The following is a guest post written by Hannah Vanderpool of Praying with One Eye Open.
Let’s face it: Life is hard regardless of where one lives, and humans have a tendency to focus on what is wrong in the world.
When my family and I moved to a rural area in north India, we expected to encounter tough times. We knew that there would be poverty and sorrows along with deep friendships and joy. We homeschooled our three kids in India, and there were times when the needs of our national friends overwhelmed us as we lived out our lives alongside them.
I knew that if we weren’t careful, we might be tempted to approach the world mostly as a place of sorrow and futility. This was not what I wanted to teach my children.
Before long I began looking for ways to brighten our tiny apartment (rusty pipes and rat-friends notwithstanding) because I began to understand that a powerful way to encourage my young ones — and myself — was to concentrate on the beautiful.
Fast forward to our current life in the U.S. We are still homeschooling. Life is, in some ways, much easier here in America. We have a washer and dryer, consistent electricity and an air conditioner in the heat of the summer.
But we were surprised to find that our need for beauty did not diminish when we came back to our home country. We still have a tendency to see what is ugly or wrong in challenging situations, to become discouraged.
Photo by Jonathan Vanderpool
So I continue to fill my home with beauty as much as I can and to remind my kids to really hunt for it themselves, so that they can be encouraged.
I focus on the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) when “beautifying” our home and educational environment. Each is important and offers its own gifts.
I have two older boys who are highly visual. I want them to take in images that reflect true, redemptive, visual beauty in the world. To that end, we visit the public library every two weeks and select a large book of art to keep on the coffee table in our living room. I encourage all three of my children to browse through it at their leisure, and we talk about what we find beautiful and fascinating in its pages.
My husband is a photographer, and we’ve become increasingly sensitive to unexpected beauty as we study his photographs and consider the way he chooses his subject matter.
We’ve chosen to purchase digital cameras for our kids. This has been an inspiring and cheap way to help them develop sensitivity to the hidden beauty around them, and their “work” can be a springboard for good discussion.
When the kids are drawing or resting, I turn on Pandora Radio (the free version) and we listen to classical music. The kids absorb it effortlessly and their ears are tuned to enjoy excellence in music.
And it doesn’t end with Mozart. We enjoy Ella Fitzgerald, Patty Griffin, bluegrass, even operatic arias. The kids love to have music playing in the background of our home and when I forget to turn it on, they remind me.
I have a keen sense of smell, which is a blessing and a curse. Many afternoons, I keep a scented candle burning to fill our small house with the fresh aromas of apples or pumpkin pie.
An alternative to burning candles is boiling cinnamon sticks in a pot of water on the stove.
Of course, a surefire way to make kids smile at the scents in our home is to bake cookies or fresh bread. These smells are powerful “coat hangers” on which to hang memories kids will have long after they reach adulthood. Who doesn’t remember the sweetness of her mother’s perfume or the warm scent of a leather jacket from high school?
Photo by Jonathan Vanderpool
Full disclosure: I am not a great cook. I can whip up some pretty delicious banana muffins, though.
At least once a week, I try to prepare something my kids will truly enjoy, whether it’s a treat or a favorite meal, and we serve it on nice dishes. I require my kids to sit at the table with good manners. We pretend we’re at a restaurant (which is good practice for little ones for when the time comes to really go out as a family!). Often, I incorporate soft music and candles.
We try to enjoy our meal and we ask each other about the best parts of our day. I encourage the kids to eat slowly and truly savor their food, reminding them that there is no need to hurry.
This one seems to be especially important to young children and tactile learners. An easy, cost-effective way to incorporate delightful, touchable items in the home is to keep blankets where kids can find them.
We have two well-loved couches in our living room, and I’ve chosen velvety-soft throws to toss over the backs of each of them. When it’s family movie night, or if one of our kids needs a little extra comfort, he or she grabs a throw and wraps up in a familiar cocoon. I notice that even my 12-year-old loves to rub his hand back and forth in their softness.
Choosing to focus on beauty in the home need not be expensive or one-size-fits-all. Even emphasizing beauty through one sense per week can be beneficial.
Most importantly, finding small ways to pay attention to what is good and lovely in our homes and in our lives is a gift we offer to our children, and ourselves, and leads to joy.
What are some small ways that you bring beauty into your homeschool?