We talked last time about how the summer months can be a great time to give focused effort in habit-training, even if you’re taking that time off from schoolwork. Especially if you’re taking that time off from schoolwork! When you don’t have lessons to prepare and complete, you can invest your time and energy in habit-training. You actually have more time during summer break to work on good habits. So take advantage of that time.
If you’re not sure where to begin, I recommend starting with the habit of attention. Check last week’s post for 10 tips on that habit, along with a couple of pieces of friendly advice.
Once you see progress in the habit of full attention, I would encourage you to work on the habit of best effort. Those two habits will make a huge difference in your home school. But remember, we work on habits one at a time. So focus a few weeks on the habit of attention, using the ten ideas I gave last time. Then shift your focus to the habit of best effort. Keep an eye on full attention; don’t give up on it or slack off. But once you have some good momentum on it, make sure it continues and strengthens even as you begin to work on best effort.
And here are nine practical tips for working on the habit of best effort during the summer months.
1. Motivate with living examples.
Just as we talked about with the habit of attention, examine your own life first. Ask yourself, Do I put forth my best effort in the home? Even on tasks that I don’t like to do or don’t want to do? That can be a conviction question; but it’s an important one. Your example in this habit—day in and day out—will have a powerful effect on your children.
2. Start small.
Just as we start with a short amount of time to establish the habit of attention, start with a small project to encourage the habit of best effort. Rather than “do your best as we clean out the entire garage,” start with a smaller task, one that will require the child’s best effort for a shorter time, maybe cleaning out the silverware drawer or cleaning the bathroom mirror. You see, a lot of the hurdle between you and giving your best effort depends on how difficult you perceive the task to be. If the task doesn’t seem too hard, it’s easier to jump that “lower hurdle” and get started. Once you’ve started, you will probably be pleasantly surprised at how short of a time it takes to finish.
3. Break a large task down into itty, bitty pieces.
This kind of goes along with the previous tip. You can select a task that is quick, or you can take a larger task and break it into little pieces that can be accomplished in short spurts of best effort. So if you’re going to clean out the garage, maybe take a few minutes to pull all the stuff off one set of shelves and pile it in the middle of the floor. That’s it. You gave best effort for a short time. Well done. Maybe that afternoon or the next day, you sort that pile into Put Away, Give Away, Sell, and Trash categories. Or just set the timer for 15 minutes and give it your best effort until the timer dings. Either way, smaller tasks will be your friend to get the habit of best effort going.
4. Have the child help evaluate whether he did his best effort.
Rather than your evaluating his effort or criticizing according to your perception, allow the child to contribute to that discussion. Maybe he had a headache and actually did give his best effort in that moment. Encourage honest appraisals and candid dialogue, but don’t let the children start criticizing or accusing each other. Each person needs to learn to judge his own actions and habits.
5. Make the atmosphere as pleasant as possible.
A lot of the habit of best effort is dependent on your attitude. So try to make that hurdle as low as possible while you’re starting to get this habit established. Try to set your child up for success. Play fun music while he’s working. Have snacks at the ready. Play verbal games together as you work (if it won’t distract from the job; this is another reason you want to make sure the habit of attention is in place first). You could play 20 Questions or “I’m going on vacation and I’m taking an apple, a bulldog, a car,” etc. You can play verbal math games if your child would enjoy that. Buzz is a math game in which you count together, taking turns to give the next number. Every time someone is about to say a multiple of 7, he must say “Buzz” instead. You could read an exciting living book aloud to everybody or listen to an audiobook as you work. A pleasant atmosphere helps to keep energy levels high, and it’s easier to give your best effort when your energy level is high.
6. Work toward a goal.
Plan a fun activity to do together if the job is done by a certain time and done well. If that goal is not met, the natural consequence is that the activity can’t be done together. This one can be tough if you’re looking forward to that activity or you know one of your children has his heart set on it. It’s hard to follow through sometimes. But you’re going to have to be willing to forego and deal with the disappointment of missing the activity if that’s what is needed to motivate your child in this habit. Which is more important: enjoying a temporary activity or instilling a permanent habit of best effort in your child’s life?
7. Make sure everyone is getting enough sleep.
Tasks can seem more difficult when you’re fatigued. It’s simply harder to feel energized to put forth your best effort when you’re tired. And in this area too, keep an eye on electronic devices. We talked last time about how electronic devices can reduce a person’s attention span. Well, if your teen is going to bed at a decent hour, but lying there using a tablet, it’s going to affect the amount of sleep he is getting too. It’s easier to give your best effort when you feel rested. Adequate sleep fuels best effort.
8. Read motivational books.
Read biographies about people who continually gave their best effort despite difficult circumstances. Read about Jim Abbott, for example, who was born without a right hand, but he worked hard enough to become a major league pitcher with the New York Yankees. You’ll also find helpful stories and activities in Laying Down the Rails for Children for both habits we’ve been talking about, actually—attention and best effort—plus more than 50 other habits!
9. Work with others.
Arrange to spend time with people you know who have this habit in place. Do you have a friend who always seems to do his best in any task? See if you can get together with that person, as a family, and do some kind of service project together. Let your child see that person in action. Your friend’s example in real life will be a powerful motivator.
Most importantly, if you’re going to work on a habit this summer, then work on it full time. Expect best effort, or full attention, every time. You can’t form habits half-heartedly or sporadically.
Habit is formed by repetition, and it is formed quickest by repetition without any lapses.
Think of it this way: What your child repeatedly does, he will repeatedly do.
So if you want to change what he will do, you’ve got to focus on what he does right now, every time. You’ll need to make habit-training a top priority.
I know it may seem like a lot of extra effort, but let me encourage you with this insight from Charlotte Mason. (She was so wise!) She said,
“There are few parents who would not labour diligently if for every month’s labour they were able to endow one of their children with a large sum of money. But, in a month, a parent may begin to form a habit in his child of such value that money is a bagatelle by comparison” (Parents and Children, p. 173).
If we were working for a money prize, how much effort would we put into this task? Yet these habits are more valuable than money.
Do you believe that?
If so, then purpose to give dedicated time and energy this summer to getting the habits of full attention and best effort firmly established.
Will they be perfect when fall arrives? Probably not, but they will be better established than they were before; and you will enter the next year of school with greater momentum in those vital practices that bring smooth and easy days.