Sunday, April 27, 2014

Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 2: Habits

I have been sharing how Charlotte Mason has encouraged me as a mother of preschoolers. One of our priorities as parents of preschoolers is to help them form good habits. To Charlotte Mason, "Education is a Discipline." In other words, this habit formation is essential to our children's essential as the atmosphere of our home, and as all the living books they learn from.

I must admit, I find the "discipline of habit" one of the most challenging aspects of Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education. It doesn't help that I don't quite agree with some of what she says about habit in Volume 1.* However, on the whole, her thoughts have been very helpful to me as a mother of preschoolers, and I am still learning and growing...and practicing!
"This relation of habit to human life--as the rails on  which it runs to a locomotive--is perhaps the most suggestive and helpful to the educator; for just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. It follows that this business of laying down lines towards the unexplored country of the child's future is a very serious and responsible one for the parent. It rests with him to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure; and along these tracks, to lay down lines so invitingly smooth and easy that the little traveller is going upon them at full speed without stopping to consider whether or no he chooses to go that way." (p. 109, Vol. 1: Home Education.)
"In the first place, whether you choose or no to take any trouble about the formation of his habits, it is habit, all the same, which will govern ninety-nine one-hundredths of the child's life:... "As for the child's becoming the creature of habit, that is not left with the parent to determine. We are all mere creatures of habit. ...If it were not so--if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath or the table-- life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out... What we can do for them is to secure that they have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places." (p. 110-111, HE)
I'd just like to share one very little way making a habit has made a difference in our home. I used to get up, make breakfast, feed the boys, have devotions, and then try for the rest of the morning to pry them from their play to get dressed. I often found myself threatening and cajoling, and it was always a bit of a circus. I decided that we would form the habit of getting everyone dressed before breakfast. If everyone wasn't dressed, it wasn't breakfast time yet. (I know, some of you super organized people are thinking, "Really?" right now. Things like this always seem obvious to people who already do them.) We stuck with it, and now it takes no effort at all on my part to convince them to get dressed in the morning. It is simply habit. It would feel wrong to them to sit down to breakfast in their pajamas. The choice is gone now, and that aspect of our morning, at least, is on "smooth and easy lines."

And speaking of "smooth and easy," I'd like to direct you over to a free e-book called Smooth and Easy Days from Simply Charlotte Mason. This little e-book is a great introduction to what Charlotte Mason says about habit formation, and I highly recommend it for all mothers of preschoolers!


*Charlotte Mason seems very optimistic about the power of habit to change human nature, and I don't quite share her confidence. I believe in our need of redemption through the cross of Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change sinful hearts. But this is only Volume 1, and I feel I need to read more before I critique. She does speak of "Divine grace" (p. 104), so I fear (hope) I may be being unfair here. And while I may not have as high confidence in the results of habit formation, I nevertheless do believe in habit formation is "training up a child in the way he should go." If you've read more Charlotte Mason than I have, I'd welcome your comments on this!