“He has made everything beautiful in its time…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV
A taste for brussels sprouts or fine wines is seldom a gift of nature. For classically-minded parents, such lofty and nebulous aims as the pursuit of beauty and truth can make choosing a math curriculum or learning to read seem refreshingly simple. On what will we feast? Where do we even begin? An admittedly large amount of trial and error has convinced me that with a steady, thoughtful exposure almost any taste can be acquired, for parents and children alike.
Taste, like memory, is developed systematically, over time. My kids don’t remember all the dinners where we required a single taste of every vegetable, but they enjoy a pretty expansive palate today. My grade school friend does recall her parents’ systematic tour of their curated wine cellar, and I happily defer to her expertise at restaurants. A love of beauty, not a pale, thin appreciation, is similarly honed. And the journey together can be glorious.
Many of our natural leanings, if we admit it, don’t scratch the surface of the accessible. If our tastes are left to their own course, they will often follow the piper’s call after the sugary and the sparkled, the brightest color, the sharpest noise. And closed to us will be the pleasures of twisting paths, exotic flavors, of subtleties of shade and tone. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but beholding well is task requiring not a little skill.
As homeschoolers, we are gatekeepers. What we let in, in what order and in what amount, and what we keep out or limit, shapes our children’s inclinations. I’m not talking about censorship, though there may be times and places for discretion. I’m talking about how to get beyond a survey (playing a classical radio station in the background) to an internalizing of loveliness such that they may crave the energy of Chopin or the whimsy of Debussy with the same specificity that drives me to that One Best Taco Truck.
I don’t think you need to be an expert to help your kids journey towards the fullest enjoyment of beauty. But when we put a toe into the shoreline of a composer or an artist’s world, let’s be ready to roll and swim and immerse ourselves fully. To provide the space to listen, copy, watch until we find ourselves sucked in and invested. To foster that “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4b).
In our house, we often listen to a particular composer long enough to sing the melodies in our sleep before we move on so that when we listen to someone new, the contrasts are suddenly obvious. My littler ones like to occupy themselves with watercolors, and often, I have them pick an artist and a work to copy. The attention to detail in copying naturally develops in them an affection for the work and the artist.
Like any relationship, the most important ingredient is quality time. To appreciate the sunset, we must not be rushing by in a frenzy. To really hear a piece of music, we must have accustomed ourselves to the enjoyment of relative inactivity. To get our hands into the texture of a dough or watch the sauce change consistency, we must have hours to devote to those processes. A commitment to seeking beauty means saying no to some of the bright and shiny things that vie for our attention—limiting the high-octane entertainment on screens big and small that stunts our attention spans, and guarding our days against over-commitment, even to enriching things. Time is a limited commodity; we must choose the better things.
For our efforts, the reward is not the way the kids call out, “I hear Vivaldi!” in a department store, or the way they order exotic foods off the adult menus. Although let’s face it, that is always hilarious. But the reward of honing our children’s taste for beauty is the joy that a gracious Creator intended when he endowed them with ears for music, eyes for art, and taste buds for flavor. It is the eye-popping delight over a new curry that no chicken nugget on earth has ever inspired. Or the awed recognition when they see a painting they have known as a dear friend, hanging in a museum or discussed in a documentary. They are suddenly drawn meaningfully into the wider world and its story.
It is the wild spectrum of feelings evoked from notes on a page, from abject fear at Beethoven’s “Storm” (our middle daughter couldn’t listen to it for months) to soothing comfort from his “Pathetique.” It’s learning to love these things together with my girls.
We will always enjoy the whiz-bang of Marvel movies and Billy Joel. And after those crisp-roasted brussels sprouts, we’ll always kinda love some sugary goodness. But as we steep ourselves in the varied delights of creation, we will be moved and bonded together by our shared search for the true beauty in God’s world.