When I was growing up, my favorite movie was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. My favorite scene was the one in which the Beast introduces Belle to the enchanted castle’s library. The music swells, the doors swing wide, and Belle’s eyes widen as the camera spins to show her first glimpse of floor-to-ceiling shelves and a dazzling array of books in a swirl of colors as far as the eye can see. It is a truly magical experience, not only for her, but for the viewer as well.
You may have heard classical educators use the words truth, goodness, and beauty to describe their goals for education. You may have nodded along. What family doesn’t want to share truth together, inspire goodness in each other, and surround itself with beauty? When life gets hectic, however, beauty is often the easiest of the three to leave behind. As dishes pile up in the sink and laundry never quite makes it to the folding stage, beauty may seem emotionally and financially out of reach, raising a nagging suspicion—Is beauty only for those with unlimited resources and time or a magical castle at their disposal?
When I was growing up, my family did not have those fabled unlimited resources. We found beauty in making gingerbread houses, planting flowers, and choosing brightly colored notebooks to track our daily assignments. As I thought about other homeschool graduates I know who have a deep love of beauty as adults, I realized that the same was true for them. So, I asked them. I asked them what was most influential in developing their love of beauty, what their parents did, and whether or not it was intentional. Here are some of their stories.
Emily (homeschool graduate)
“I learned to appreciate beauty most from Grandma and [my aunt], and my love of what I perceive to be beautiful really comes from loving them. They both taught me that hobbies are important, and that it doesn’t have to cost a lot to have beautiful things. One of my favorite memories from growing up is craft days with Grandma, and I still have a lot of treasures that she and I made together. I’ve always loved her simple style, and I learned a lot about practical, functional things of beauty from her.
“[My aunt] showed me how to create beauty out of ugliness. She could always make a situation better with her sunny personality. She and I would walk into a room at the farmhouse, and where I saw a big mess and a lot of junk, she saw memories and possibilities.”
Pam (homeschool mom, graduated two)
“To really appreciate something (or someone), pay attention to it, notice the details, spend time with it, don’t rush through it, don’t take it for granted. Like appreciating a good meal, a faithful animal, the first blueberries to ripen, the wonderful taste of vegetables straight from the garden to your mouth, your favorite book or movie or song, or a special friend, appreciation takes time and sometimes repetition.
“Having to work for something tends to deepen appreciation. This doesn’t mean just physical labor; it can also mean digging for the truth yourself, discovering things in your own way and time. We often must experience the contrast to understand and truly appreciate cold and warmth, wet and dry, sickness and health, poverty and abundance, or ugliness and beauty. Appreciation is a valuing, a weighing, a choosing because we have choices. A sense of wonder and awe play an important role in appreciation. I think that Dad and I loved [our children] so much that we just wanted to share the wonders, beauty, and goodness we have experienced.”
Rachel (homeschool graduate)
“[Learning] to appreciate beautiful things was a question of access in my family. There were always arts and crafts supplies available; classical music recordings were mixed in with the Amy Grant tapes; my mom would give us all our own personal sketchbook at the beginning of the summer or the school year so we always had a place to write or draw on field trips or family day trips; the public library was the first place I was allowed to walk to by myself—a big deal when you’re twelve! When all of these things are accessible and you are encouraged to use them, it becomes easy to be drawn to the creative, the different, and the beautiful as part of the everyday.
“But my parents definitely did some things very deliberately. We always went to museums, whether it was the local science and art museums in Springfield or a big trip into Boston to see a specific exhibit at the MFA or the Cincinnati Fine Art museum when we were visiting the grandparents. Once we went to see an amazing Monet exhibit, sketchbooks firmly in hand, and the security guard wouldn’t let us draw because the galleries were so crowded. We heard him tell another guard that if we were art students he would have let us but because we were kids it didn’t matter. My mom was furious, which taught me that it doesn’t matter your skill level, if you want to create, you should be able to.”
Kristen (homeschool graduate, mom of toddler boys)
“Most of it right now is just pointing out/commenting on things that we find beautiful and being intentional with the books that we choose to help communicate that as well; for example, we really want them to appreciate beauty in all cultures and ethnicities and genders, so we read books that highlight that, being aware of what the TV programs that they see communicate, and being intentional with the things that we affirm and comment on to them, about them, and about others.”
Sam (homeschool graduate)
“[Appreciating] beautiful things came from experiencing them together. I was always more than welcome to come and experience things my parents found beautiful with them, whether or not I would understand it. Beautiful things were meant to be shared, as I understood them. “Also, my dad…is the sort of person who’s never too busy to stop for a sunset or a bluebird or a hummingbird or a flower, and admire it for a minute. He does it constantly, actually, and he surrounds himself with beautiful things that he loves, like his flowers on the shelf in front of his window, the hummingbird feeder just outside of his window where he can always see it, and the music he has going constantly. He actually keeps that hummingbird feeder full to create those moments where he can stop and look at something pretty.
“[Although] he created this space largely for his enjoyment and inspiration, we are always welcome to come in and share in it… [The] largest impact on my life and the way I think about appreciating beauty [is] my parents’ example that beautiful things are always worth a pause, always to be shared, and always worth a moment of observation and reflection.”
Stephanie (homeschool graduate)
“I remember playing ‘patterns’ with Mom even before I could talk much. I loved to play with blocks, and she would arrange them in patterns based on color or size, and I thought it was fun to figure out what came next. We would find patterns ‘in the world’ too.
“Daddy always engaged my love of beauty in nature. He loved to show me new places on our farm…He would bring me to a spot where the creek crashed around jagged rocks and tell me that listening to a creek was one of his favorite sounds in the world. He was the one to point out sunsets and teach me how to know how old a tree was.
“Both of my parents modeled an excitement for life that I like to think my sister and I picked up. Everything was an adventure. Thunderstorms on the lake? Adventure. Going to an art museum? Adventure. They taught us to look into things that we found interesting or beautiful… [ensuring] that the world will never cease to be interesting or beautiful.”
Do these stories inspire you? Highlight a few examples that you would like to put into practice this year. Do they intimidate you? Try not to see the stories as a checklist since every family represented here had different experiences that led them to love beauty. Yours will look different, too.
Even though taking a moment to watch a monarch unfold its wings may seem counterintuitive when there are so many competing priorities, those moments can make a world of difference in a child’s life. I encourage you to make beauty part of your home school, even if it is only through a wilted can of flowers and a few brightly colored books arranged on a shelf. Even Belle had to start somewhere.