Again, Charlotte Mason has brought some encouragement to my slightly weary soul. Lately, I have written a bit about competing worldviews which force themselves upon us, and make me question whether it really is worthwhile. Is it REALLY worthwhile to sacrifice much in order to provide your children with the holistic and rounded education that you believe to be right and best? Is it worth personal cost and sacrifice? Is it really a good use of time to spend many days repeating the same simple activities, the same routines and patterns, having similar conversations and praying the same prayers? Really?
Well, according to Charlotte Mason as she discourses on how ‘Habit is Ten Natures’, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’, and with almost every word I found myself in agreement, reminded of some of the most fundamental reasons for choosing to home educate our family. She starts by discussing some of her initial frustrations as she embarked on her teaching career, realising that many basic characteristics of individuals are not easy to change. She saw a conflict between the teaching she heard at church about the need for personal habit and discipline (perhaps no longer popular teaching in many churches!) and that which she experienced in her professional life. She began to recognise that fundamental habits are formed easily, formed young, and without focussed and diligent effort to change bad habits and replace these with something better, some of the best educational intentions in the world will come to nothing. She describes how all human beings are made with similar fundamental desires and weaknesses – again, something which might be unpopular teaching in the world today. She then illustrates habit to be like the rails that the ‘train’ of a child’s future will ride along; she elegantly describes how diligent attention to detail in the small matters of habit in a young child will set him up for a better start in life than to ignore these details, expending a lot of wasted effort in trying to build upon a shaky foundation. ‘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’.
As previously in her writings, I am amazed at just how practical and relevant her advice is today. She speaks of how even Christian parents will allow their children to ‘grow free as the wild bramble, putting forth unchecked whatever is in him, thorn, coarse flower, insipid fruit – trusting, they will tell you, that the grace of God will prune and dig and prop the wayward branches lying prone’. She speaks of how we teach habit whether by intention or neglect; that much of a child’s behaviour is influenced by behaviours that they witness in those with whom they spend time, whether that be their peers, those charged with looking after them, other family members, siblings etc. She moves on to demonstrate how much of thinking is shaped by habit – that in any one day, the majority of our actions, thoughts and words will be the product of habit which has formed in us whilst young.
She then moves on to give some practical examples (such as a boy who would not close a door when entering a room, and strategies that could be put into place to help him replace this with the better habit of automatically closing the door), and to discuss some of the currently understood physiology by which habits become easier with time. These examples are not trivial, but rather reminded me just how important diligence and attention to detail in the small, day-to-day occurrencesis; it is at this point that the world around me will tell me I am crazy and wasting my time, but the clear voice of reason comforted me as I read Charlotte Mason’s writings.
She cautions against parents who say things like, ‘He’ll grow out of it’, or ‘She’s only two, give her a chance’. Instead she points out the importance of getting good habits into play from the youngest infancy. She describes how even a child aged two should be taught to tidy up after themselves, and to see this component as essential to the play itself. It makes sense. Without wishing to sound smug, I have been delighted at how our three year old boys ask us at the end of a meal, ‘How may I help?’ and take great pride in carefully carrying things out to the kitchen. We insist on tidying up after one activity before commencing another, and I know other parents have considered us extreme for this. But why should it be such a difficulty? Yet if it is not expected of the child, if the parent leaves tidying up until the end of the day when the child is in bed, then does this not also set up a habit, but this time one of laziness and an expectation to be waited upon? All these are things that have crossed my mind, but it was refreshing for me to hear them clearly stated!
I read this chapter during a train journey on a busy morning at the start of a busy week. It was a God-given voice of reason, of encouragement, of common sense and prioritisation and I hope my synopsis of what I read also brings you encouragement!