Monday, June 8, 2015

Education is a Discipline, the Importance of Instilling Good Habits...

Principles 5b & 7

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments - [the second being] the discipline of habit...By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body.  Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits. 

Throughout our 20 Principles discussion last Friday night, I kept thinking of this quote,
The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.  All day she is crying out, 'Do this!' and they do it not; 'Do that!' and they do the other.” (Vol. 1, p. 136).
I have had dreadful days like this so I was eager to read and study this month's assignment.  Charlotte talks a lot about habits throughout her writings so I presume the formation of habits is a key principle.  And really, who doesn't want smooth and easy days

However, when discussing what habits each of us needed to work on with our children, you could easily see the heavy hearts of the moms present.  Instilling good habits is no easy task!  With which and where do we start?

Charlotte spends a particular amount of time on the habit of attention.  She says, "the highest intellectual gifts depend for their value upon the measure in which their owner has cultivated the habit of attention." and "no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but is is also the hall-mark of an educated person."  Since the goal in homeschooling is educated people, I propose the habit of attention is a good place to start.  In Volume 1, she further states,
The mother devotes herself to the formation of one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed.  If she be appalled by the thought of overmuch labour, let her limit the number of good habits she will lay herself out to form.  The child who starts in life with, say, twenty good habits, begins with a certain capital which he will lay out to endless profit as the years go on.
It's as if Charlotte understood how overwhelming the task of habit training can be!  She further says,
We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of.  Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight.  The call for strenuousness comes with the necessity of forming habits of the good life from themselves in the following out of the due curriculum in the right way.  As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, the children must to the work for themselves.
 Charlotte drives the importance of habit training home with,
There is no other way of forming any good habit, though the discipline is usually that of the internal government which the person exercised upon himself; but a certain strenuousness in the formation of good habits is necessary because every such habit is the result of conflict.  The bad habit of the easy life is always pleasant and persuasive and to be resisted with pain and effort, but with hope and certainty of success, because in our very structure is the preparation for forming such habits of muscle and mind as we deliberately propose to ourselves.  We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act repeated again and again becomes the habit; 'Sow an act,' we are told, 'reap a habit.'  'Sow a habit, reap a character.'  But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worth while.
While reading from For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay regarding the habit of self-control, I was struck by these words,
We need to quietly and cheerfully push the selfish "I want" out of the center of our lives.  This is also a habitual reaction.  The question should be not, "what do I want," but "What do I think is right in this instance?"  This habit helps children cope with their wills.
Ahem...I think this pertains to me.  I need to be more mindful of habits that endear the character of my children, not necessarily habits that benefit me.

Upon further reading, Charlotte suggests it behooves the child to be led to see the benefit of the habit being instilled.  And, Charlotte cautions us to be sure the goal of said habit is attainable.   There's nothing worse than setting the bar too high.  You and your child will both be frustrated.  Start small and build up. 

I'll leave you with a couple more quotes regarding the importance of habit training, another from Schaeffer Macaulay's book...
There is no escape.  It is our duty to consider how we can best help the child to have the right habits.  Only then will he be able to easily get on with other people in life, his tasks and responsibilities, his interests, and even his relationship with his Lord.
...and instruction from the Bible, (ESV) Hebrews12:7, 11...
It is for discipline that you have to endure....For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
What ideas have you implemented in the habit training of your children?   Please feel free to leave comments below.


  1. Hi Melissa! I love reading these posts! And I just love what CM does for us ... she is so thorough and wise. So, in this post {as you know}, I included some thoughts on habit training for those who don't feel like the usual advice works for them: Might be helpful for your readers! :)

  2. Yes, I think it will be super helpful!! Thanks so much :)

  3. Hi Melissa,

    We too are in the midst of Brandy's Start Here and I just loved that section. Your comment here really resonated with me>> "I need to be more mindful of habits that endear the character of my children, not necessarily habits that benefit me. " In reading the sections on authority, I was reminded to really consider the arbitrary-ness of the rules I implement in our home, and I think that goes for habits too. Obviously, my goal is to secure "smooth and easy days" for the whole family, but at the same time, my ultimate goal is to raise up my child in virtue. And to do that, I really need to be selective in which habits I choose and how I present them. I am considering all this as we head into fall. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. You're welcome Celeste...there is so much depth in Charlotte's writings, I'm constantly pondering :)