Episode 108: Interview with Elizabeth Urbanowicz and Helping Kids Think Critically, Part 1

In this episode we talk with Elizabeth Urbanowicz, founder and CEO of Foundation Worldview. She’s an educator and apologist who has written curriculum to help children grow in their critical thinking skills and in creating a Biblical worldview.

This Week’s Guest: Elizabeth Urbanowicz

Elizabeth Urbanowicz is a follower of Jesus who is passionate about equipping kids to understand the truth of the Christian worldview. Elizabeth holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from Gordon College, an M.S.Ed. in Education from Northern Illinois University, and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Elizabeth spent the first decade of her professional career teaching elementary students at a Christian school. Elizabeth now works full time on developing comparative worldview and apologetics resources for children. Her goal is to prepare the next generation to be lifelong critical thinkers and, most importantly, lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Info on Foundation Worldview

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we have Elizabeth Urbanowicz with us, and she is the founder of Foundation Worldview, which includes a wonderful website with all kinds of materials and a curriculum that helps our children develop critical thinking and to build a Christian worldview. Elizabeth, thank you for joining us today. I’m so happy to get to talk with you.

Elizabeth:

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me on Terrie.

Terrie:

Well, I have followed what you have done and I’ve listened to several interviews you’ve done, and I’m just so thankful for God leading you into this ministry. And I appreciate, especially your interview with Mike Winger, where you discuss the seven lies our kids will believe if we don’t do something. Can you talk a little bit about how you got this ministry started and about those lies? Why are they so, I don’t know, powerful? They seem more powerful today than they did when we were younger. Why are they so strong in our culture today?

Elizabeth:

Yes. Good questions. Well, I’m sure that my story is somewhat similar to many of your listeners and that we grow up and we have this life plan that we think is before us. And then God has completely different plans that turn out to be way better, not always easy, but definitely always for our good and His glory. And I never set out to be a writer of curriculum for children. I was an elementary teacher in a Christian school and I loved teaching and I taught most of my time in third grade and several years into my teaching experience. I just noticed that my third graders were rapidly absorbing ideas from culture without any question. And I thought, what is going on? They come from these great Christian homes. I give them a biblically based education all day long. And so I started just looking for materials that would equip them to think well, to understand how do we really critically think through scripture, apply it to our lives. How do we understand the other worldviews that are out there? And I couldn’t find anything for the elementary level. Everything I found was for high school and up. So I just started creating my own resources and everybody loved them. And before I knew it was happening, people were coming after me from all over the place and saying, how can we get our hands on this? And I was like, I’m a third grade teacher, not a publishing house. I don’t have anything for you, but God was gracious and after several years of those requests, I stepped back from teaching, got a master’s degree in Christian Apologetics and started foundation worldview so that we could actually give other parents and educators and pastors and kids, ministry leaders, just the resources that they need to get their kids thinking critically. And then the second part of your question was why does it seem like there’s lies that are just so prevalent in the hearts and minds of the children that God has placed in our care. And I get asked this question a lot, and my response is the truth of the gospel, the truth of God’s word never changes. Praise the Lord. He, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. What does change is the culture in which we find ourselves. When we look at the example of the apostle Paul in Acts, when he was traveling around in his missionary journeys to different locations, he always spoke the same truth of the Gospel, but he spoke it in different ways to different people, because he really sought to understand the culture into which he was entering. You know, he spoke to Jews different than he spoke to Gentiles. He spoke to people in Rome. Well, we don’t have him recorded speaking in Rome but, his letter to the Romans- different than he spoke to the Athenians. And so what we need to think through with these kids that God has placed in our care is, okay, what is this culture in which they’re growing up and because of the prevalence of information technology, which can be a great thing, like smartphones are very, very helpful. There’s so many things we can do with them. We can be so grateful for the internet, but along with the helpful things comes so many false ideas, so many competing worldviews, so many lies. And so if we actually sit down and calculate it, the children in our care in one year of their life, they’re exposed to more competing ideas than most people throughout human history have been exposed to in their entire lives. So the way in which we need to prepare our children to understand the truth of the Gospel and to not be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies is different. And so I would say, that’s why these lies seem so prevalent, because no longer do we need to wait until our children are in high school or they leave our homes to go to college before they’re confronted with these competing ideologies, it happens on a tablet every day, even if they don’t have a smartphone, we don’t have TV in our home, the people that they know have these things and are influenced by them. So I just always encourage people, just be really intentional about thinking through what is the cultural context in which we’re living and what do we need to do to prepare our kids, to understand the truth of the Gospel.

