By Marwa Abdelfattah, founder and CEO of CoAuthor
“He created everything but how was he created??”
If you grew up in a household where everyone believed in God and spoke about Him, you probably remember asking this question to your parents. “God created everything,” they answered, “because matter cannot come from nothing.” Following the same logic, you may have wondered “ok, and who created God?”. Worried about where this may have gone, many of our parents just told us that some questions were not supposed to be asked.
“Is there a question that puzzles you about the world that you’d like to think through with me?”
Big conversations with children are changing now in this day and age. Recently, a Muslim mother, Laura, tried out CoAuthor—an app that fosters dialogue between children and their parents/teachers through researching questions and creating stories together—, her 6-year-old daughter Salma blurted out: “I want to know how God was created.”
“I was afraid of losing her. We had just started memorizing verses of the Koran.” said her mom.
“If you were to draw your question, what would you draw?”
As part of the thinking ritual on the app, Salma was invited to draw her question. Interestingly, she refrained from drawing an image of God but instead put many question marks on the paper, reflecting the common belief in Islam that God shouldn’t be portrayed.
“What do other people think about your question?”
As she and her mom moved one step further on the app, they were confronted by the next puzzle: “what do other people think about this question?”. Here, Salma’s answer was “my mom thinks that God was not created,” as opposed to, “my mom says that God was not created.” But the research about what others think didn’t stop at Salma’s mom. Salma and her mom also talked about other people. “Not everyone believes in God. People who believe in statues don’t believe in one God. Muslims, Christians and Jewish people believe that God created everything without ever being created.”
“I will keep wondering about this question for the rest of my life!”
Still unsatisfied, Salma shrugged—“I think I will keep wondering about this question for the rest of my life!”.
“Salma, if you knew that someone has created God, you’d also wonder who created that person who created God. Do you see the tricky part here? You’d be running in an endless cycle.”—replied her mom. And she went on asserting: “we are Muslims, we believe what God has told us in his book.”
“I’m Muslim, I study the Quran so I believe what’s in it. I understood that God has always existed.” Salma concluded.
Raising children’s critical thinking skills by meeting them where they are
This thinking session ended here. Of course, it could be further explored in future thinking sessions. For example, Salma and Laura could further investigate the concept of time. If “God has always existed”, what does that tell us about time? When did time start? Does time have a start? What is time to start with? Another direction for a future investigation could be about what “other people” believe. This was an emergent theme in that conversation that could very easily launch an age-appropriate study in comparative religions. We don’t need to wait for grad school to start thinking about these life-shaping concepts but when it comes to sensitive topics, we also need to make sure that we are just answering what children asked. This is the balance that CoAuthor offers parents and teachers.
Dialogue with children
What was the point of this thinking routine? CoAuthor isn’t about reaffirming or shaking anyone’s beliefs. It is not about establishing one absolute final truth either. The goal of CoAuthor is getting children and adults to take 10 minutes of their day to stop and reflect on different ideas through dialogue. The goal of CoAuthor is fully engaging the mind of the learner which helps them develop an interest in thinking.