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My youngest daughter is earning money toward a trip. Ever since she learned about the Oregon Trail, she has wanted to go visit some of its destinations in person. She is saving coins in a bright purple piggy bank. She usually earns only one or two coins per day, but each time she drops one into the slot she checks the overall level. Little by little the pile is growing. Little by little she is learning a valuable lesson: small, constant touches can add up to something great.
It’s the same with many things in life. Charlotte Mason encouraged parents to approach habit training with that mentality. She described the benefits of cultivating good habits in our children and outlined how it could be accomplished, then she reminded us:
“Not all this at once, of course; but line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, as opportunity offers” (Vol. 1, pp. 328, 329).
Habit training is best achieved through small, constant touches, which add up over time into something great.
She said the same regarding our task of strengthening our children’s wills to do what is right and instructing their consciences to know what is right:
“But the will is the man, the will chooses; and the man must know, if the will is to make just and discriminating decisions. This is what Shakespeare, as great a philosopher as a poet, set himself to teach us, line upon line, precept upon precept. His ‘Leontes,’ ‘Othello,’ ‘Lear,’ ‘Prospero,’ ‘Brutus,’ preach on the one text—that a man’s reason brings certain infallible proofs of any notions he has wilfully chosen to take up. There is no escape for us, no short cut; art is long, especially the art of living” (Vol. 6, pp. 314, 315).
I love that last reminder: “art is long, especially the art of living.”
We have been assigned a long-term project. Shaping and molding our children in the art of living cannot be accomplished in one fell-swoop. Nor can it be accomplished well in a haphazard, once-in-a-while manner. Faithfulness is required. Small, constant touches will add up over the long haul.
I’ve noticed the same thing with Charlotte’s technique of short lessons in a variety of subjects. Those short lessons add up! Over time our children’s knowledge accumulates, just like the coins in the piggy bank. And because the lessons are short and varied, they do not quench our children’s innate desire for learning; if anything, they stimulate a desire for more knowledge! Line upon line, those small, constant touches are adding up to a lifelong love of learning.
If, perhaps, today you find yourself weary, check to make sure you are following the “small” part of that principle. Long, drawn-out lessons can become a tedious drain and usually don’t amount to more learning, for our children’s brains can process only so much at a time. Trust the principle: small, constant touches add up to something great.
But also keep in mind the “constant” part. Faithfulness is crucial. If it helps, think to yourself, Just for today.
Just for today, give your children your full attention and loving direction.
Just for today, remind the children of the habit you are focusing on and work together to practice doing it as often as possible.
Just for today, take two minutes to read a poem together and enjoy how the poet used words.
Just for today.
Then tomorrow when you wake up, think to yourself, Just for today.
Day upon day—line upon line—small, constant touches can add up to something great.