Terrie:

Very true. Yeah. I write picture books. I’m not published yet, but I hope to be. But I’m just surprised and shocked by the subject matter that is covered in picture books and board books today. They’re just, everyone has an agenda, it seems like. Even the Christians have an agenda as we write these books to share our worldview and philosophies, even at the earliest ages. And I think that has surprised me. As I’ve gotten more into this part of writing. Can you tell us a little bit about the curriculum you have developed? You say on your website that you can use it in churches or home schools or Christian schools? Can you tell us about it?

Elizabeth:

Yes. So our goal is to just equip adults in any context in which they find themselves working with children. You know, whether it’s in the home for family discipleship in the home for homeschooling in children’s ministry, at church, in Christian education classrooms. The materials that we have out, we cover ages four through 14. So we really want to just really be intentional in these really formative developmental years. So we currently have out just a very short miniseries for four to seven year olds, which soon will be a whole curriculum, but we just have three lessons out for them right now, we’re on the concept of truth. And what is truth? How is truth different than something that’s not true? How is truth different than feelings? You know, which feelings are going to change from person to person where truth remains unchanging. We have a curriculum out for 8 to 12 year olds. That’s a comparative worldview curriculum. So what we do is we look at big questions that every worldview has to answer such as: What is truth? What should I worship? What does it mean to be human? How can I tell right from wrong? And we have them look in at scripture and see, okay, what does God say about this topic? And then we have them look at competing worldviews and they compare and contrast those. So that they’re the ones discovering, oh my goodness, scripture actually presents an accurate picture of reality. And then we have them practice watching movie clips or YouTube clips or TV show clips and saying, okay, what is the worldview present in this media clip? And then for 10 to 14 year olds, we have what we call our careful thinking curriculum. It basically teaches kids how to systematically evaluate the truthfulness of ideas. So we’re just really passionate about helping kids think well, and then soon over July and August and September, we’re releasing some new materials. We’re releasing an entire biblical worldview curriculum for four to seven year olds that just gets their bodies involved and have them looking at, okay, what has God revealed to us about the world around us? And then we have Studying the Bible curriculum for 8 to 12 year olds, because we really just want to equip that age group to know, how do I soundly read, interpret and apply scripture? Just so that the kids in our care are not dependent on us to always plan, you know, an engaging Bible lesson or a devotional or something like that, but they can actually become self-feeders and feed on God’s word daily.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s just wonderful. I’m so excited to see that. That’s wonderful. One of the things I’ve heard you mention and on Books That Spark, we talk a lot about how to use books to break off into biblical conversations or important conversations about ideas that we want our children to understand, but I’ve seen you advocate for tackling some of the hard things, you know, going ahead and approaching the ideas that are anti-biblical that we may come across, even in a picture book. So if a parent is reading a picture book and maybe I came across one the other day, it is a really good book. I, you know, I’ve read others by this same author, but this one surprised me because it had yoga in it. It had, you know, meditation and it had this egg as the main character running away from his family. And I thought if I had just read this to a child, how would I have tackled that? So what kind of advice can you give to families as they’re reading books to their children and maybe they come across ideas? What is the best way to tackle that and to approach it with kids?

Elizabeth:

Yes, that’s a great question because especially if we take our kids to the library, you know, they’re going to be exposed to a whole bunch of, you know, just different ideas. And especially, you know, we’re recording this during the month of June. So, you know, if you go to most libraries across the country, you know, there’s going to be a whole Pride section in most children’s libraries. And so I encourage parents and anyone working with kids to get really good at asking questions, to get kids thinking. Now, if the kids in our care aren’t used to us asking them questions at first, when we start to ask them questions, they’re going to kind of be like, huh? I don’t understand. I don’t understand this. You know, cause they’re not used to critically thinking through the different media they’re consuming, you know, whether that’s a book, whether it’s a movie, whether it’s a YouTube clip.

