Getting Habits Started in Your Home

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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..

  1. Persevere

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.


Seven Habits that Keep Our Homeschool Going

 The Habit of Daily Math: Math isn’t something that is learned in one big lump. It takes a little daily study over a long period of time with much explanation and play with the concepts. I’ve learned a few things about teaching math over these years of home educating. First of all, starting too soon just makes it take longer. Secondly, lessons longer than twenty minutes for younger kids or forty minutes for high school students are long enough as long as the student isn’t dawdling. If there is work left to do after that point, it works well to take a break from math and do another completely different subject before returning to finish up the assignment. Giving the brain a break has prevented many tears around here. I’m not looking for leaps and bounds, but just steady progress.

The Habit of Daily Writing: We all write something almost every day. For me, it is usually a list or a post, notes in my Bible or lines in my commonplace book. For them, right now, they are working in CursiveLogic’s The Art of Cursive book for about fifteen minutes a day and doing copywork, and they typically type something too – if not a typing lesson, then a story or part of an IEW paper or part of a program or an email to a friend or relative. Micah has been known to leave comments on YouTube videos, too. He spends more time writing than his brothers because he has more writing to do for school. He also writes stories in his free time.

The Habit of Daily Reading: Years ago, when I read Teaching the Trivium, my largest take away was to read to and with my children for two hours a day, every day. Between what the boys read to themselves and what I read aloud, we are still at about two hours a day of reading time, plus whatever they do on their own. We probably read a total of an hour together, and they each have at least one hour of school reading spread over the day. I have about thirty minutes of slow reading in the morning and about thirty more of fun reading at night, and other studying in-between. Watching these boys grow in their love of books is one of my favorite things about homeschooling.

 The Habit of Practice: Music isn’t made by magic. It takes dedication and discipline to develop the skill of making beautiful music. Micah is in his fifth year with his violin and first year with a viola, and he practices about an hour and a half a day between the two instruments, plus he tinkers around with this piano and the guitar in his free time. Josiah is a beginning cellist, and he needs to practice about twenty minutes every day. He is working to develop that habit. As for me, I continue as the temporary church pianist for our tiny church, and I do my best to sneak in ten minutes of technique work and ten minutes of song practice… more if there is time or if I get sucked in to helping a boy with his practice.

The Habit of Beauty and Goodness: It seems like the practice of seeking out the lovely in this weird would be easy. In reality, I skipped over poetry and picture study this morning for want of time. We had to get to orchestra practice, and so we hurried through memory work and let the beautiful plans go.  But, I missed it. Tomorrow, I will slip that in and see if we can get the composer listened to also.This habit gives me permission to just enjoy a piece of music, poetry, or art just for its own sake in the middle of a busy morning. My soul needs that breath. I’m not sure that my man-cubs need it like I do, but I know that they absorb more of it than it seems when they are jostling each other for a better look or talking when they are supposed to be listening.

The Habit of Planning Ahead for Beauty: If I didn’t plan ahead for the Beautiful and True, we’d never get to it. I can no longer expect that we will look at art until we can recognize a world like an old friend or listen to a composer until his melodies are familiar if I don’t have a plan to make it happen. We see beauty because I made a plan in the summer, I ordered the books we needed to achieve the plan, and I keep all of the supplies that we need for our artist, composer, poet, and Shakespeare right next to where we do our Council Meeting. The music is on my phone or computer. Painting are chosen and catalogued on the Resource page on the blog for the month. All of the things are at my fingertips. That is how we manage to get some beauty in most days (except for today, when we substituted a hunt for a missing left shoe for looking at Remington’s illustrations.)

The Habit of Planning Ahead for Other Schoolwork: I also plan ahead for copywork and reading assignments and read alouds. That way I can make sure that the books we need for those things are in house and available when we need them. I figure if it is worth assigning, it is probably worth buying. I tend to buy as many of the books for the Ambleside Online year the boys are working on as I can. Since most of them are older books, I often happen on to them at used books fairs or stores. And I decide how much I expect to be read in a week (usually according to Charlotte’s page counts per term, and sometimes adjusting up to allow my bookworms to devour a story I know they will love). I usually do this planning in the summer so that I can start school in August with a good idea of our trajectory for the year. I usually schedule a little more than we can do and wind up dropping a book or two along the way.

