The formation of habits is education and Education is the formation of habits. Charlotte Mason, Volume I, Part III
Reading through Home Education by Charlotte Mason has been very inspiring. I have been documenting the points that strike me in each section for the past month (Part I and Part II) and I am enjoying the process. Part III, entitled “Habit is Ten Natures,” is inspiring and honestly, a bit overwhelming. What a great responsibility we have as parents. We are instilling habits in our children, whether we are intending to or not. These habits we either allow or guide will help form the character and decisions of our children for the rest of their lives. I have seen this in my own life. My mother instilled in me the habits of working before you play, daily dishes, intra- and interpersonal analysis, and a love of reading and I still follow these lines of habit as an adult.
So, here are the main points that struck me in this section in this reading-
1. As “strong as nature is, habit is not only as strong, but tenfold as strong” (p105). Because “Habit…is simply nature in action, growing strong by exercise” (p105). Therefore, “exactly anything may be accomplished by training, that is, the cultivation of persistent habits.”
One of the first habits I worked on intentionally with my children was the habit of flushing the toilet and washing hands after using the restroom. I had recently read the free e-book presented by Simply Charlotte Mason, Smooth and Easy Days. Through my reading of this book, I gained two incredibly valuable tips on forming habits in my children. One was to adopt an attitude of hopeful expectancy toward the child during the habit forming process. What a difference this makes! Instead of a suspicious, impatient or angry parent impeding the progress by creating stress or anxiety in the heart of the child, a hopeful, happy attitude fosters the development of the habit by communicating to the child that they are on the same team. The second valuable tip I gleaned from Smooth and Easy Days was to demand mental effort on the part of the child in the formation of a habit. Rather than nagging, which just reinforces the “do-what-mommy-says-to-do” habit (which is not a bad habit to develop, but it does not further the goal of the child doing on his own the particular action you are working on), requiring that the child put forth exertion to remember the action on his own will strengthen the habit.
I utilized these tips when working on the habit of flushing and washing in my children. The day I began, I took them aside and told them that after each restroom use, they needed to remember to do two things, “Flush the toilet and wash your hands.” For the next few weeks, every time that they visited the restroom, I would listen to see if they did the two things. This was fairly easy to do since we lived, at the time, in a small house with one bathroom. Any time that they did not do both things, I would approach them, or call them to me, and ask, “Did you do the two things?” I could see on their faces the mental effort of working to remember what the two things were. They would remember and rush off to fulfill their obligation. A few weeks later, they had the habit down and they would approach me and declare proudly, “Mommy, I remembered the two things!” They would then receive the praise and encouragement they were looking for.
Both of them still have this habit. My oldest son especially has taken the habit to heart. In our household, he is the washing hands with soap police. If you come over to my house, be sure you wash your hands- with soap- or you will meet with a severe look from an imperious 5 year old redhead (yes, we are working on that one) who will ask you if you washed your hands- with soap. One day a few months ago, there was no soap in his bathroom (thankfully, we moved last summer and our new place has two bathrooms!) and he was so disturbed that he went to our household supply closet and carefully selected a soap of each variety and placed them all in a row on the sink. When questioned about this, he replied, “I don’t want to run out of soap.”
2. The responsibilities of the parent in forming habits:
“it rests with parents and teachers to lay down lines of habit on which the life of the child may run henceforth with little jolting… and may advance in the right direction with the minimum of effort” (p107).
“The child is born, doubtless, with the tendencies which should shape his future; but every tendency ha sits branch roads, its good or evil outcome; and to put the child on the right track for the fulfillment of the possibilities inherent in him is the vocation of the parent” (p109).
This requires effort and work on the part of the parents and it requires that we know our children and their tendencies and possibilities well. Fostering good relationships with our children will both give us a knowledge of these things and make the process of habit forming easier on the child- the child knows that you love them and are on their team.
3. Habits are important because “effort of decision is the most exhausting effort of life” (p 100) and “Though habit directs most of what we do, in every sudden difficulty and temptation that requires an act of will, why, conduct is still apt to run on the lines of familiar habit” (p 111).
When we put forth effort to develop habits in our children, we are giving them a framework that will guide their decisions later in life. We are also granting them an easier time in life- sparing them effort of decision. What a wonderful gift we can give our children if we give them good habits early in life!
4. “A habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable” (p121).
As I ponder this idea, I think of acquiring a skill, such as typing or playing an instrument. When you first begin, it is hard work and you are not very good at it. But as you practice more and more, gradually, the action becomes easier and you can see improvement. And then it is fun. It is the same thing with all habits- as you do the action more and more, it gets easier and you get better at it. Then it is fun!
Miss Mason also elaborates upon the habits that should be formed in children while they are young. They include personal hygiene, daily exercise, manners, orderliness, obedience, and skills such as swimming, dancing, and musical expression.
5. “To form habits in children, Tact, watchfulness, and persistence are the qualities she must cultivate in herself” (p 122).
Miss Mason explains that it is a disservice to the child and all of his effort in forming the habit to let him off even once during the process. Vigilance and kind consistent corrections- while requiring mental effort on the part of the child- are needed.