Last week, a gift arrived for my 9-month-old baby. It was the most gorgeous baby book I have ever laid my eyes upon. I didn't know board books could be this beautiful. The illustrations are enchanting. The textures are captivating. Oh, and it's white.
Not a white that you can wipe clean. It's a soft, matte white. The kind of white that spaghetti-sauce-covered-hands will destroy.
This book is the kind of thing you might not want your kids touching. It's the kind of thing that you might want to save until they are older, because they won't appreciate it now anyways. They will probably ruin it.
As I contemplated hiding this book from my baby, I asked myself a question. Is there an age when kids can officially begin to appreciate and handle beautiful things?
Not as far as I am concerned.
Instead of holding out on her, I will teach her to appreciate and care for this book starting now. Because babies needs access to beautiful things too. Here are the five beautiful things that all children, of any age, should have in their lives.
We have a huge piece of abstract art in our living room. We have spent hours debating what the heck it is. My husband and I know very little about art--but we have developed our own personal interpretations of it. I see a sad man who is crying. My husband sees a dancer. Our toddler sees guitars.
We know that kids love color. But their bedrooms don't need to be surrounded with Disney characters. When we give kids abstract art we are opening up possibilities for creative thought. Sometimes we call this divergent thinking. Abstract art also introduces social constructionism--the idea that each person will view things uniquely based on their own life experiences.
Just because I don't see guitars and dancers in that painting, doesn't mean my husband and son are wrong. It just means they see the world differently than I do. Learning to respect different opinions and views is pretty cool.
When my son was 6 months old a Montessori teacher handed him a shot glass of water. She told me that glass objects have a voice. Glass says "be careful". I rolled my eyes. But I went along with the experiment and kept giving him a shot glass to drink water.
Then one day when he was 10 months old I simultaneously offered him two drinking vessels, a plastic sippy cup of milk and a shot glass with water. Being in a particularly foul mood that day, he decided he didn't want anything to drink. I watched as he picked up the plastic cup and chucked it across the room. Then he took one finger and gently pushed the shot glass a few inches away from his place at the table.
The glass had spoken. Indeed, it said "be careful with me". Our 9-month-old is now learning this same lesson and she appears to hear the voice of the glass too--because she is careful. This introduces a whole new idea: Babies and toddlers can be careful. Imagine that?
Let them dabble in delicate things. Your trust will translate into feelings of competence and confidence in your children. They will amaze you.
My husband has the habit of stopping the car in the middle of a long drive and getting out to enjoy a good view. When I first experienced this I was so frustrated. I said something along the lines of "Dude, we have somewhere to be".
But he kept stopping. All the while, I kept complaining.
When he stops, he will shut the car off and get out. Ultimately I got to the point that I said: FINE, I will get out too.
Then I realized something. When I get out of the car (even reluctantly), I always enjoy the view.
This realization wouldn't have happened on my own. It took seeing someone else enjoying the view for me to stop and smell the roses. The love and appreciation for viewing the mountains, the desert, and the beaches might not come naturally. But it can be encouraged, even in the youngest of children and the oldest of adults.
Do you see an amazing sunset? Or a moon that is shining bright? Talk about it. Share it. Encourage it.
My three-year-old knows more about classical music than I do. There is certainly no memorization of composers and symphonies going on in our house. But when you take away the boisterous lyrics that are common in most children's music, kids can better appreciate rhythm and movement of music.
Even babies start moving their bodies to music in the earliest months of life. My son can't tell the difference between Bach and Beethoven. But he can be seen running around the house fast during an upbeat piece of music, and then slowing down when he hears to slow bits. He can also distinguish between the sound of a trumpet and a violin.
Music appreciation doesn't have to be technical. Young children are born with the ability to "feel" it.
Continued exposure will foster appreciation for music.
Books can be a gateway to many beautiful things. You don't have to travel to Africa to enjoy the animals in their natural habitats. We introduced classical music in books long before we actually made a trip to see an orchestra. Art doesn't have to be expensive and hanging on the wall. It can be pondered in a library book.
Beauty is best enjoyed together--so don't be afraid to show your kids how you marvel at the miraculous.
Back to that beautiful book that was gifted to my baby. I gave it to her. I am going to teach her that we wash our hands before touching it. We treat it respectfully so we can enjoy it for a long time to come.
I am going to teach her that she can start enjoying and respecting beautiful things right now.