Seven Habits and Routines that Keep Our Household Running

There are a few habits that we have cultivated (or are actively cultivating) to help hold things together at our house. We do them with our Best Effort, but we rarely get them done perfectly. I am sure that you have different things working for you at your house, but these are seven things that keep things running in my house.

  1. The Habit of Eating Well, pt. 1: Planning Ahead

Some things just make life easier and cheaper. I feed five people three meals and two snacks a day. So, it is a good thing that I like to cook. On Friday evening or Saturday morning, I check the fridge and pantry for things that need to be used and make a meal plan and grocery list. Then, we stop at Aldi to get most of the stuff. I’ll run to Costco on the way home from CC, and maybe hit Trader Joe’s between two activities later in the week. I may wind up making meals in a different order as the week unfolds, but if I follow my list, I can avoid end-of-the-day decision fatigue by following the plan.

2. The Habit of Eating Well, pt. 2: Dinner

We set a goal to eat dinner together at least five nights a week.  Sometimes it evolves into a long conversation, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, dinner keeps my husband involved in what they are learning and gives us many opportunities for discipleship. We will shift the time if we have do. If dinner needs to be late, we have a larger snack in the afternoon. If dinner needs to be early, I’ll make sure no one snacks. Sometimes the evening activities can pre-empt our half-hour if we aren’t careful, so we purpose to guard this time. For our family, it has been very beneficial.

3. The Habit of Fun

Movie night is usually a hit over here. We will stay home and watch something on DVD, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. Occasionally, we actually go to the movies. We saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi a few weeks ago, and this week we really enjoyed The Greatest Showman. Movies add to our family culture like books do – when we watch them together, little quips and jokes are added to our common pool of shared expressions. Using those memories draws us closer together.

4. The Habit of Play

We also love to play board games together. Like family movie night, we enjoy doing this a couple of times a month. We don’t always achieve it, but when we do we have a blast. We played Tsuro with the cousins over the holiday. We also played countless rounds of Spicy Uno and Dominion.  If we have plenty of time, we like Catan or Ticket to Ride. Sometimes we need something is quick and easy and allows for people to move in and out of the game – Chess or Spoons or Nertz.

5.The Habit of Cleaning Up

Chores are a necessary beast for all of us. We have tried several systems, and it turns out that the best one for us is to change it up often. So, people have assigned days to be the dishwasher, the sweeper, or the launderer. Jon and I fill in as needed, and we continue to teach these boys to clean all the way. They need to know how to clean a kitchen and a bathroom. Those convenient horizontal services that collect items that we were too lazy to put away correctly the first time sure do fill up fast! Doing this one daily is absolutely necessary because I need the house to be somewhat presentable, and all we have to do to achieve that is tidy a little bit at a time.

6. The Habit of Identifying Problem Areas:

So, we manage these few things (chores, meals, fun and games), but we fail repeatedly at other household habits to the extent that it is embarrassing. We are terrible landscapers and yard-keepers. We aren’t great at completing repairs. We get things tidy, but the floor usually needs mopping, and the stovetop is always dirty. We just can’t do all the things.

7. The Habit of Continuing to Refine Habits

We are all working on getting out of bed when we ought in order to complete what needs completing in the time that we have to complete it. The boys are working on putting things up when they are done with them and not waiting until I command it. They also get to work on attending to the answers they get to their questions. I’m working on giving them space to take care of things themselves before I remind them and to remind them with kindness and humor. I’m also working on my own attitude when people aren’t doing what they ought.Being grumpy and whiny, isn’t the proper way to encourage them to do as they should. It’s a rather bad example of how to handle Other People’s Attitudes. I should react differently.

These seven simple things aren’t as simple as they seem, but they do keep things from getting out of control over here.

Seven Habits that Keep Me Sane

We are intentional around here about developing and functioning on habits and routines. There are some that are mostly mastered (like tooth-brushing), and some that require constant attention (like putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not on the counter). Some are educational: we do instrument practice, memory work, math and handwriting nearly every day. Some are part of our family culture: we have a morning meeting most mornings… on the weekend, it may include Dad also.  I’ll talk about household and educational habits and routines later. For today, here are the little things that keep me sane when I do them.

