When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well, they’d be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, playfully watching me…
–Richard Davies, Roger Hodgson, Supertramp album, Breakfast in America
I put a lot of time and thought into this question as a parent – it helped that my daughter entered into the magical and mysterious with ease. Maybe all kids blur the boundary between fantasy and reality if their mind has time to wander and they enjoy the pure freedom to engage in uninterrupted play that is a huge factor in making childhood magical.
There is magic in dolls, puppets, wood, wool, silk, nature, forts, sticks, rocks, dress up clothes, spears, swords, crowns, capes, hats.
Not just nature in stories, also the real thing – dirt, trees, tall grasses, water in lakes, streams, rivers, oceans – but don’t leave your child unattended near water. Falling in is not so magical. But splashing in puddles or wading in shallow millponds is the stuff of a great childhood. As is running through sand or playing in snow and being outside in the rain. As a parent, fight the tendency to keep them clean and dry at all times. Mud is very magical, as is a random pile of rocks. Time sitting in a tree is time well spent.
Make a corn bin. (It was a crazy idea that worked.) We started with a big yellow metal tub we put beer and ice in to keep it cold for the back-yard summer barbeque. Then take a trip to the feed store for a giant bag of feed corn, stop at the $1 store on the way home for treasures – maybe a 50 pack of plastic bugs or dinosaurs, packs of shells or colored rocks. Put the feed corn into the bin, mix in the treasures, then let the kids get in and play. Natalie loved that corn bin. Corn scattered out of the bin and it was hell on the vacuum. Not the easiest cleanup, but running her hands through the corn, or climbing in and jumping around, sometimes immersing her whole body (not her head) was an immensely sensory experience. Corn bin might have required fewer cleanups outside, but the birds and squirrels would eat the feed corn, chickens might even come over from the neighbor’s yard if they could get over the fence. That happened once and it was quite a kerfuffle with the dog, so I wouldn’t temp the chickens by setting the corn bin up outside.
Spend time with grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Holiday celebrations. Crafting parties. Berry picking and jam making. Celebrating birthdays.
You need a magical fairy garden. This was Natalie’s Christmas present one year and boy did she stay busy arranging and rearranging the little furniture and treasures and sparkly stuff. It was nothing more than a big indoor planter with some dirt and a few small plants. She got so excited, “Mommy, mommy, did you see the fairy?”. I might be a doubter, but there was no faking that look on her face and the excitement. I will admit that I wrote the notes from the fairies; they are too small to wield a writing implement. So that part I knew was make-believe, but it was very magical to her and we kept up quite a correspondence through the fairies and it provided a keen insight into her inner life.
Handmade clothes add to the magic of childhood. The process of taking a piece of yarn or fabric, and transforming it into a garment has alchemy. Natalie especially loved thrifted cashmere sweaters that were deconstructed, then remade into a new sweater with a hood and front pocket.
I made patterns, then sewed or knit pants, pajamas, skirts, ponchos, sweaters, hats, bandanas, sometimes matching doll clothes. My skills were rudimentary, but it showed her the possibility for transforming raw materials to something functional.
Cooking has the same alchemy – watching the transformation of raw ingredients into batter, and then batter to baked goods. A friend of mine hosted a pre-Thanksgiving pie making party one year and all the kids went wild with rolling the dough, concocting the sticky pecan filling, then baking, and finally bringing the pie to share at the family meal. A magical party I won’t forget. I did not bake often, so anything home-baked signified a holiday or special day.
Anything you can make out of a piece of raw wool – whether you can spin it into yarn and knit it or needle felt or wet felt it into small toys – is good stuff. Small children won’t enjoy the inevitable poke that happens with needle felting; they enjoy wet felting more. You don’t have to be particularly skilled; something a little vague leaves room for imagination in play. We made a set of checkers by rolling together a bunch of colored wool then putting it through the washer then cutting the resulting long felted roll into slices like you’d do making sushi or cinnamon buns. Two different rolls make the two colors of checkers. Then figure a way to make the checkerboard (woven paper strips, fabric, wood) or go to the thrift store to find one. Finding treasures in thrift stores has a bit of magic to it, but do keep shopping to a minimum.
