Monday, October 22

Paganism for Babies & Toddlers

I get asked quite a bit about how to teach babies and toddlers Paganism.  My personal belief is that at these ages the children are already learning so much everyday about everything!  They're learning physical balance, what emotions are, cause and effect, motor skills, speech… more than can really be summed up in one blog article.  My point is that specifically teaching religion isn’t really needed at this age.  If it's there, they will learn it.   

Experiencing the Elements

These are simple things you can do with your child to reinforce the correspondences of the elements.  Knowledge of the elements is essential to the basics of magic, spellwork and circle casting.  Embedding these associations early will benefit your little one.

Photo credit: valentinapowers / Foter / CC BY
FIRE can be something parents are hesitant to share with their children.  Sitting near one with an active toddler can be heart-stopping enough!  However, this element can easily be taught through its associations.

  • Babies may enjoy a massage with an oil or body lotion that has a touch of spice to it.  Be cautions with essential oils as many can be too harsh for baby's skin, but adding just a drop or two of a warmer scent like nutmeg or cardamom to coconut oil should be just fine. [If you have doubts, test the mixture in a small spot inside baby's ankle and wait 10-15mins to be sure there is no reaction.  As always, keep oils and lotion off of baby's face and hands to avoid eye/mouth contact.]
  • Babies can also sit in a steamy bathroom with mom or dad to experience the warmth, or simply lounge in an inch or two of warm [never hot] bath water. 
  • Interacting with natural objects which are dominated by reds, golds, and oranges can reinforce the basics of the Fire element.  Brilliant red blossoms on a flower, shiny gold fabric, a fiery orange autumn leaf.  Red is easily recognizable from birth and other colors will become clear by 8 months or so.
  • Anything that glows or flashes is a wonderful representation of the Fire element.  Cracking and shaking glowsticks for toddlers or playing with a soft toy with flashing lights for baby.  Children of all ages love the new LED toys you can find at Oriental Trading and such [like rubber bracelets and lizards with flashing lights].
  • Wrap your child in a blanket or towel fresh from the dryer.
  • Watch a balefire with your child in your lap [or even a single candle flame].  Talk about the fire: how hot it is, how strong it is, how tall it is, explore the colors in the fire.  My son enjoys looking at candle flames and pointing out the "clear" part, the blue part and the yellow part of the flame.  If your child is too young or sleepy to talk about the fire, that's okay.  Try singing the "Spirit of the Fire" chant to them.  Unimpressed toddlers may find the fire more interesting if they look at it through a kaleidoscope. 
  • Toddlers who have reached a stage wherein choking is not a major risk, may try spiced candies and cinnamon taffy so they can feel the heat on their tongues. 

While enjoying these activities, use song and word association to remind your child that these things belong to the Fire elementals. 

Photo credit: aha42 | tehaha / Foter / CC BY-NC
AIR is an element that some parents struggle with because many things are just too obvious.  Air is our primary need, so much so that we may take it for granted.  It is so important that we rarely think about it. 

  • Bubbles are an obvious choice here.  Even adults love bubbles!  Do a quick search on Pinterest and you'll find dozens of recipes for homemade bubbles, colored bubbles, glowing bubbles, even touchable bubbles. 
  • Using a large peacock feather or feather boa, tickle your baby.  Run the plumes along their cheeks, abdomen, arms and legs so they can feel the light, soft touch of the feather. 
  • Talk into a fan with your toddler.  Again, you should have no problems getting your child to participate in this :)
  • Watch the wind move the treetops.  Raise your arms and sway with the trees.  If trees are too distant for your little one, a field of tall grass, grain or wild flowers rippling in the breeze is just as enjoyable. 
  • Blow on your baby's belly.  If they're up for it, blow tummy bubbles on their belly.  Toddlers may delight in having their hair ruffled by a blow dryer set to 'no heat'.
  • Whistles, recorders, flutes, pan-pipes, ocarinas and other wind instruments relate well to the element of Air.
  • Fly a kite!  Even better, help your older toddler build a kite, from scratch or from a kit.  Here are some preschooler friendly instructions for a simple kite.
  • Sing!  Sing along with the radio.  Sing a Pagan tune.  Sing a made up song about your baby or the cold wind outside the window... anything.  
  • Visit an aviary with your toddler.  Talk about how big the bird's wings are and how high in the sky they can fly.  Listen to the songs and calls of the birds together.  Mimic them with your toddler.
  • Can you whistle?  Share this with your baby and if your toddler asks how to do it, try and teach them. 
  • Smudge your child with incense, sweet grass or sage.  When children are young, it is best to do this outdoors and do so lightly.  Smoke is smoke and eyes and lungs of infants and children are especially sensitive to it.
  • Build a pinwheel with your toddler and blow on it.    

