I always knew I would be an aggressive educator of my children. My accomplishments with the little ones thus far haven't exactly measured up to the standards my childless self had once set, but that holds true across the board. This is attributable, of course, to the fact that my childless self knew exactly jack about kids. So no, the preschooler doesn't speak Spanish (though Dora has helped him gain a little on that) and the baby doesn't listen to Beethoven. But I am proud nonetheless; the baby has learned a few baby-signs, which the preschooler has helped with. Said preschooler knows his shapes, ABCs, 123s, colors, dinosaurs - and magical plants.
This has been hard won. When I first started out teaching him the names of the plants around in the garden, he was quite the confused little two-year-old. I brought him over to my hibiscus, a massive, sprawling bush in an old wooden planter, merrily blooming its head off with red blossoms the size of his head. I showed him the pretty flowers, which only lasted a day, and pointed out the tightly closed blooms that would unfurl to take their place in the morning.
"Do you know what this plant's name is?" I asked him.
The boy thought for a minute. "Bob," he said with finality.
I chuckled. How sweet. But I was educated. "Well, we can call it Bob, sure. But its botanical name is 'Hibiscus.' Can you say 'Hibiscus'?"
He looked at me with incredulity written across his miniature features, then accepting that whatever Mama said had to have some value (thus giving me more credit than I am sometimes due), he turned back to the intimidating plant. "Hiiiii, Biscus," he said, waving timidly.
I laughed, and he laughed, with a touch of confusion. I hugged him, told him he was sweet. I told him the hibiscus plant was used for love magic. He stared at me without a blink of recognition or understanding.
"It means love," I said, trying to simplify further. Nothin'. I sighed; perhaps archetypal symbolism was still beyond him. For the rest of the day I stuck to simpler stuff. This is grass; this is a weed; and that is a rose DON'T TOUCH - oooh, yeah, it has thorns. Roses have ever since that day been called cactuses.
I tried again recently. The garden had mostly gone dormant, slunk in on itself after the winter frost (FINALLY), but there were enough evergreens to warrant a lesson. Besides, it would be easier for him to remember, I figured, if there were fewer plants around to compete for his ever-wandering attention.
It started well enough. We looked at the maple tree, the sweetgum tree, the oak tree, the redbuds. We talked about the jasmine and the alyssum, the mums and the pansies. He found a little johnny-jump-up and a whole lot of henbit. I showed him where the passion flower, the cuphea and lantana were dried sticks - but their roots were still alive, I assured him, and would return green and growing in a few months. The hyacinth bean, on the other hand, would come back from the little bean-like seeds it had sprinkled on the ground. We found a few of the purple-shelled beans in the grass. A simple enough idea - perennial, annual. And along the way I tucked in a few ideas to germinate with the names - juniper for seeing ghosts, mint for healing, sage for wisdom. I pointed out the dangerous plants to him, like wormwood and mistletoe, and drilled in the lesson that he never, ever should eat a plant without asking me first. Whether or not Mama was munching on a nasturtium.
"What about the Dandelion Patrol?" he asked. The Dandelion Patrol was the cumulative name for the colony of rabbits that lived in the wild area next door to us. It was a long-standing tradition in our family to salute any rabbit we saw and gruffly issue the order, 'Carry on, sergeant.'
"What ABOUT the Dandelion Patrol?" I queried back at him.
"How do they know what plants are good to eat and what plants are for what things?" he asked.
This led to a discussion of how rabbits teach their youngsters what's good and what's not, just like I was doing to him. This pleased him greatly. Anything in which he could be likened to an animal was fine by him. There was much hopping around, saluting, and pretending to eat grass.
In all probability, he won't remember most of what I told him that day. And that's alright. Though the teacher in me would like for him to take notes, do a worksheet to reinforce what we'd learned that day, and review his work later for a quiz, I know that would take some of the joy out of it. And the joy of learning is really what this age is all about. Is it important that my three and a half year old know the medicinal applications of St. John's Wort? Of course not. Is it important that he love to hear about it, that he wants to learn, that he is exposed to the ideas of magic and gardening and a love of nature? Absolutely. And if he gets THAT, then I've done my job in teaching him.
About the Author: Julie Cox is a new pagan writer and artist who lives with her two young children and husband in Texas. She carries degrees in both Art and Religion. To see more of Julie's artwork go to Shopping and Art gallery on our main menu.