Dye fabric in the back yard. As you watch the fabric take on its color imagine all the things you’ll make. Then put it to use – decorate the bedroom or make capes, forts, and swings. It is satisfying for kids to make something useful. Don’t make it over-complicated – we had successful dyeing parties with a left-over Easter egg dyeing kits.
Stories make childhood magical and not just from books, but stories you tell from your own memory or imagination. Go to musicals and concerts and puppet shows and dance performances; community theatre and local school productions are accessible. Kids like to watch older kids perform. Be a willing audience for plays, concerts and circus acts the kids dream up and perform for you.
A surprise outing to meet up with other moms and friends for a picnic is a magical day with lovely memories, unless one of the more fastidious kids gets too close and goes into the water (that’s a few inches deep) and there is a big fuss about it, or a bee gets into the car on the way home and there is hysteria. But generally, a trip to walk the paths, picnic, see animals, and explore parks or city gardens inspires the imagination.
I resisted the extra work and responsibility of a pet, but rescuing Dakota was the best parenting decision I made. The love and compassion that comes into your heart rescuing an animal is unmatched (our pup was abused by her prior owner and then dropped off at the animal shelter when she was no longer a cute little puppy). Dakota participated in dress-up, slept right in the middle of the kids during slumber parties, and rode along in the car pool to school. Honestly, she was more of a sibling than a pet.
Not every childhood can include live animals in the home, but a childhood that includes farm animals is beyond magical. Natalie saw a goat being born at GeerCrest Farm and nothing is better than the miracle of birth. Then she got to help name the baby goat because she’d been there to help deliver it. In the past, most kids were raised on farms and it was a lot of work, but when you live in the heart of a city, a farm is a whole different world, and it is fun. Gathering eggs, harvesting vegetables from the garden, mucking horse stalls, milking goats, feeding cows, gathering honey from the bee hives, picking apples, watching sheep in the fields and climbing bales of hay – this is the nirvana a city-kid finds on the farm. Read the book City Mouse Country Mouse.
Our friends named their property Bigfoot Farm (based on a historical sighting of Bigfoot nearby) and even the name engaged the imagination. All the kids I took there loved it. What’s not to love – goats, dogs, chickens, cats, and for a while llamas, plus deer and wild turkeys wandering through, mourning doves during the day and the call of owls at night.
Speaking of another realm, what about the Magic Kingdom, otherwise known as Disneyland? I thought the experience would be more hassle than magical adventure, with all the waiting in lines and crowds and such, but in fact, we found magic going back into the park at night, seeing the lights, the carolers and parades. At the right age, it is an experience not to be missed. She was only at Disneyland once, and I regret not taking her there at different ages, each age being a unique experience.
Our little local amusement park was exhilarating, with roller coasters and rides. Not sure the element of magic was prevalent, but there was happiness and excitement, and cotton candy. Pure sugar spun onto a stick is a mystifying concoction. This experience is for older kids; it is overstimulating if they’re too young.
Let him or her wear any get-up, no matter how outlandish. It will hurt your eyes at times, but by starting early in allowing your child to be inner-directed rather than outer-directed, he or she will have a stronger sense of self and be less swayed by outside influences. Life is more fun that way.
Let them throw you a little sass and attitude once in a while without coming down with a sledgehammer. Not rudeness, not profanity, not hitting. But allow them to test you with a minor challenge without flipping out. They want boundaries, and also want to test the boundaries. Let them know you love them no matter what by allowing a little sauciness that is bold, feisty, self-confident and playful (even as it leans into impertinence).
Same with “misbehavior” that is merely curiosity and experimentation. I was being interviewed on the phone one day and the call went longer than intended. While I was distracted, Natalie found bronzing powder I had foolishly purchased, never worn, and stuck in the bathroom drawer. She applied that bronzer from head to toe and she was so proud of herself! It was such a mess and of course, the timing was terrible because we needed to get out the door to an appointment, but I respected her commitment to go all in on her experiment.
Kids love to make a candle-lit lantern and go on a nighttime walk. The mystery of being outside at night engages the senses in a new way. Do this in every season so they feel the crisp cold and crackle of leaves in fall, or the magic of lights and decorations for winter holidays. If there is going to be a comet overhead, a meteor shower, a lunar eclipse, or a rare snowfall that might be gone by next morning, get them out of bed and take them outside in their pajamas. A nighttime snowfall, when Christmas lights are lit on houses, under a full moon, is the magic trifecta.
