Science and Magic

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The Fairies in Winter

Pray where are the little bell-flowers gone
     That lately bloomed in the wood?
Why the little fairies have each taken one
     And put it on for a hood.

And where are the great big blue-Bottles gone
     That buzzed in their busy pride?
Oh, the fairies have caught them, every one,
     And broken them in to ride.

And they’ve taken the glow-worm to light their halls,
     And the crickets to sing them a song
And the great red rose leaves to paper their walls,
     And they’re feasting the whole night long.

But when Spring comes back with its mild soft ray,
     And the ripple of gentle rain,
The fairies bring back what they’ve taken away
     And give it all back again!

There’s a little big of magic in even the driest of science.

I mean sure, we can analyze things until to cows come home, pick them apart to their barest elements, dissect them until we divide things down to the most basic components, but at the end of the day, there will still be questions that can only be answered with imagination and a sense of wonder and reverence.

Where did that very first speck of dust come from?

What caused the very first breath of life?

When did the shift from soulless to sentient begin?

Who ordered it all so?

And why?

So, when our littlest ones ask us scientific question, I don’t think we should always feel obligated to give a completely dry scientific answer.

There are times when we will want to give a very fanciful answer, like the poem does above. And what a gift it is to a child, to imagine the fairies circumspectly gathering elements from nature and using them in a winter-long feast, only to return them when spring circles round again. A poem like this is magical and speaks to a need of wonder in a child’s heart.

Ah, some might say, but it’s not true!

But is it? When children ask (or sometimes don’t ask!) about things like the change of seasons, it is our job as the grown-ups in their life to figure out what, exactly, they are asking. Very rarely is it a question about equinoxes or the earth’s distance from the sun or temperature, although that might sometimes be the case. More often than not, it is a question of change and permanence.

Where did the lovely warm days go?

Where are the pretty flowers?

Who took them away, and why?

And will they ever come back again?

And that’s where a tale like this comforts their hearts. The fairies took them and put them to good use and, most importantly, yes, YES! They’ll return in the spring.

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Then too, there are the pretty little nature stories the likes of which were told back at the turn of the last century—stories of little flowers who lifted their face to the sun, brown leaves who slowly drifted to the earth, gentle snowflakes that worked together to blanket the ground. In these stories—many of which you can find archived for free in Google books—Mother Nature is often personified and tamed in a way that makes her much more approachable for children. These stories are the best of all worlds—lovely and childlike but grounded in the realities of the natural world.

There is, of course, a time and place for cold, hard facts as well. Sometimes you have a child who persists in questioning and a fairy story or nature tale just won’t do. “But why? Why?” they ask, and at that point they might just be ready for a more cut and dried explanation.

Or it could be time to turn the tables a little. “Why do you think"?” you can ask, and you can then be led by their answer. Maybe they’re truly trying to puzzle out how the natural world works or maybe they’re looking for something else.

So, look at the frost on the windows. Did Jack Frost make a visit while you were sleeping and decorate the windows with lace? Did Brother Wind blow his freezing breath and cover the plants with a frozen blanket? Or is it time to observe air temperature together and explore what happens when cold air gets near moisture?

You’re the parent. No one knows your child better than you. You can help answer these questions in the most developmentally appropriate and soul nurturing way.

And so, when our children inquire of us, we answer them not necessarily with the textbook answer, but in a way that truly answers the questions of their souls. And, in the words of T. S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started… and know the place for the first time.”

1 Comment


  1. //

    Annette, this is so beautifully expressed!

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