We’ve been discussing the three words Charlotte Mason used to describe her approach to education: Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life. The past three posts explored how the ideas that rule your life as a parent affect the atmosphere of your home. If you would like to, you can review that aspect of Education Is . . .

Today let’s talk a little about how Education is a Discipline.

Jan sighed. “We have to wait on my daughter for everything. She takes twice as long as the rest of us to get dressed every morning. If we have an appointment to get to, I have to allow an extra half hour for her to get to the van. And don’t even get me started on schoolwork! An assignment that should take her fifteen minutes will stretch into at least an hour. I’m at my wit’s end!”

Charlotte’s counsel to Jan would be a gentle reminder that “Education is a discipline.” By “discipline” Charlotte meant the importance of cultivating good habits in our children — habits that they would then continue into their adult lives. In fact, she likened these good habits to railroad tracks that parents can lay down in their children’s lives, allowing the child to run on them smoothly into the future with little thought or effort.

When we think of good habits, we usually think of training our children to make their beds and brush their teeth. But Charlotte maintained that the same principle we use to train a child in one of those habits could be applied to training a child to give full attention, to tell the truth, or to look for ways to be helpful. Habits don’t have to be restricted to chores. Habits can be powerful tools in shaping your child’s character.

Somehow we don’t equate “character” with “habit.” But the saying is true, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character.” Charlotte challenged parents to apply that principle to building moral habits (like self-control, good use of time, and personal initiative), mental habits (like logical thinking, memorizing, and observing), physical habits (like fortitude and self-restraint in indulgences), and even religious habits (like regular devotions, thanksgiving, and thought of God) in their children’s lives. You can read about the habits she mentioned here in our previous series on habits.

Jan’s trouble is that her daughter has developed the bad habit of dawdling. Just think how your home life would be different if your children developed the good habit of giving full attention the first time you said something or the habit of obeying the first time you told them to do something. Yes, it is possible! But it takes discipline on our part.

Now, you may not usually couple “summer” together with “discipline” in your mind; but trust me, this season might be the perfect time to focus on cultivating a good habit within your child that will make life smoother for him and for you come next fall. So think about one habit that you might want to concentrate on, and we’ll talk about five ways to cultivate good habits next time.


  1. thank you so much on this series on habits. this is what i so need to work on in my home. i look forward to your practical suggestions. can you also speak more on some natural consequences that you’ve all come up with. for instance, i loved the post about cleaning up the legos and taking it away for a month. what could be some natural consequences to not paying attention/obeying right away. earlier you wrote:

    “Don’t repeat yourself. This admonition can apply to both school work and everyday home life! Explain to the children that you are going to help them develop this habit of attention, so you are no longer going to repeat yourself; they must learn to listen the first time. Then your responsibility becomes to say something once and administer the consequences that naturally follow if the child doesn’t respond right away”

    also, could you write on the topics of bickering/sibling rivalry and sharing?
    any advice would be appreciated.
    thank you.

    • Hi, Ellie –

      You have some great questions. Let me see if I can address them in a short way now and make a note to get into them more in some future series 🙂

      Natural consequences can be as varied as there are situations in which to use them. Here are just a few ideas from a wonderful Laying Down the Rails workshop that we had last night:

      • Have your child narrate what you just told him to do so you can make sure he understood and paid attention. “Please put your shoes in your closet. Tell me what you are to do . . .”

      • Give only one command/request at a time (and follow through on it) until the child has developed the habit of immediate obedience and attention. It’s too easy for some children to do the first thing you say and then forget the other thing that you said they were supposed to do.

      • One mom explained that if her children weren’t paying attention when she read a lesson and they couldn’t narrate, the natural consequence was to read it again later in the day when the time wasn’t so “convenient” for the children. For example, if they had planned on going out to play in the afternoon, they had to stay in and redo the lesson. She said that they really paid attention during that second go-round.

      • We discussed the idea of removing most of the toys from a child’s room since he was evidently feeling overwhelmed with all of them, because he couldn’t keep his room in order. Once he developed the habit of picking up the few toys he had remaining, you could gradually introduce the others one or two at a time.

      • Another mom mentioned that if her children dawdled and made her wait a long time before getting ready to get in the van and drop off a sibling at an event, she made them wait the same amount of time in the park parking lot before they could go play. (They usually played in the park while the sibling attended her activity.)

      Natural consequences depend a lot, also, on the age and developmental level of your child; but these ideas might at least give you some examples of possibilities that you can tweak for your situation.

      RE sibling bickering, rivalry, and sharing: I recommend two great resources – Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends and Peacemaker Ministries.

      Hope this helps, Ellie!

      Grace and peace,

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