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We all want to instill good habits in our children, from the time they are toddlers through the time they move out to start their own households. We often think of habit training as something we do on the side. We work on kindness alongside all of the activities of the day. We work on orderliness as a constant requirement all day every day.
But what if I told you that there are at least five habits that are built into homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way? These are good habits that you will automatically cultivate within your child as you use Charlotte’s approach to education and her brilliant methods.
Your child will receive that important repetition every day that you use these methods. Repetition is key to developing habits. And motivation is built in, because your student knows that she is going to be held accountable for the lessons.
These habits are reinforced over all twelve years of schooling. All of them are important life habits—good habits that will set your child up for success in life. And they are cultivated simply as you are faithful to use Charlotte Mason’s methods.
Let’s take a look at the five life habits, discuss a little about why they are so important, and detail which methods cultivate them.
Habit #1: Listen attentively.
You know how important this habit is! Whether you are in the workplace, at a doctor appointment, sitting in a lecture or a sermon, discussing something with your spouse, trying to resolve a dispute between children, or receiving instructions at the start of a new adventure, (in so many situations!) you know how the path can become much smoother when you listen attentively.
People who haven’t had regular practice with this habit go through life at a disadvantage. They struggle to make their minds pay attention for any length of time. But we can instill this wonderful life habit by simply being faithful in one method that Charlotte insisted upon: Don’t repeat yourself.
When you are reading a living book for a school lesson, read the passage once. When you are giving a directive to a child, give those instructions once. Then hold the child accountable to narrate, to obey, or whatever.
You see, Charlotte knew (just as we do) that it is human nature not to put forth the effort to focus unless it’s absolutely necessary. Most of us go through life thinking our random thoughts and giving half-hearted attention when those random thoughts are interrupted. We’ve all learned from a young age that we can ask someone to repeat what was said; and they usually do! And that’s exactly why Charlotte insisted upon a single directive or a single reading:
“A single reading is a condition insisted upon because a naturally desultory habit of mind leads us all to put off the effort of attention as long as a second or third chance of coping with our subject is to be hoped for” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 171).
Not repeating yourself, whether in giving instructions or in reading aloud, is a key Charlotte Mason method that will instill within your child that valuable life habit of being able to listen attentively.
Habit #2: Restate accurately.
Listening carefully and restating what you think the other person said are foundational skills for good communication. It shows respect to the other person in the conversation to pay full attention and to make sure you have understood him correctly before you answer.
Restating something in your own words is also a brilliant technique for learning information or cementing an idea in your mind. In a Charlotte Mason education, that technique is known as narration, and it is used a lot.
Charlotte required a narration after every reading for two reasons. First, the student has good motivation to pay full attention when he knows he will be asked to narrate what he heard. Second, it is practice for self-educating. If you can read or hear something and grasp it so well that you can put it into your own words, that technique can help you learn just about anything.
Now, let’s be honest, sometimes we might grow a bit weary of asking our children to narrate. Listening to multiple narrations every day might begin to feel like a waste of time. But that’s when we need to remind ourselves of this idea: every time a student narrates, she is practicing the technique of self-education, yes, but she is also practicing a habit of good communication. The more often she repeats that habit, the more deeply it will become ingrained.
Think of it this way, you are helping your child practice a vital communication skill that will help her in all of her relationships—with her future spouse, her future boss, her future employees, . . . everyone she meets. Narration is a powerful life habit.
Habit #3: Observe closely.
Keeping your eyes open and your mind engaged, looking carefully for what you can observe and learn for yourself, is another important habit to learn. We’ve all been around people who want everything spoon-fed to them. They either don’t know how or refuse to put forth the effort of discovering for themselves what is right in front of them.
There is so much that we can learn for ourselves if we have a habit of looking closely and carefully at what is around us.
Focused observation also has practical benefits. Think about driving. When we moved from the midwest to Georgia, the roads made no sense to me. I was used to driving on a square grid. I grew up where every grid was a square mile; each side of every square on that grid was a mile. If you needed to reroute, you could calculate how far you would need to go out of your way and picture the turns you would need to make to get back where you wanted to go. Grid pattern. Easy.
