Apr 242012

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
– Albert Einstein

Elda Mor, the spirit of the Elder Tree, by Arthur Rackham

Most of my readers realize by now what a love of fairytales and folklore I have. This affection is not born simply out of how I find  beautiful and interesting they are, but also because they’ve taught me so much. I struggled with rote memorization when I was in school, and found that the only way I could actually recall much of what I was supposed to be learning was by telling myself stories that included the information. Woven into the context of a tale of faery creatures, wild landscapes, and relatable characters, everything suddenly became so much more memorable and accessible.

Twenty years later, I’ve seen my daughter struggle with the same issue. Memorization and regurgitation is a poor substitute for the depth, color, and insight that can be provided by learning through story. Dates, places, and timelines slip in one ear and out the other, but if woven into an exciting tale, she’ll be retelling it for months. And as much as she loves plants, the same principle applies. Lists of actions or factual soundbites just don’t penetrate much, but tell her a story about where the plant came, how it grows, or how it helps someone, and suddenly it’s so much easier for her to understand and remember. Taught hand in hand with real life experience with the plants results in a profound understanding of and relationship with the plants!

Of course, this doesn’t just apply Rhiannon and I, but to what is probably the great majority of people. I certainly find it true for most of my students, that teaching stories are far more effective than information without context. The more I teach little ones, the more I understand how all of us learn, especially in connection with the natural world. Traditional cultures have known this all along, and usually see formal schooling as a poor substitute for how children learn and develop ~in context~ with their world. It is through stories (plus handson experience) that we learn about relationships, roles, and our place in our community.

In the past few years, I’ve been enormously excited to see more and more herbal material for children emerging online and in print! It’s been exciting to follow the work of Kristine Brown with her Herbal Roots Zine, which involves children in herbalism on many levels, from games to medicine making to stories to artwork, bringing kids into alliance with the plants.

And today, a wonderful new resource for children who want to learn about herbs has been unveiled! Kimberly and John Gallagher are parents, teachers, and herbalists who place a huge emphasis on accessible learning rooted in the natural world, and especially herbs. Kimberly has poured her heart into this new project, a series of 13 interactive fairy tale stories to help children learn about herbs! I’m so excited to see this material released and can’t wait to share it with many of my friends who are also parents and/or teachers of young ones. And of course, this is also a great introduction to the world of herbs for adults who learn through story as well. You can learn all about it at:

Herb Fairies

  One Response to “Teaching Children About Herbs: Storytelling and Fairytales”

  1. kiva,
    I am a regular reader here. I wanted to take the time to tell you how much I love the albert einstein quote…we had that in our home as well with my daughter growing up. Story medicine is some of the best sort. I also bow to your recent journey/story with yourself…it shows all the ways that we travel to get somewhere grand.
    loving you,

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