In any case, openly answering questions works for us. My five year old knows that people die. He knows that people are alive as long as their hearts and brains work. He knows about nerves and blood vessels. He knows that men have penises and women have vaginas, and that sperm and eggs begin the process of making babies. These facts that are a part of life have been explained to him in response to his questions as he asked them. He is inquisitive, and seems happy, and well adjusted. Though we have simplified explanations such that he will understand the responses, to the best of our ability, we don't sugarcoat or lie.
There are certainly challenges in our honesty-is-the-best-policy approach. "Mommy, why did our family leave Israel/South Africa/Poland/Russia?" "It became dangerous to live there." "Why was it dangerous" . . . Enter political landmine here . . . My son is at a secular/multicultural school. I'm very concerned that any race-relation answers will be misinterpreted by him, and then relayed improperly at school, and reflect poorly on us. But, questions about dinosaurs or biology - bring it on!!
Mr. CL's brother and his wife are frum (BTs), and I'm not sure how much this distinction in our parenting styles is reflective of us as individuals, or results from our broader secular vs. religious worldviews. For me, my parenting style in this instance definitely reflects some broader values:
1. Honesty and Integrity: I want my kids to be honest, so I am honest with them. We also want our children to trust us, and believe that trust is built on - among other things - a foundation of honesty. In as much as possible, I want to avoid my kids having a realization that we've been lying all along about something, and then question everything else we've told them. For me it seems easier to just be honest from the start. My parents had the same philosophy, and I am so grateful to them for that.
2. Knowledge: My five year old is in tune with the fact that the physical world is a fascinating place. There is so much to learn about the world, and so much about the world that we don't know yet.When my son asks questions that we actually have answers to, I am really happy to answer - and to have the resources to answer (yay Google!) - those questions. My taking his question seriously, reinforces his curiosity, and usually fuels more questions/learning opportunities.
I'm not saying that as frum people my in laws don't value these things, but I wonder whether some other values in their religiously influenced worldview supersede the ones above. In any case, I recognize that just because my approach reflects my broader values, does not mean that their approach is similarly religiously influenced. Your thoughts?
P.S. For a funnier take on atheism + parenting, I enjoyed Laughing in Purgatory's Priceless Gifts for an Atheist Dad.