When Doodle Bug was young we took him to a children's museum with an air tunnel.  If you have access to this, your toddler may love it.  Just be sure to hold onto them as the wind speed in these things is enough to tumble a small child.  We held Doodle Bug in a 'superman' pose and let the wind blow over him.  He was thrilled!

Again, you'll want to use songs, chants and word association with these activities to link them to the Air elementals.

Photo credit: Eyesplash / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
EARTH is such a tangible element.  The possibilities are endless!

  • Watch a birdfeeder with your toddler.  Let them help you fill one up.  Or better yet, help them make a simple peanutbutter and birdseed pinecone to hang outside.
  • Eat a grain, fruit or vegetable without anything to dress it up.  No butter or salt.  Help your toddler to enjoy the true taste of the food they're trying.  [Never feed a child raw meat or eggs.  Be aware of choking hazards in young ones.]
  • Help your little one explore a simple loaf of fresh, uncut bread.  Smell it, put it to your ears and listen to the crackle of the crust as you squeeze it, taste it, tear it open, touch the flaky parts and the soft spongy parts. 
  • Breast feed your infant.  There is nothing more a mother can do to connect her child to the ideas of mother and earth.  
  • Hold your baby's hands while they walk with bare feet on grass or sand.
  • Be outside.  Explore an outdoor area such as a park or forest with your child.  Encourage them to touch trees, climb on rocks, smell flowers and watch wildlife. 
  • Act like animals with your child.  Make a game out of it.  In preschool, Doodle Bug loved when the class got to play "Animal Action".  The accompanying song can be found here.  When the music stops the kids would go crazy acting the like animals in the song.  You haven't seen anything until you've been in a room of 16 three year olds acting like snakes!
  • Crunch fall leaves, squish mud or lay in the grass with your baby.  Some outdoor tummy time in a shaded part of the lawn is perfect, just don't forget to get in the grass with your child. 
  • Toddlers may enjoy using a nutcracker to explore inside shelled seeds and nuts.  This can be hard for some, so help your child.  If you don't have a nut cracker, explore easy-to-open nuts like pistachios and peanuts. 
  • Dig in the dirt with your child.  Help them plant large seeds like peach pits, legumes, and pumpkin seeds.  
  • Sensory activities like running your child's hands through dry beans, oats, or rice. 
  • Interaction with animals such as horses, dogs, mice and even lizards.  Touch their skin or fur with your fingers, feeling the texture.
  • Visit a zoo or animal rehab/sanctuary. 
  • Tastes of whole foods like mashed banana, egg yolk, and avocado for babies older than 6 or 7 months are a great link to Earth.   
  • Teaching your toddler to watch bugs instead of squishing them is an excellent option.  Follow a caterpillar or beetle as they move through the lawn.  Watch the spider weaving its web.
  • Allow your toddler to have a rock collection. 
  • Play a drum with your toddler.  The drum is said to reflect the heartbeat of the Earth.  Help them make big, deep beats.  
As you spend time with your child, use association words and songs to relate these activities to the Earth elementals.

Photo credit: Fadzly @ Shutterhack / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
WATER is an element where immersion is easy for some and not for others.  Some children are very terrified of water, even the bath tub.  However, if you start early and often with bathtime and water play, fears should subside. 

  • Swimming is the best immersion technique we have really, at any age.  Swimming pools, family time at the beach, having playtime in tub....  It all works.  Just be certain that you have a firm grip on your children, especially infants.  They are trusting you to keep them safe.
  • Tell tales of mermaids and water sprites.  Watch videos about dolphins and sharks.  Remind your toddler that water is it's own world, teeming with life, both common and fantastical.
  • Water play outside of the pool, lake, or ocean is fun too.  Sprinklers, squirt bottles and sponge balls soaked in water are tremendous fun. 
  • Snow!  Playing in the snow, rain's frozen counterpart, is perfect for toddlers.  Just watch for frozen fingers and noses.
  • Let your child watch you crack open a coconut and share the fresh milk with them. 
  • Set baby in the highchair and give them a handful of fresh, clean snow to play with.
  • A water table is usually available at play groups or children's centers.  These are giant vats of water full of measuring cups, funnels and other toys so toddlers can pour and dump water, learning the wonders of cause and effect. 
  • Encourage your toddler to drink cool, clear water with you at meals.  Leave soda and juice behind so you can enjoy the powerful cleansing benefits of water together.
  • On a warm day, give your toddler ice cubes and try to melt them.
  • Make a wave bottle with your toddler.  Here are some instructions.
  • Rent a paddle boat with your toddler and peddle out onto a lake so they can float and observe with you. 
  • Take a mommy & me/daddy & me swim class with your toddler.  Aside from learning basic swim techniques, your child will learn safety skills.  Some classes, like those taught at most YMCAs also throw in boat safety and life jacket skills.  I feel this is important because while water is beautiful and healing and peaceful, it also needs to be respected.  Learning skills like these will help your child understand this as well.  
  • Water the garden together.  You can do this with a toddler or while baby wearing.  Face baby out so s/he can see the water as it touches the plants and soaks into the ground.  Show your child different water pressures and let them see how different water can be, from a fine mist to a scouring jet.
  • Let your children see you cry.  Crying is normal, for men and women, and a superb stress reliever.  Crying is part of not only pain relief but any extreme emotion such as anger, fear or even happiness.  Let your child know that crying is okay, that emotions are okay and that even mommys and daddys cry.  If your child tries to comfort you, accept.  Empathy and healing are in the realm of water.
  • Listen to a thunderstorm together.  Some children are frightened by these sounds, but if you make this a secure time with cuddling, communication and perhaps even a story [from their favorite book or you can tell them stories of Thor and the giants of Asgard] your child will grow to be unstressed by thunderclaps and pouring rain. 

