Habit-Training: Homeschooling through High School the CM Way, part 5

We’ve spent much of this series on high school talking about academics. And it’s easy to focus on the books, the grades, and the transcript, especially in the high school years. But our goal is not just to graduate our children. Our goal is to equip them to be godly young men and women who are prepared to run their own households. So for this final part of the series, let’s shift the focus a bit to another very important aspect of a Charlotte Mason high school: habits.

Remember that a Charlotte Mason education consists of three areas: atmosphere, discipline, and life. The living books and ideas that our children learn in academics make up only one-third of their education. The other two-thirds comes from the atmosphere of our homes—the ideas that rule our lives as parents—and the discipline of good habits. We’ve talked about academics; now let’s talk about habits.

Many habits are “caught” just by living under the same roof as the parents and growing up in the atmospheres we create. Other habits need to be intentionally taught. When the child is younger, we can determine which habit needs to be tackled, tell the child our expectations, and start in working toward it.

But when we’re working with older children, we must keep in mind that we cannot force a child to form a habit. We can encourage, but a person must ultimately choose whether he will embrace a new habit. So Charlotte recommended that we get an older child’s will on our side.

During a neutral time, we can sit down with the child and have a brief, positive talk about the habit we would like him to work on and how it will benefit him. Offer assistance and encouragement, but make sure the child knows that he will be putting forth the effort in order to gain that benefit. In other words, try to set up an environment in which you will be working together on a new good habit.

Is it possible to form new habits in older children? Yes, absolutely! “It is pleasant to know that, even in mature life, it is possible by a little persistent effort to acquire a desirable habit” (Vol. 1, p. 135). The key is that “persistent effort.”

Here are some practical tips for cultivating some good habits that are directly related to studying and learning in the high school years.

  • Habit of Attention

    Though you are dealing with older students, you may need to shorten the lessons in order to help develop their habit of attention. Hopefully, you will be able to elongate the lessons at a quicker pace than you would with young students.

    Also, teach them the secret of varying the order of subjects throughout the day to use different parts of their brains and bodies. For example, don’t do three read-and-narrate subjects in a row. That will over-stress the listening and narrating parts of the brain. Mix it up with a reading-and-narrating subject, then maybe a copywork or dictation exercise (fine motor skills), then a picture study (looking), then another reading-and-narrating, then math, etc. We try to organize the schedule like that for the younger children, but the older students are old enough to understand how that variety helps them keep fresh and pay attention as they work through their subjects, and they can implement that principle for themselves.

  • Habit of Best Effort

    Emphasize the importance of their doing the work. Especially if the student is new to CM and is used to having oral lessons or fill-in-the-blank type work, they haven’t had to do a lot of mental work and self-educating. So you may need to have a short talk with them about what they can and should do for themselves—putting forth the effort and why.

  • Habit of Reading for Instruction

    Make sure the living books you select are interesting to them. That interest will go a long way toward making their transition to self-educating easier.

    Focus on the fundamentals first. If the student hasn’t had much practice with narration, do all oral narration for a while. Encourage them to make personal relations with the ideas rather than just regurgitating facts. It may seem like you’re spending too much time on this type of basic skill, but consider that a student who has mastered these skills can continue to self-educate for the rest of his or her life.

What habits do you find the most challenging in the high school years? Why do you think that is so? What have you found effective? Leave a comment and let’s discuss this more.

Habits Resources

If you would like to learn more about cultivating good habits in your child’s life, check out these resources from SimplyCharlotteMason.com.

  • Smooth and Easy Days—A free e-book that gives the general principles of habit training along with real-life examples.
  • Laying Down the Rails workshop—Learn how to start cultivating good habits in less than an hour. This quick-start, how-to workshop covers the basics of habit training, the habits Charlotte recommended, and practical tips for her top three habits. Available on CD or DVD.
  • Laying Down the Rails complete reference book—All the habits Charlotte recommended, along with what she said about each, combined with practical scenarios, encouraging quotes, and helpful checklists.


  1. I spent 6 years teaching at a private school that was based on Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophies. Each month, the entire school would focus on one of the Ten Habits: responsibility, neatness, timeliness, etc.

    Now that I homeschool my own children, I’ve been lax on deliberately instilling those habits. Thanks for the wake-up call!

  2. I love the CM method of education and have been trying to implement it correctly with my children. My only concern is will the CM method give them the discipline they need to handle the load in college – a very traditional method of education?

    • I think the CM method does our children a great service for handling the rigors of college, because it teaches them to self-educate. They learn the habit of attention and the higher thinking skill of narration, so they have an advantage over those who are used to depending on the teacher to remind them what and when to learn something and have practiced mostly the lower level of thinking skills of fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice.

      We’ve had a few discussions on the SCM Forum about CM-educated students and college. Here are a couple of links to recent discussions if you’d like to read them:
      Are They Prepared for Today’s Colleges? and High School anyone?.

  3. We have 6 children all using CM approach. I find it hard to keep ‘checking in’ on the older 3 (16, 16 and 14) so that they are not just reading, but interacting with their material. With the youngest narration is simply as I am reading for him and we talk about it there and then. Somehow the older ones slip through oftentimes without having had a conversation about their work.

    Their written narrations are very … minimalistic in style 🙂 Any ideas on how to raise the bar for them? Are there questions I can give them to think about for their narrations? My goal is to read their books to assist in the conversations, but it isn’t quite working out.

    • A couple of things might help, Fiona. Maybe you could give the older ones a tape recorder in which to record their oral narrations as soon as they are done reading. That way they don’t have to wait for you to be available, plus that tape recorder sitting on your desk would remind you to listen and discuss with them.

      Another possibility might be to use some of the Narration Ideas on our site. Some of those ideas/questions might change things up enough to prompt a more complete narration — whether written or oral.

      I know what you mean about not being able to read all the older children’s books. I’ve found it a benefit in one way, though. My 14-year-old knows that I haven’t read the book she is reading, but that I really want to know about it. So when she comes to me to narrate, she knows I’m not quizzing her to see how much she remembers; she’s helping me to learn! When I take the attitude of a genuine learner and show eager interest, it seems to help make narration times pleasant.

Comments are closed.