Magic and childhood go together like marshmallows on hot chocolate. For those of us who identify as magic-makers, healers, witches or nature-based based spiritualists, helping children cultivate a sense of magic beyond pop-culture is an important part of sharing what we value. We want children to feel the magic of nature. To listen for the song of the stars. To experience the ritual beauty and meaning of holiday celebrations.
As a mom and founder of Artemis Pack, I've spent many years observing how children experience magic. And I've come up with 4 stages of childhood magic that help me create fun and deep pathways to help kids connect to the magic they are already drawn to. I recently taught about these stages in my parenting series "How to Raise a Witch Child" and I thought I would share them you here.
The ages I list are generalities. I am not a child development professional. Some children stay in one phase longer than others, or may even skip a stage. As adults, having passed through these stages, we can incorporate bits of all of them into our hearts, lives and practices.
Age 0-4: Magic is Literal
At this age, the best thing we can do to cultivate a sense of magic with children is to help them connect with the joy of the natural world. Let fairies be real. Listen to what the trees and rivers say. Let the world be alive. This is a participatory practice. Ask your children what their favorite tree says to them - and share what that same tree says to you. Sing songs of praise and reverence to the moon. If you don't know any, make them up.
When my daughter was this age, she believed that the white reflective lights that would appear on walls when my cellphone caught the sun, or a sequin sparkled were fairies. We loved fairy sightings! I would get as excited as she would, and as an adult, it felt like such a gift to experience this wonder and delight. One parent in my class shared about how their toddler shrieks with glee at the sight of the moon. These experiences are REAL for our young ones. To say magic is literal means that there is no gap between imagination and experience.
Age 5-9: Magic is Experiential
Imaginative play with peers is important at this stage. Running around with a cape, a magic wand and a broomstick with friends, or staging an elaborate game of dragons invites children into the creative possibilities of magic.
As a parent, educator or community member, one of the best ways to support magic at this age is to provide great props. My Artemis Pack members are avid potion makers at this age. They love putting on a witch hat, using tiny cauldrons, and experimenting with magical plants/recipes. We can build on the earlier stage of listening to trees and rivers by discovering the ways plants have real powers. There are so many easy-to-access potion spells on the internet (pinterest is your friend!), including potions that color change, smell good, taste good, and fizz/pop/explode. Props don't have to be fancy or expensive. Make yourself a magic potion kit with recycled jars and ingredients from the kitchen. As long as you are engaging imagination and treating the process as a special one, kids will fill in the rest.
Doubt also creeps in during this range, as the literal experience of magic fades. This is where kids start to ask "is magic real??" For me, it is an opportunity to share my personal belief that there is energy in all natural things. It's an energy we can't see with our eyes, and yet it is real. Even science says so. Magic is the practice of sensing that energy, and learning to work with it. It's true that real magic is not the same as what they see in movies or in stories. But I believe that we live on a beautifully, powerfully magical planet. And that magic is absolutely real to anyone with the patience, skills and imagination to learn it.
Age 10-13: Magic is Controversial
Tweens are figuring out what they believe. Doubts, questions, challenges and skepticism are normal and healthy. And yet, tweens are also drawn to magic in new ways.
Introduce tweens to oracle magic, such as astrology, tarot or a pendulum. These types of oracle magic are shrouded in mystery and mystique. Even better, they give tweens a way to explore their sense of self. All of those "who am I" questions, along with the struggles of peer relationships, are given a creative outlet through these magical tools.
Self-care rituals can be a powerful source of comfort at this stage. One example is to take a crystal and rub it on your heart chakra before bed while saying the words "My heart is light. My troubles are lifted. Tomorrow is a new day." Parents or family members of middle schoolers can help with this kind of daily magic by participating/witnessing and validating the magical power of their ritual actions.
Age 14+: Magic is Spiritual
Teens understanding of magic matures into a worldview/cosmology of how the world works. They begin to feel this abstract truth of "the energy that exists in all natural things" and can connect to it in their own ways. Guided meditation or visualization exercises hold great value. Dream journaling can provide insight and creative outlet. And any work with the activities for younger magic makers, such as potion making, oracle magic and direct communication with nature can go deeper, while providing a sense of profound connection and comfort.
Holiday traditions and family rituals can take on deeper levels of meaning, including the symbolic/metaphoric layers. Teens are growing roots that will support them as they grow into adults. Holidays and traditions are moments of putting values into action. Get teens involved in new ways. Ask them to articulate what holidays mean to them. Ask if they would like to add a new tradition that is in line with their beliefs.
As a teen and young adult, relationship with magic becomes a meaningful form of self and community care. Magic is spiritual. The actions of magic, such as ritual alone or in community, are pathways to hope, peace, joy, empowerment and other positive states of being.
Imagination vs. Reality
My 8 year old daughter is feeling very grown up these days because she knows that the tooth fairy isn't "real." Every time she brings it up, I tell her "It's true that tooth fairy isn't real in the sense that you mean it. But the spirit of the tooth fairy is the spirit of important moments. Grown ups have the job of listening to that spirit, and doing things to help us celebrate you." I tell her potions work, the trees talk to me every day, the spirit of the river is my friend. And she gets it. All of it. She is learning to use her imagination in new ways that don't shut the door on what is possible.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; imagination is the bridge to magic. It's our most our most powerful tool. Imagination grows, changes and evolves from one stage of life to another. The key to raising a magical child really lies in our ability to recognize the evolution of imagination, and to work with it.
PS - want to learn more about magical parenting? My series "How to Raise a Witch Child" has two more dates coming up!