atmosphere, children, peaceful environment, routines, time at home

Creating Atmosphere: The Sounds, Smells, and Rituals of Home

Written by: Kendall A. | Umm Iman
(Originally Posted: June 21, 2020)

One of the biggest things that I remember about my childhood is the sounds, smells, and rituals of my home. It was always a place that felt warm, smelled good, and was bursting with love, alhumdulilah. I don’t for a second, overlook the time, attention, and care that both of my parents put into creating such an atmosphere, in their own ways, through simple things–fresh cut flowers in every room, do-it-yourself decorations for each season, open windows to let in the cool breeze, incense and candles burning–to name a few. To tell you the truth, the sounds, smells, rituals–the overall feeling of home–are what I missed most upon moving out in my adult life. I recognize how blessed and fortunate I was, not only to have a place to call home, but also to have one that ignited so many beautiful and fond memories. Amidst moving into my home and later having children of my own, it was integral to me to create that same feeling for them. It is my hope that they will have an innate sense of what it means to be “home”–that when they smell or hear or see one of those aspects in their later lives, it will trigger the same feelings of peace, happiness, and love that emanated throughout their childhood home, in sha Allah.

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I embarked on this journey by first setting up our family’s schedule. Once I had an idea of how our day would flow, it became easier for me to consider the sounds, smells, and rituals that I wanted to accompany some of those blocks. The schedule itself provides consistency for the children in what to expect of our weekdays (we usually spend our weekends hanging out outdoors). The additional component of sounds, smells, and rituals simply helps to ingrain the sense of schedule and routine even further, which allows the children to feel safe, secure, and like their lives are predictable–things that are important for every child in healthy development, trust building, and securely attaching to parents, especially for children who cannot yet tell time.

We begin our morning with a slow wake up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and cleaning up the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathroom. During breakfast, the children can anticipate the sound of our morning duas and Surah Yaseen playing in the background, along with the smell of a delicious, healthy meal being prepared. Our breakfast conversation consists of the following key points each day: setting our intentions for the day and pondering something that we are looking forward to. I like to share that my daily intention is to: be positive, be productive, and to please Allah. My daughter has adopted this daily intention as well, though I sometimes encourage her to focus on a more child-friendly version of: being kind, working hard, and remembering Allah.

As we move into our time in the play room, I set the atmosphere for peaceful play by adding some background sounds. This usually consists of audio books or story podcasts, Quran, nasheeds, or bird sounds in nature. I also used our Ramadan playlist during the special month to set the mood and digest some passive learning while playing. We enjoy listening to Islamic stories or other books focused on a certain topic, like: kindness, respect, or inclusivity. Sometimes I play a long audio of the Quran, and other times I play the surah that my daughter is learning on repeat so that the words and rhythm sink into her brain. I have found that this makes it easier for her to learn a new surah once she sits down with it. We like nasheeds that create a calming environment through the lack of instrumentation, like those found from Zaky and Friends or Omar and Hana. I also believe that the messages in these nasheeds seep into the children’s psyche from the repetition of hearing them, and my children often like to recall and sing one of the songs that applies to their problem in the moment, like that of asking permission or calming down. Nature sounds always create a peaceful environment as well.

It’s important to note that even though all of these audios come with a visual (video or pictures), I focus on the sound by putting the screen in a place that the children cannot see it and can focus on their playing instead of becoming distracted by the screen. During this time, I also like to light some incense or spray aromatherapy mists to add smells and create a peaceful environment. There are no particular rituals associated with playing in the play room, save singing our rendition of the clean up song at the end! (“Clean up! Clean up! Every Muslim, everywhere. Clean up! Clean up! Every Muslim, do your share. Allah likes it when we’re clean. Don’t be messy, don’t be mean.” Repeat until all items have found their respective homes.)

During dinner, we have the ritual of discussing these points as a family: “How was your day? What was something you were grateful to Allah today for? How did you use your spiritual heart today? What is one thing you want to work on for tomorrow (in terms of improvement)?” These questions help us to reflect individually and brainstorm collectively as a family. It is also my hope and intention that these will become the points that my children consider on their own as they get older, in sha Allah.

The bath and bedtime routines are heavy laden with sounds, smells, and rituals. Once I have run the bath, I begin playing our “sleep time” music. This creates the atmosphere that it’s time to start unwinding and relaxing our bodies to make them calm, peaceful, and ready to sleep. (I opted out of playing Quran as our sleep music, because I didn’t want the children to make the association of sleeping when they hear it. Instead, we recite specific sections of the Quran during our bedtime routine, which is discussed later. However, it is not the main background sound being associated with sleeping. I also play the sleep music in the car sometimes, if we are out during the children’s nap. So I have found that it helps to have a consistent sound that is associated with sleeping.) I use lavender salt in the children’s bath, because it helps to calm the body for sleeping. The bathroom lighting is kept intentionally low to create the mood for winding down.

Once pajamas are on, I use blackout curtains in the children’s bedroom to create a darker space, especially during the summer months when the sun sets after bedtime. It is also helpful for the morning, when the sun rises early. If the children do wake in the night or pretty early in the morning, the darkness of the room helps lull them back to sleep until a reasonable time to wake! The sleep music follows us into the children’s bedroom, as well as our lavender and jasmine aromatherapy sprays and incenses. Before sleeping, we read or listen to a couple stories and recite our evening Quran, duas, and Islamic affirmations. Our evening Quran consists of: Surah Fatihah, Ayat Al Kursi, Surahs Ikhlas, Al Falaq, An Nas, and Al Mulk. Our duas include this one and a personal dua (“Oh Allah, You are Owner of the Most Beautiful names. Please send your peace, blessings, and mercy upon Muhammad SAW. Please forgive me of my sins and accept my good deeds. Please protect my family and me, and make my family and me among the people of your Jannah. Ameen”). This is a simple dua used to teach the children the formula of dua. As they get older, I hope that they will begin to add their own conversation points with Allah, in sha Allah. Our Islamic affirmations are: “Allah sees me. Allah is with me. Allah loves me. Worship Allah alone. Do what Allah likes, and Jannah will be yours. La ilaha illAllah.” The purpose of these affirmations is to build taqwa in the children–to know, remember, and feel that Allah is Omnipresent and loves them. This is such a special time, because the environment created for sleep is peaceful, filled with love, and invokes the remembrance of Allah. What better way to end the day?

Finally, we also include family rituals that occur weekly. At the moment, we have reserved Thursday evenings for everyone to share any Quran they have been practicing and memorizing. Friday nights are family Movie Night, and Saturday nights are Game Night. These traditions give us something to look forward to and provide for family bonding time!

In sha Allah, you feel inspired to attach specific sounds, smells, and rituals with parts of your day as well. One day, your child will look back and feel the presence of home when they encounter those familiar sounds, smells, and engage in those rituals again. What a beautiful way to build a bond!

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