Elizabeth:

So it does take some practice, but I really encourage those working with children to get really good at asking questions. Like for example, you know, with the example that you gave with, you know, a book including meditation. You know, if we’re working with a little one, you know, even if it’s just four or five to say, “Hmm, what is this character doing?” You know, and we’ll just say he was meditating. Hmm. What does it mean to meditate? You know? And then to talk through that, like, there’s a good chance a four year old would have no idea what it means to meditate. You know, but to talk through, you know what, there’s a couple different types of meditation and did you know that one type, this type that looks like he’s doing here, that type of meditation is we’re supposed to take everything out of our minds and empty our minds and have nothing in them. Hmm. Let’s think about that. Is that what God’s word tells us? You know, and then to open up the scriptures, you know, that tell us, you know, we can just even open up to Philippians 4:8. You know, it says, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is pure, whatever is right. You know, think about such things and say, “Hmm, does that sound like we’re supposed to empty our minds? No, we’re supposed to be thinking about the things God wants us to think about.” You know? So to just have a teachable moment like that, and I gave the example of a four year old and in all honesty, the majority of four year olds after you have that conversation might not get it. You know, they might say something completely off the wall where you’re like, hmm, was it really worth having this conversation? Because I don’t think they understood anything of it. But if that happens, don’t be discouraged, know that that’s developmentally appropriate, you know, for them not to make the appropriate connections, but just keep doing that. And as we keep doing that one, it’ll become so much easier for us to ask these questions. It will just start to become natural. And then the more we ask them, the easier it will be for these kids to start critically thinking through the answers to these questions. And if we develop this habit, soon, they won’t be able to get away from it. You know, I joke that the reason, you know, that I’m in the business that I am of actually helping adults get kids critically thinking has a large part to do because of who my mom is. And I could not stand, this is something I could not stand about my mom as a child, but it ended up being one of the best things ever that every time we would watch a movie, my mom would pause the movie in the middle, whenever anything unbiblical came up, like just an easy example, you know, is the Lion King, when Mufasa comes back and speaks to Simba from the dead, my mom would always talk about that. You know, like she’d pause and say, okay, you know, like, do people come back from the dead and speak to us? No. Okay. Is somebody supposed to conjure up a spirit, you know? And then we’d look in, you know, we’re in Samuel 1, you know, where Saul visits, the witch of Endor. And so like that would annoy me so much as a child. I learned never to have a friend over when we were watching a movie. But my mom, you know, just trained me to constantly be thinking every time I watch something, is this true? Does this align with scripture? So we can do the same thing with books. And sometimes if we’re going to be, especially if we want to expose our child to something that’s very definitely unbiblical for the purpose of preparing them, like an example that I can think of is now, I’m going to ask all the listeners, please do not go out and buy this book. If you want to check it out of your library, that’s fine. But I don’t encourage actually purchasing books that have anti-biblical messages, cause then that just tells the publisher to publish more of them. But there’s a book called Red: A Crayon Story by Michael Hall. And basically it’s, if you read it, you’ll find out it’s basically about transgenderism. There is this story about this crayon and the whole time you see that the crayon is actually blue, but he has a red label on. And so everybody, you know, like his parents and his teacher, and everybody’s so disappointed in him cause he can’t make a red apple, you know, he can’t make a red strawberry, he can’t make a red watermelon and everybody’s suggesting different things to, you know, help him, you know, do things right. And then all of a sudden at the end they realize, ah, oh my goodness, he’s blue, you know, oh we got this wrong. And so that’s the one, you know, like I wouldn’t encourage to read through with really little kids, you know, but with older kids that can actually think a little bit more critically. I would definitely read that story with the children 8 and up and talk about, let’s think about this. What is this saying in this book? This book is saying the wrapper or the label on a crayon is like what? What is it comparing that to in a human? Well, it’s comparing it to our bodies. Let’s think about that for a second. Okay. Are our bodies similar to a label? Like can we just tear ’em off and put on a new one? Are they super unimportant to us? No. You know, so this actually this book is teaching something that isn’t true because our bodies are very important to us. So I would just really encourage, you know, parents and anyone working with children, just to be very intentional about the books that you’re choosing. And then also to just really ask good questions and get in the habit of doing that.

Terrie:

That’s good. We’ll continue this conversation with Elizabeth next week in part two of this interview, she has a lot of great things that she shares with us and helps us to know how to really help our children become critical thinkers. So you won’t want to miss next week’s episode as we continue this conversation together. Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” a podcast celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, you can reach her on her website foundationworldview.com and you can also find the curriculum there, the webinars and all the materials, as well as the book club that she offers each month, the book club and many of her materials, like I said before are free and you can just join right in. But I love what she presents and what she helps us as parents to develop our ability to help our children think critically about the things they’re being told. And so it’s such a gift and such a wonderful ministry. So please be sure to check that out. And if you would like to connect with me, you can reach me at TerrieHellardbrown.com, where you can also join my mailing list. And as you know, if you join my mailing list, you receive several freebies just for signing up and each month you’ll receive my newsletter and you’ll also get notified each time I post a new podcast or blog post. Thank you for being with us today, and if you enjoyed this podcast, please like, and share so that others will know we’re here.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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