Until just a few years ago, when school taught him 'proper' ideas about rain, Doodle Bug used to enjoy yelling up at thunder clouds with me, telling the giants to "Quiet down up there!"  It is a cherished memory <3

And, as will the other elements, use word association and Pagan chants to relate these activities to Water elementals.

There are always ways to turn common moments into teaching moments with your child.  Use that to surround your little ones with love and gentle waves of information so they can build themselves a firm foundation of understanding about their family's religion.

Thank you for reading and comments are always welcome!  I will leave you with the Element Chant as sung by Spiral Rhythm.

Friday, October 19

The Tooth Fairy

I don’t remember how old I was when I knew there wasn’t a Santa Claus.  What I do remember is continuing on in my belief for years, even helping to make sleigh bell noises and eat cookies for my younger siblings.  I am the eldest of three and grew up in a single parent household.  I saw how much my mother struggled to maintain some normalcy in our lives, including childhood magics like the Tooth Fairy.  I admire her for that and so continue on that tradition with my son.

Doodle Bug's Tooth
Doodle Bug, is 9 years old, going on 10 in November.  He lost his first molar at school last week and delighted in grossing me out by rehashing the story of pulling the tooth out all by himself.  Ugh.  Blood, I don't mind... but dangling nerve endings creep me out. 

Anyway, it had been 8 or so months since the last tooth and just as I was about to tell him we'll put it safely away in his keepsake box with the others, he asked how much I thought the Tooth Fairy was going to give him for losing a “big tooth”.  And that's when I remembered my sacred duty as an ambassador to Tooth Fairy Land.  I couldn't believe I'd almost forgotten!  So, after tucking him into bed, I scrambled to find a few dollar bills in the various junk bowls and purse bottoms that they usually end up in.  I folded them into a pretty shape, a kind of tradition for us, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Honestly, I don’t remember ever having as difficult a time sneaking into his room as I did that night.  I checked him every hour on the hour after 9pm but found that he either wasn’t asleep, or that he’d shut his bedroom door and locked it, or that he’d turned on the light in his closet so that he could catch a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy.  After another failed attempt at midnight, I went to bed and set my alarm to go off every hour until I could get the deed done.  

He woke up at 1am and at 2am whenever I walked down the hall.  When he asked what I was doing, I just turned into the bathroom and told him to lay back down.  Luckily, at 4 months pregnant he’s used to me using the restroom half a dozen times a night and obliged.  At 3am he woke up again.  This time I went into his room, turned off the closet light again, and sat on his bed.  He asked why the Tooth Fairy had not come yet.  He opened his hands to show me the little baggie with his tooth in it.  I thought “Oh blarg! Even if I had searched under his pillow, he’s been holding the darn thing this whole time!”

I explained that it was because he wasn’t asleep yet and he hadn’t put the tooth in the proper place.  I retucked him into bed and put the tooth back under his pillow.  I told him that there are rules and that the Tooth Fairy was just like Santa Claus: she could tell if he was sleeping and whether or not it was safe for her to come yet.  He seemed agreeable and finally, by 4am I was able to perform the little miracle without waking him.

And of course he burst into our bedroom at 5:30 in the morning celebrating his dollars and thrilled that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t let him down.

