This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.
Physical training is important, but its benefits may be undermined if you do not understand the "why" behind all your effort.
Young people often train so that they may get the most out of life, but there is a greater reason for physical training: so that you are ready and able to do whatever God calls you to do in life.
Charlotte Mason bases this on 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "What? know y,e not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
How can we teach this to our children? Direct teaching is important, as are books. However, Charlotte Mason especially emphasizes the power of habit in this area. She expands on the habits of self-restraint, self-control, and self-discipline in behaviour, deportment, address, and tones of voice. She adds to these some less-considered habits of alertness and quick perception.
Habit is not mindless. "A habit becomes morally binding in proportion to the inspiring power of the idea that underlies it." Mason mentions the ideas of Greek heroism and medieval knighthood to inspire children to fortitude, service, courage, and prudence. For chastity, no idea is higher than that "Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost." As we train our children in physical habits, we must inspire them first with ideas.
"The object of the fine physical culture that English youths and maidens receive is, too often, the poor and narrow one that they may get the most, especially the most of physical enjoyment, out of life; and so young people train their bodies to hardships, and pamper them with ease and self-indulgence, by turns, the one and the other being for their own pleasure; the pampering being the more delightful after the period of training, the training itself rather a pleasant change from the softness of pampering." (p. 102)
"The object of athletics and gymnastics should be kept steadily to the front; enjoyment is good by the way, but is not the end; the end is the preparation of a body, available from crown to toe, for whatever behest 'the gods' may lay upon us. It is a curious thing that we, in the full light of Revelation, have a less idea of vocation and of preparation for that vocation than had nations of the Old World with their 'few, faint and feeble' rays of illumination as to the meaning and purpose of life." (p. 102)
"But if children are brought up from the first with this magnet--'Ye are not your own'; the divine Author of your being has given you life, and a body finely adapted for His service; He gives you the work of preserving this body in health, nourishing it in strength, and training it in fitness for whatever special work He may give you to do in His world,--why, young people themselves would readily embrace a more Spartan regimen; they would desire to be available, and physical transgressions and excesses, however innocent they seem, would be self-condemned by the person who felt that he was trifling with a trust." (p. 103)
"It is well that a child should be taught to keep under his body and bring it into subjection, first, to the authority of his parents and, later, to the authority of his own will; and always, because no less that this is due, to the divine Authority in whome he has his being. But to bring ourselves under authority at all times would require a constantly repeated effort of thought and will which would make life too laborious. Authority must be sustained by habit." (p. 104-105)
"But the habit of holding oneself well in hand, the being imprevious to small annoyances, cheerful under small inconveniences, ready for action with what is called 'presence of mind' in all the little casualties of the hour--this is a habit which should be trained in the nursery." (p. 106)
"'If you are vexed, don't show it,' is usually quite safe teaching, because every kind of fretfulness, impatience, resentfulness, and nervous irritability generally, grows with expression and passes away under self-control. It is worth while to remember that the physical signs promote the mental state just as much as the mental state causes the physical signs." (p. 107)
"The fact that habits have a tendency to become local, that in one house a child will be neat, prompt, diligent; in another untidy, dawdling, and idle, points to the necessity for self-discipline on the part of even a young child." (p. 107)
"This subject of training in becoming habits is so well understood amongst us that I need only add that such habits are not fully formed so long as supervision is necessary." (p. 108)
"Parents would do well to see to it that they turn out their children fit for service, not only by observing the necessary hygienic conditions, but by bringing their bodies under rule, training them in habits and inspiring them with the ideas of knightly service." (p. 112)