But Georgia is not laid out on a grid pattern; it has curvy roads and random patterns. And just to add to the fun, somebody thought it would be a good idea to change the street names every so often. So you might turn onto Lester Road up at the corner, but as you drive along, its name changes to Pleasant Hill Road and then to State Bridge Road!
Close observation was needed to help me make sense of these different road patterns and figure out how to get home from the grocery store by the most direct route so the ice cream wouldn’t melt.
Yes, you can use the GPS on your smart phone, but having a good firsthand knowledge of the area in which you live is still an important skill. My phone has routed me the long way more than once, and knowing the roads around here has come to my rescue. That knowledge comes by close observation.
That’s just one example. A habit of looking closely and carefully can serve us well in many other situations too: changing a flat tire; overseeing construction on your house; determining when to plant your garden; calculating expenses accurately; even following a recipe! (Here’s a hint: if your egg salad turns black, you probably put in too much pepper. Don’t ask me how I know.)
Careful observation is built in to many Charlotte Mason methods. Your child will practice that skill often by looking closely and seeing what she can observe in nature study, in handicrafts, in math lessons, and even in studying for dictation. And the more often she practices it, the more it will become a habit that can help her for the rest of her life.
Habit #4: Focus on what is good, noble, and beautiful.
You move toward what you focus on. So it just makes sense to try to set up a habit of thinking on what is good and true, honest, just, and noble. The more those qualities permeate our thinking, the more our actions will follow suit. And it’s the same for our children.
It’s sad to me when I meet people who are bogged down in a dark place in their minds and hearts. They seem to be just surviving; they’re constantly thinking fearful thoughts, worrying thoughts, mulling over all of the evil in this world and in their imaginations. That’s not the life any of us want for our children. We want our children to embrace the gift of life; to thank God for that gift; to focus on what is beautiful around them; to turn away from evil and do good; to walk justly and to love mercy. If that is our goal, then cultivating a habit of feeding their minds on what is noble and beautiful just makes sense.
And once again, Charlotte Mason’s methods support that goal. If we follow Charlotte’s standards in selecting books, art, music, and poetry, our children will grow up with a steady diet of good, just, and noble food for their minds and hearts. Their tastes will be cultivated for what is excellent in quality. And that habit will be established that will serve them well in later life.
Habit #5: Do your best—the first time and every time.
You can probably recall a time (maybe recently) when someone you were counting on to do a job for you gave less than his best. Or maybe the person did just the minimum and waited to see if you would notice. Sometimes it can be like pulling teeth to get someone to put forth the effort to do his best work.
On the flip side, you probably know some adults who give every task their best effort. Those are the people you hold in high esteem; they get noticed; they can be entrusted with important work.
If your child has the habit of giving her best, she is set up for success in life. It doesn’t matter what work she pursues, doing her best—the first time and every time—will benefit her and all of those around her.
And you know that doing your best is built in to Charlotte’s methods. She called it “perfect execution.” Quality over quantity.
We encourage that habit whenever we expect one perfect letter in handwriting and then the lesson can be done; when we walk through all of the steps of studying for a dictation before we actually dictate it; when we teach a child slowly and carefully what she is to do in her handicraft; when we pronounce a math answer either right or wrong, not “close enough.”
Upholding that standard of best effort, expecting your child to do her best, and inspecting her work faithfully to make sure she gave it her best, all of those built-in methods will go far to develop a habit of “do your best—the first time and every time.” And that habit can take your child far in life.
Wouldn’t you like your child to be that kind of person, to have those five life habits—to listen attentively; to restate accurately; to observe closely; to feed her mind and spirit on what is good, noble, and beautiful; and to do her best the first time, every time? Those good habits can be applied to so much more than schoolwork. Every aspect of your child’s life can be affected by those five habits.
It astounds me that we can cultivate them simply by faithfully using Charlotte’s methods in our home schools every day. I guess it shouldn’t be so astounding, though, when we recall that a Charlotte Mason education is about shaping the whole person, and the helpful discipline of good habits is part of that education.
So next time you’re tempted to repeat yourself or to skip a narration or to excuse sloppy, half-hearted work, remember this: you’re setting up life habits, one way or the other. If we are faithful to use Charlotte’s methods the way she outlined them, we will give our children not only a fabulous education but also some valuable habits to help them succeed in life.