Outgrowing the Myth

When did you realize the Tooth Fairy wasn't real?  Have your children figured it out yet?
After all the hassle of that night, I really wonder if the magic is fading for Doodle Bug.  I always knew that his delays would grant me a little extra time with fairy tales as his innocence persisted, but something tells me he's entering the realm of curiosity that pushes children to test the validity of the world around them.  Scholars call it "The Quest".  There was a study published through Oxford back in 1982 and a more recent one put out last year in the journal 'European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry' that mentions "the quest" as a moment in a child's life where they naturally begin to question the spiritual world around them.  They have questions, compile some doubts, and search for answers.  The studies show that a child's quest is a very normal part of growing up and critical in forming their spiritual identity.  My quest led me to Paganism.  My brother's led him to become an atheist.  The path is different for everyone.
While I'm happy that Doodle Bug is showing such excellent signs of social and emotional growth, I'm a bit sad that our friends Santa and the Toothfairy may be leaving us.  Perhaps Doodle Bug will follow in my footsteps and play along for the sake of his sibling, due to enter this world at Ostara next year.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see where his quest takes him.  

Pagans and the Tooth Fairy

I don't think it takes much stretching for a majority of Pagan families to endorse the myth of a fairy who leaves presents or money for young children.  The Fae are as prominent as dragons, spirits, and goddess' within most branches of Paganism.  However, not all families do and I think that's fine.  Not all Pagan families spin tales of Santa Claus to their children either.  For those of us that do, her history is pretty nifty. 

Trying to hunt down the origins of the Tooth Fairy is as difficult as seeking out Santa Claus!  But, like Saint Nick, she appears to be a conglomerate of European mythos that Pagans may find interesting.  [A majority of the information listed here was researched from a book called 'The Good People: New Fairylore Essays', Peter Narvaez, editor.]

In northwestern England, Jenny Greenteeth was a legendary fowl water spirit used to scare children into brushing their teeth.  Named for a certain pond scum that looked like green teeth, children were told that if they didn't keep their teeth scrubbed, Jenny Greenteeth would get them! 

'Jenny Greenteeth' by Richard Svensson

In north eastern Italy, a character by the name of Marantega [a literary cousin to the Christmas witch, Befana] is a witch who takes not only teeth, but dreams as well, in exchange for coins.  In some tales she is referred to as the "Tooth Witch" who has a fairy apprentice.

In the late 1800's French children would put their tooth under their pillow and, depending upon the region, either the Virgin Mary or a good fairy would exchange it for candy.  In modern France, children wait for a tooth mouse... and oh my goodness, how cute is that?

Liesl van dur Hoven's "Tooth Mouse".  She says that she grew up with the story
of the Tooth Mouse and that children were told to keep their teeth extra clean because
he builds a house from them.  Everyone wants a nice, clean house right?

Book to Share with Children

There are dozens of excellent Tooth Fairy books out there, some even come with cute little containers for teeth.  Here is a sampling:

The Real Tooth Fairy
[Marilyn Kaye & Helen Cogancherry] 1994

Elsie is excited when she loses a tooth because she knows that the Tooth Fairy will visit her that night.  After sneaking a peek, she finds that it's only her mother.  This is when Elsie's mother tells her a story about the mystical Tooth Fairy.  Once a child awoke and was frightened by the Tooth Fairy's presence in her room, because she was a stranger.  Since then, the Tooth Fairy has disguised herself as someone that the child loves whenever she enters a room.

Abra Cadabra and the Tooth Witch
[Nurit Karlin] 1999

Before there was a Tooth Fairy, there was a Tooth Witch.  She grew old and Abra is brought in as her helper.  She decides to start leaving rewards for children and tosses the teeth into the sky where they become stars.  A creative and good witch, Abra brings joy to the job and becomes the Tooth Fairy.

Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World
[Selby Beeler & G. Brian Karas] 1998

This is a collection of tooth rituals from around the world.  Under pillows, down mouse holes, up on the roof... this book will show your children what kids from other countries look forward to when they lose a tooth.  Child-friendly format.

Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies
[William Joyce] 2012

Toothiana, known the world over as The Toothfairy, is the keeper of children's memories and a valued member of the  Guardians of childhood.  This entire series is wonderful and features other myths of childhood including Santa Claus and The Sandman.

This book's character is also featured in the Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians.

The Last Slice of Rainbow and Other Stories
[Joan Aiken & Alix Berenzy] 1985

These are all highly treasured stories that some parents may have read in school.  The one we're looking at is titled 'Clem's Dream'.  In it, a boy goes on an adventure to find the Tooth Witch and reclaim a dream she took from him.  In the end, he learns that she is an incredibly lonely creature and shares the dream with her.

There is just so much more to be said about this myth.  I think I may have to continue to spread the Tooth Fairy love in another post.  Until then, enjoy the little ones that put us in these strange predicaments <3