It is pleasant to know that, even in mature life, it is possible, by a little persistent effort, to acquire a desirable habit. Charlotte Mason, Volume I, Part IV
I have been rereading Charlotte Mason’s Home Education. My last post on her writings went over Part III, which introduced the idea of Habits. This section elaborates on the formation of certain mental and moral habits. Here are a few points that particularly spoke to me today:
1. Develop the habit of developing habits.
“…she herself acquires the habit of training her children in a given habit so that by-and-by it becomes, not only no trouble, but a pleasure to her.” (p 136)
“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days, while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.” (p 136)
“The mother devotes herself to the formation of one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed.” (p 136)
I don’t want a weary life of endless friction! I definitely see the truth in these words. If I would do a better job of developing the habit of orderliness in my children, I would be less wearied by the mess in the house. The same goes for the mental habits she mentions in this chapter and our homeschooling. If I take the trouble to develop good habits in my children, my days will be more peaceful and enjoyable. I can also see that setting an achievable goal of a specific habit and working on it for 8 weeks and then seeing improvement in my children would be an enjoyable effort. I think developing the habit of developing habits is a great idea.
Right now, to aid us in developing the habit of answering with “Yes, Mom?” or “Coming, Mom!” or other such response when I call, I have pulled out our marble jars. Whenever they answer my call and then come immediately, they receive a marble. When the marbles reach the top of the jar, they will get to choose a prize from the prize box. We all really like this system. It is simple for me to track and the kids really enjoy selecting the marbles they want to place in their jars. As the habit becomes stronger and stronger, I gradually lessen the marbles given for that habit as I introduce the next habit and give marbles for that one. I don’t think I will use this system for mental habits, but rather use more natural consequences be the punishment and reward for those. But for these behavioral habits, marbles are working well!
2. Develop the habit of attention: “Attention… is simply the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject in hand.” (p 145)
“Here is the secret of the weariness of the home schoolroom- the children are thinking all the time about something else than their lessons…” (p 139)
“When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson as unlike it as possible, and then go back with fresh wits to his unfinished task.” (p 141)
Here is a habit that we can work on naturally, as we do lessons. Miss Mason describes a mother noticing what catches the attention of the young child and as the child’s attention wanders, to bring the attention back to the object neglected and exclaim over it with interesting facts and ideas about it. Thus, I can be diligent during lessons to pay attention to my children’s attentiveness and call back their attention to the matter at hand. Keeping lessons short and varying the order of lessons is helpful in developing this habit.
Right now, we start with Bible. Then we move to math, then we read. Next, we cover phonics and copywork. Then we go outside and observe nature and have snack and some free time. After lunch, we read another book, then have free time, or a game or some special crafty project.
3. A Time Table is employed in a home schoolroom managed upon sound principles.
“In the first place, there is a time-table, written out fairly, so that the child knows what he has to do and how long each lesson is to last. This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not ‘as good as another;’ that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work.” (p 142)
4. Mental habits- including attention, rapid mental effort, thinking (conscious effort of mind, tracing cause and effect), imagining, remembering, and perfect execution come by practice
“If the children get the habit of turning out imperfect work, the men and women will undoubtedly keep that habit up.” (p 159)
Miss Mason encourages parents to turn the children’s “why?” to them. Once they have exercised their own mind to contemplate “why,” then the answer might be given to them. They will remember better if they have taken the time and trouble to think about the question themselves. She also urges parents to not give a child work that he cannot do perfectly, but what is given to him to accomplish should be done perfectly.
5. Moral habits, such as obedience (which is the whole duty of man), truthfulness (accuracy of statement), reverence, consideration for others, respect for persons and property, and sweet temper can be trained intentionally but also can be formed through the atmosphere of the household.
One idea she gives regarding developing sweet tempers is to “change the child’s thoughts before ever the bad temper has had time to develop… give him something else to think about.” (p167-168) Since my children were small, I do not allow temper tantrums to be carried out in the living areas of the house. Children who are having temper tantrums are told to find a happy heart or go work out their tantrum in their room. It is amazing how quickly even a 2 1/2 year old can control him or herself when it is expected of them. And when they want to avoid being separated from the rest of the family. But this idea of Miss Mason’s to give them something else to think about or do is a very practical suggestion. Before the tantrum begins, when their hearts become upset, angry, whiny, or otherwise agitated, I can give new direction for their thoughts by giving them an errand or task. Or perhaps by bursting into song!
Altogether, I find myself very excited about this idea of developing habits in my children and in myself. The first one in me is to develop the habit of going to bed on time. So off I go!