Children enjoy a little verse, written especially for them, with details that let them know you see them. In a Waldorf classroom, every child has his or her own verse, written by the teacher. Even if your child isn’t in a Waldorf school, there are many Waldorf-inspired and Waldorf-influenced toys and books, also crafting ideas and suggestions on parenting. If you want magic for your kid, check it out.
Back to the magic of childbirth. If you get the “Where do babies come from?” question, it is easy to go off track. So clarify if your child is asking about conception, pregnancy, or childbirth – these are related but different things that require different (hopefully age-appropriate) answers. The kids are going to compare answers, especially if younger siblings are arriving on a regular basis, and of course, if there are already older siblings who know a few more details. Their imaginations run wild comparing tales of the cabbage patch and the blessing of angels with special hugs mommies and daddies have, with some confused retelling of observations made from walking into parents’ bedrooms in the middle of the night (What the …!!!). Some parents want to keep the magic and mystery and some want to be more factual, so the kids will have a field day trying to piece together all the stories into a cohesive version that makes sense; their little brains work overtime. The myriad types of families: blended through divorce and remarriage, created through open/international/foster care adoptions, or headed by single parents and gay couples, also creates the possibility of confusion. It keeps the kids busy sorting it out; some mystery is good for the imagination.
In general, resist answering any big question with an overload of information that pulls them into complicated adult thinking. They are usually asking for reassurance and security, along with a one-sentence explanation. Some kids are happily oblivious and some are deeply rattled by news and politics – know your child’s personality and don’t overexpose. There are plenty of years of political and social justice fights ahead; in the young years help them see how to contribute through small, doable acts of love and compassion.
Art and craft supplies, of course. Any project that doesn’t quite work is an opportunity to improvise, adapt, and recover. Those are some good life skills. Honor their creations. We made magnetic frames so we could easily swap out art.
Music (age appropriate) – nothing magical about having your 6-year-old sing lyrics like:
‘Cause I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me…–Rihanna, S&M
Or, God forbid, something worse. I speak from experience. Remember, they are parrots. It is best if they are the creator, not the consumer, of entertainment. In general, the fewer the screens and electronics, the greater the creativity. Songs with nonsensical words and rhymes are fun, such as Skidamarink. Kids love gibberish.
Skidamarink a dink, a dink
Skidamarink a do
I love you
Skidamarink a dink, a dink
Skidamarink a do
I love you
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening and underneath the moon
Skidamarink a dink, a dink
Skidamarink a do
I love you
–Felix F. Feist (lyrics), Al Piantadosi (music)
Don’t overburden with possessions. When gifting occasions arise, make a little coupon book, each coupon for an activity they enjoy. If you gift physical items, embrace it if they play with the box rather than the gift. This just reinforces the idea that the more open-ended the toy (a doll, a truck, a set of blocks) the more creative play it will inspire.
Don’t overburden with scheduled activities. If your child has a longer day than you do – school, music lessons, homework, playgroups, story hour, sports practice, clubs and after-school classes – you’re taking away their magic and pulling them into adulthood too soon. Let them continue to climb tress. Keep empty space in their schedule.
Welcome their friends into your home. Treat their friends with the same courtesy and respect you’d offer your adult friends. Try your best not to embarrass them in a huge way in front of their friends, even though a minor embarrassment seems to be inevitable.
The embrace of love is magical. Any child will be happy to see your eyes light up when they walk into a room. That costs you nothing, yet is a monumental gift. A warm hug when you’ve been apart. Parents who love and respect and support each other, parents who inspire the best in each other, parents who get along and enjoy being together, parents who navigate life’s challenges as partners – giving them that is gold.
Your example is most important of all. Enjoying your life and your work brings magic and happiness to children. If you can find ways to happily clean house, do chores, and head off to work you love, they will have confidence that life is good. (Think Mary Poppins or 7 dwarfs whistle-while-you-work.) If you find a lot to love about life, the kids will too; if you find life magical, the kids will too.
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© 2021 Carol Merwin, All Rights Reserved