The Habit of Bible Reading and Prayer: I usually make coffee while it is still dark. It is cold when I carry my mug and my blankie to my desk. I know I only have a short time before I am interrupted. I try to resist the urge to check email before I have read something else. I read the day’s devotional and recommended Bible reading. I pray. I may read a few pages of one or more other things also. I check my lists for the day. I need to start the day by praying and reading just a little bit to sustain my thoughts though all of the adventure and monotony that is motherhood.

The Habit of Slow Reading: There is a time for swallowing a book whole, but some books demand more time. There are ideas and characters need to be met and moved on from, and then there are others who need to live with us for a while.  Last year, I read A Tale of Two Cities, and I thought about sacrifice and salvation. Two years ago, I spent a year thinking on redemption and grace with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Three years ago, it was The Count of Monte Cristo, and I considered damage done by revenge. This year, I’ve invited Anna Karenina to stay for a while. She has a lot to say about marriage and relationships. I’ve also invited Charlotte Mason (volume 6), David Hicks (Norms and Nobility), and Karen Glass (Mind to Mind and Consider This) to help me define classical education. I may also read 99 other books this year, but these are the ones who will have a place on the shelf next to my desk until I am finished with them. I will read them slowly.

The Habit of Timeline Keeping: One habit that I’ve worked on personally for several years is that habit of writing the people and events that I come across in my reading onto a timeline. It took me a couple of tries to get it arranged in a way that would work consistently for many entries. After I finally got it set up, I copied the CC Timeline events onto as anchors for other events. Then, I put the philosophes and events from the history book I was reading. I continued, so on and so forth, not adding things even every week, but building it over time. It has been an amazing way to see connections between ideas and events about which I am reading.

The Habit of Writing: For many years, I scribbled a little here and there. I blogged a lot as we were first grieving for Isaac because I knew that I wouldn’t remember that season at all if I didn’t document (like I don’t remember most of 2005, which is the year Danny died). I’ve poured out my thoughts by hand in journals and typed them at Its Not Nothing and in hidden files on my computer. I was a scribbler, a processor, a record-keeper, but not a writer. I found a high school journal and in it I had quoted my favorite English teacher, who used to tell us that “All you have to do is write to be a writer.” I dedicated a few minutes a day to writing – nothing big or important – mostly just dumping my brain at and leaving room for developing ideas. This has become a blessed end to my day, even though it takes a little time.

The Habit of Exercise:  It is easier to learn a new habit in company than alone. We are working on an exercise habit, and it is proving difficult. I like to walk in the neighborhood with my husband. I have to stick to the low impact exercises that don’t damage my already sore joints. That kind of stinks because I’d burn more calories if I was running or CrossFitting.  However, walking is better than nothing. We’d all rather be walking and running outside… but not when it is just too cold. One of us usually wants to go to the Y in a day, and the rest of us tie on our tennis shoes and get in the van. The decision to go is easier because of the one person’s desire to work out. Perhaps, one day, we will each feel the need to move consistently individually and have the gumption to make it happen.

The Habit of the Little Bit: Here’s the secret to why my reading moments work: I don’t try to read a lot at once. I read just a little bit, and then take time to turn the characters and ideas over in my head while I do more mundane tasks, like the dishes. The work of continuing education for a mother isn’t done in free luxurious hours. It is done in the tiny moments, in little snatches, in short spurts. I can’t wait to do it perfectly, I can just do what is in front of me.  I manage writing little bits and pieces in my little corner of Instagram, and that is my best little bit at this time. But I least I got to the Little Bit.

The Habit of Doing It Now: My mother trained me to “Do it now” – to not “put it done unless you are putting it away.” Unfortunately “away” can get out of hand when the drawer in question won’t open or close because too many wrong things have been stuck there. This afternoon, I had to hunt for a CR2032 battery. Once I removed something, I couldn’t put it back in until I sorted the whole mess. Wiggling everything back in, shutting the drawer, and pretending the mess disappeared was not an option. It was either sort the stuff or leave the mess on the kitchen counter. When I finished, a third of the contents of these two drawers was in the trash, and everything else was neat and tidy.  I was grateful for my mother’s wisdom yet again.