four skill areas of humanist education include:

  • Communication: developing clear thought and language to cope with a changing world
  • Visualization: imagining new solutions for old problems and creating new ideas
  • Adaptability: embracing change and facing uncertainty with confidence
  • Critical Thinking: understanding knowledge and pursuing truth

The Kochhar Humanist Education Center recently published a manual titled, Establishing Humanist Education Programs for Children, which has been distributed to all AHA chapters and affiliates. In it, we have outlined all the steps involved in establishing education programs, from assessing your chapter’s needs to implementing the program. When considering establishing a Humanist Children’s Program, consider the following:

  1. What will be the focus of your children’s program? Will the learning outcomes include both intellectual skills and knowledge (cognitive objectives) and growth in feelings, attitudes, and emotions (affective objectives)?
  2. How will you advertise and market the program in your community? What funds are needed and how will they be acquired?
  3. Who will serve as your volunteer teachers? What will the role of parents be in both helping to plan the program or serve as teachers?

There are two AHA chapters who already have Humanist Children’s Programs up and running: the Humanists of Greater Portland (Oregon) and the Humanist Society of New Mexico. Both programs are described in the manual, and leaders of the program are available to help answer questions. In addition, several AHA chapters and affiliates have children’s programs through the American Ethical Union—the Ethical Humanist Society of Great Chicago (the Golden Rule Sunday School) and the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island have run successful programs for children for many years.

While your group may face challenges in starting a Humanist Children’s Program, the Kochhar Humanist Education Center and the American Humanist Association is here to help. The time is now to start investing in our children’s future.

Bob Bhaerman, Ed., is the director of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center of the American Humanist Association.

If you are a humanist chapter leader or affiliate and would like a copy of Establishing Humanist Education Programs for Children, please contact us at