My daughter, Ellie, is in the fourth grade. That means she’s learning all about The Old North State, aka North Carolina! She came home from school last week, filled with new knowledge and thrilled at the chance to stump me with it.
Ellie, “Mom… Mom…. Mom… Do you know what the capital of North Carolina is?”
I resisted the urge to say “N” and dutifully responded with, “Is it Raleigh?”
Ellie, “Ugh! How did you know?”
And then I wondered why she would think I wouldn’t know, especially after ten years of homeschooling her older brothers.
She then asked, “Do you know our state bird?” (The cardinal)
“How about the state vegetable?” Ahhh — she got me! I didn’t know this one. In case you wonder, it’s the sweet potato. North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the country!
Grinning, she thought she’d get me with the next question, too. “Do you know the state beverage of North Carolina?” Her eyes twinkled with confidence.
I was tempted to answer with “sweet tea,” Ahhhh… gotcha! Now you have no idea what the answer is, right? I chose to show off a bit instead and answered, “milk,” which became our state beverage in 1987. Seventeen other states, including my former home of Ohio, claim milk as well. I honestly don’t know why our state beverage is not sweet tea, though…. I’m sure we drink more than any other state — except Georgia, perhaps!
Her questions got me thinking. Why do we have state symbols? And who picks them?
Why do we have state symbols?
The first question seems easy to answer… at least according to answers.com. State symbols are selected to “represent the cultural heritage and national treasures of each state.” State symbols provide an easy method to promote agriculture, nature, the arts and the culture of a state.
But how did they originate in the first place?
Like other traditions such as the ferris wheel and Cracker Jack, state symbols originated at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. A “National Garland of Flowers” was created with representative flowers selected by each state. These flowers inspired official state floral emblems. State birds and trees soon followed. Now the states have a long list of official emblems. To learn more about your state, click here.
Who decides on state symbols?
While a state’s general assembly and governor must approve an official state symbol, the nominations occur in a variety of ways. For instance, North Carolina’s milk choice was requested by the State Milk Commission. Texas’ state footwear, the cowboy boot, was requested by 7th grade history students.
Requests are presented to representatives, whether from the state house or senate. Once introduced, they must pass both house and senate and then be approved by the governor.
No wonder my fourth grader is learning about state symbols. What a fun way to learn the legislative process!
How does all this relate to travel?
When planning your next vacation out of state, consider having your kids explore the state symbols where you’ll be visiting. Imagine learning that the state reptile of Illinois is the painted turtle and then actually seeing one!
Do you think your kids might try grits in Georgia if they knew they are that state’s official food? (My daughter’s favorite breakfast is grits — she is a true southerner!)
Or turn your home state into a state symbol staycation. Explore your state searching for state symbols, cooking with state foods and stumping each other — like my daughter stumped me with the state insect. (It’s the honeybee, not the mosquito as I guessed.)
One last bit of trivia, Texas has more state foods than any other… including the official state pie: PECAN! I do think I might just eat my way through Texas sometime soon. Care to join me?