When Marissa asked if I would consider writing a guest post on the topic of creating a peaceful environment for my children, I couldn’t help laughing and then sighing. My thoughts went to beautifully painted walls, counters and floors that never see clutter, and most of all a mama who is never frazzled. My home, conversely, is one where the carpet daily receives new speckled blots of play-dough colors and the walls remain an ever-blatant white. It’s hardly what I would consider a model of beauty and creativity. Yet I do very much desire for our home to be a place of peaceful learning and joyful growth for our children, and there are many choices which we have made with the goal in mind of establishing this kind of environment for our children. My intention in writing this post is to share some of the things which have worked for us in making our home a peaceful place for our young children to grow and learn.
The most important element to a peaceful environment, of course, is love. This is lived out through open communication, mutual acceptance, and purposeful respect. It means choosing to share unselfishly and to trust one another’s words and actions. It means forgiving one another and daily living out that beautiful 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. We both encourage these attitudes in our children and choose to live them out as their parents. I trust my children’s good intentions and their honesty, and I give them no reason to distrust mine. I listen to them, and they listen to me. Though my position is one of authority over them, I am still obligated to treat them with respect, consideration, gentleness, and compassion. This kind of love in our family relationships makes our home a place of harmonious community.
There are also many little habits which affect the direction and flow of our days and thus also influence our thoughts and actions. It’s taken some time to figure out what works best for us, but finding our own rhythm has been priceless. I spend the entirety of my days with our young children, training them and teaching them, loving them and enjoying them. There is no yelling here. We are at home at least three full days out of every week, often more. We don’t have a set schedule, but we have a rhythmic routine to our days which works best for all of us, yet can be flexible as needed. We don’t have a television. We do have playtime and storytime and naptime. We laugh often. We play games together, sing songs together, and have many conversations together throughout all of it. We pray together and read the Bible together. We work at laundry and dishes and cooking and cleaning together. If the foundational aspect of our home is love, then the framework of our home is togetherness.
Building onto this foundation of love and framework of togetherness, then, the clearly seen, material format of our home is one which may seem simple but which has been chosen purposefully and carefully. The interior layout and contents of our home have been determined largely by our philosophies of raising children. I tend toward the Montessori method for teaching preschoolers, and so I have sought to incorporate this into our everyday surroundings. Rather than have big bins or boxes full of muddled toys, we have simple, low bookcases and a few small baskets in which the children store their things. Knowing exactly where to find a toy means that our children also know just where to put it back when finished. They learned early on to store their books upright, spines out, on the bookshelves in their rooms. This contributes to treating their books respectfully and replacing them carefully when finished. Toys with many pieces have separate baskets or boxes. There is never a massive, disorderly dumping of toys. Other parts of our home are open to our children as well. Our furniture, though nothing fancy, is laid out in such a way as to allow for open play in and through our home; the things of adults and children are interwoven so as to require that our little ones interact responsibly with all of their surroundings.
Our goal is to teach them to relate responsibly not only with their own toys and books, but also with all of their possessions and ours as well. Being able to access crafts, games, art supplies, clothing, shoes, and so forth on their own helps enable our children to develop the self-discipline and responsibility which is so highly valued in the Montessori method. The layout of our home is such that it enables and encourages our children to do things for themselves and of their own accord. Our three-year-old can access most of her clothing, thus enabling her to dress herself and put away her own clothes. She can help us wash dishes, make meals, clean up big messes, and a dozen other useful household chores. Our one-year-old can help put away dishes from the dishwasher, put away kitchen utensils and dishcloths, help sort laundry, sweep the floor, clean up spills, and put his dirty clothes in the clothes hamper. My perspective is that while allowing them to help takes longer now, my hard work will pay off in the long run. (I already find this to be true; having happy little hands that are well-trained to trot around the home and put things away makes life much easier for me at my current state of nine months pregnant.) These daily acts of repetitive responsibility, done with joyful exuberance and a growing understanding of the importance of organization and follow-through, contribute not only to a household that runs smoothly, but also teach our children the value of motivation, obedience, and self-direction. These all contribute to raising up contented children who feel the peace of a life lived with purposefulness, not distracted busy-ness leading to anxiety.
Though it may seem a meager differentiation, I feel that these habits have a marked impact on the ways our children play and relate. Rather than dumping out a huge box of toys and then flitting on distractedly to something else, as many toddlers seem to do, our little ones are learning to play intentionally with one item until finished, then put it away before moving onto the next thing. Even at the tender ages of three and one, I believe that these little practices are all part of helping them build self-discipline, not only in playtime but also in daily life. This ability to be self-motivated to follow through on tasks is statistically one of the most important factors in a person’s long-term success in life. Thus, teaching our children to follow through on tasks, persevering and completing cycles of activity which they began of their own accord, is of central importance in the way that we teach them and walk through our days with them.
Another factor in having our home be a beneficial learning environment is in the toys that we accumulate and keep. We believe in having lovely, practical, simple, educational toys which can be used for multiple purposes and for multiple ages. We try to choose only those which have innate teaching opportunities such as small musical instruments, legos, and blocks, all of which are educational and great fun. Our children also love toys which can be used to create imaginative scenarios, such as their play kitchen, where they make inventive meals for us every day. Small blankets are abundant and can be used for nearly any purpose, whether swaddling a baby (stuffed animal) or setting the scene for a picnic on the beach (kitchen floor). Puzzles, matching games, magna-doodles, and a usable tea set are other favorites of our little ones. All of these are toys which provide extensive entertainment while at the same time feeding our goals for them of tactile learning, shared play, and self-discipline. Our open schedule and extended time at home allows the children to have plenty of time for free play in which their imaginations can be well-exercised and allowed to grow.
Finally, we believe that a love for reading is one of the greatest gifts which can be given to a child, and so books are a major component of our days and located intermittently throughout our home. We read together before naptime and bedtime, as well as interspersed during the day while playing. Because reading is such a big deal in our family, I am adamant about only allowing high-quality, truthful literature into the hands and hearts of our little ones. Not every book that they read has gorgeous illustrations and timeless moral truths, but we are careful to have are a wide array of beautiful books which encourage learning and creativity. I am positive that the books we read to our little ones greatly influence their perspectives about God, other people, the world, and themselves. Both of our children have a tendency to memorize the books that we read to them and intersperse the words and concepts of their books into their play (and also, I think, into their worldview). What a difference it makes to choose books which are full of joy and love and the beauty of life rather than jealousy of siblings or resentment toward parents!
What are some ways that you seek to create a peaceful home? Are there things that you have found vital for your family? WE would love to hear feedback, questions, and what has worked for others who are pursuing peaceful learning environments for their children!
Jamie is happily married to her best friend Keith. Their children are Priscilla (3) and Abraham (1.5). Their next little baby is due to arrive sometime in the next week! Jamie blogs about motherhood, children, and this gracious gift of life over at Purposeful Living.