Are there things that you ought to do regularly, but that you don’t? Would you like to get them done? If you could them into your day as habits, they are easy to accomplish. St. Paul tells us that we are capable of taking our thoughts captive… of making them do what they ought. Charlotte Mason says that we train our thoughts to run like a train runs on rails – that we can make some activities so habitual that we don’t have to think about them. Here are some hints for how to manage this at your house.
Start small: What is one thing you want to change?
You can’t change all of the things in one fell swoop and expect the changes to stick. It’s kind of like dieting. If you restrict your calories and exercise, you will lost weight. But if you don’t change your diet permanently and pick up a habit of exercise you will probably gain all that weight back and more. If you start small and continue working on the project consistently for a long period of time, you are more likely to have long term success. The more often you complete such a project, the less you have to think about it the next time you need to complete the task.
If you need a suggestion for a house-keeping habit to start with, I’d suggest tidying your kitchen before you head to bed. If you never go to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, you’ll never wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes and have to wash them before you can make breakfast.
If you need a suggestion for where to start for a homeschool habit, I’d suggest reading scripture with your children at some point during your homeschool day. If you already do that, try adding another read aloud too. Reading together is an excellent way to shakes both your time and your love of reading with your students.
Attach them to habits you already have: What are you already doing?
You probably brush your teeth every morning. You also put on deodorant, fix your hair, and get dressed. Chances are that you do those things in pretty much the same order nearly every day. You might even do them at roughly the same time each day. That’s just how it goes when you need to leave the house quickly in the mornings – You make a routine and stick with it for the most part. If you are already reading a bit of Scripture to your students every day, put a volume of poetry by your Bible. Start reading one short poem aloud every day after the Scripture portion. Build the poetry habit on the back of the Bible habit. You can stack other things also …. You could stack wiping the sink down so that it is directly after you brush your teeth..
Did you miss a day? Don’t worry or punish yourself. Just do that task RIGHT NOW! and then consider whether you need to alter your pattern or just try again tomorrow. It takes about 21 days to form a habit.
4. Add another habit
Some more suggestions for habits
The Habit of Attention: Charlotte starts her list of Habits by letting mothers everywhere know that their children must be able to attend before they can do anything else. She makes all sorts of suggestions for how to build a child’s attention muscles. She suggests ways to teach a child to be more observant and to take in the world around him. She, of course, didn’t have screens to contend with. Perhaps it was easier to get children to look at still tree trunks when Minecraft wasn’t a siren calling. Now that Minecraft and other games are constantly calling my children, we have to be very intentional about limiting their time with devices so that they don’t miss the ants that are trailing across the patio and the bees that buzz through the clover.
The Habit of Obedience: Charlotte also talks about teaching the habit of obedience. Whether or not your child should instantly obey you is debated in our society today. Generally, I am on the side of “yes, he should.” Today, we had a chemistry experiment go awry, and my student’s quick obedience saved us from noxious fumes. In these cases, obedience is important. (Charlotte discusses obedience in volume 1, Home Education pgs 160-164.). I mean, think about it… if your kid won’t obey you, homeschooling is exceedingly difficult. (I have one who prefers his will to mine, and it was quite a struggle until I employed outside resources to help him see that I really was directing him on a good path. He is enjoying his schoolwork much more now.)
The Habit of Best Effort: I have one boy who loves basketball, and he has friends who love basketball. They all play for the same league, but they are on two different teams. This weekend, those two teams will face off. My son is concerned that if his team wins, his friends will be sad, but if his team doesn’t win, he’ll be teased by them. We’ve told him to just set that aside and go play basketball. All he needs to do is play his best game. Hopefully, his friends will also play their best game. What more could we ask? What should they ask of themselves? The only option is to play their best and see how things come out. Charlotte doesn’t actually put the rest of the habits that she suggest in any particular order. My favorite of them is the Habit of Best Effort, but she calls it the Habit of Perfect Execution. If you read what she says about it in Volume 1 pg59-60, you can see that she is very specific about the kind of perfection she is looking for. We’d call it Best Effort, and that is how I refer to it with my children and my Challenge students. Did you put forth your best effort? Did you do it a little bit better than you thought you could? Different students have different abilities, but each one has his or her Best, which can vary with circumstances or subject matter. My Best on the evening of Community Day isn’t the same as my Best after a day hiking or my Best after a day hanging out with my people and enjoying myself.