The word ‘Beauty’ has been heard around the room in different contexts. Adults and children alike use this word typically to describe appearances. But what does this word actually mean to each child? During a professional workday I spent a portion of my day speaking to other educations about self-worth, body image, and speaking to and about children with intentionality. I came out of that with an idea for a project.
We have begun to go for walks and discover things we find beautiful. Some children patiently, quietly, and with focus, walk until they find the one thing they find the most beautiful. They describe in detail why it is beautiful, then carefully align the camera and take a photo.
Some pick one adjective such as shiny and run from one shiny thing to another, full of excitement as they suddenly realize just how many shiny things there are in the world. There are even shiny leaves!
While some find beauty in every object they pass. A tree is beautiful because it is tall, a leaf is beautiful because it is golden, and a metal wire is beautiful because it is long.
We leave the classroom, I explain what we are looking for, then ask them to lead the way. R and F asked to go to the river to take photos so that is what we did. On our walk over we talked about what kinds of things they find beautiful. R thought the sparkles in the water were beautiful, as well as the leave imprints on the concrete and the shadows on the bridge. F looked at the bigger picture, drawn to the River as a whole, and the tall trees that line the river.
T and E went for a walk around our school and on a playground we frequent. T was drawn to colorful things, like the pink pinwheel and a red leaf that was sitting in a pile of green leaves. E stated he liked shiny things, like the metallic fire hydrant, white car, and metal bars on the playground. What was interesting about their walk was they started to find things that fit each others idea of beauty. T called out, “Look E, there is something shiny you would like!” E took the close up photo of the green climber and said, “It’s colorful so it’s beautiful.”
A and K raced from object to object declaring it beautiful for different reasons. The leaf was beautiful because it was black on the edges and green on the inside; the metal wire was beautiful because it was long; the sunflowers were beautiful because they were largely unexpected. Everything and anything was beautiful.
Every pair has been unique, and had such diverse ideas of what makes something beautiful. R above was drawn to the beautiful sound the metal handle made when you stepped on it.
As we collect images I have placed them both on a map on a window, separated into categories, and into a binder in the classroom. L took the binder out before nap and as she flipped through the pages she would ask the class, “What was beautiful about this?” and the person who took the photo would answer.
A parent has given us a Polaroid camera to use and we are excited to bring in another element of, “Same but different” that I think the beauty project is introducing.
How this will affect their social interactions. Often one child will decide something is beautiful and their peers will desperately attempt to match their idea of beauty. Will this project broaden the idea that beauty is subjective, and that there are many kinds of beauty? I also wonder how this will affect their evaluation and use of classroom materials. Will they look closer at materials and how they can use them? I wonder how we can include families in this project, and think about what beauty looks like in different homes and to different cultures and communities.