Friday, July 21, 2017

Reflections on Home Education - Part III (Post 2)....

There are two important points I'd like to discuss further in Part III of Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason, the 'Physiology of Habit' and the 'Forming of Habit'. You can find Post 1 dealing with Part III here.

First off, I found Charlotte's notions on habit and physical movement interesting. Certainly it was something I hadn't really thought too much about prior, but makes perfect sense...

Growing Tissues form themselves to Modes of Action.
Even those modes of muscular action which we regard as natural to us, as walking and standing erect, are in reality the results of a laborious education; quite as much so as many modes of action which we consciously acquire, as writing or dancing; but the acquired modes become perfectly easy and natural. Why? Because it is the law of the constantly growing tissues that they should form themselves according to the modes of action required of them. In a case where the brain is repeatedly sending down to the muscles under nervous control as they are, the message to have a certain action done, that action becomes automatic in the lower centre, and the faintest suggestion from outside comes to produce it without the intervention of the brain. Thus, the joints and muscles of the child's hand very soon accommodate themselves to the mode of action required of them in holding and guiding the pen. Observe, it is not that the child learns with his mind how to use his pen, in spite of his muscles; but that the newly growing muscles themselves take form according to the action required of them. (p. 112)
And here we have the reason why children should learn dancing, riding, swimming, calisthenics, every form of activity which requires a training of the muscles, at an early age: the fact being, that muscles and joints have not merely to conform themselves to new uses, but to grow to a modified pattern; and this growth and adaptation take place with the greatest facility in early youth. (p. 113)  
Charlotte makes an awesome case for early childhood play and physical activity. Most young children love physical movement. Here we see the importance of it for both gross and fine motor development. She also tells us this is when muscles are pliable and ready to be formed. Along these same lines, Charlotte writes on how moral and mental habits make their mark on physical tissues as well. They actually hard wire the brain.
Yet when we consider that the brain, the physical brain, is the exceedingly delicate organ by means of which we think and feel and desire, love and hate and worship, it is not surprising that the organ should be modified by the work it has to do; to put the matter picturesquely, it is as if every familiar train of thought made a rut in the nervous substance of the brain into which the thoughts run lightly of their own accord, and out of which they can only be got by an effort of will. 
Thus, the mistress of the house knows that when her thoughts are free to take their own course, they run to cares of the house or the larder, to to-morrow's dinner or the winter's clothing; that is, thought runs into the rut which has been, so to speak, worn for it by constant repetition. The mother's thoughts run on her children, the painter's on pictures, the poet's on poems; those of the anxious head of the house on money cares, it may be, until in times of unusual pressure the thoughts beat, beat, beat in that well-worn rut of ways and means, and decline to run in any other channel, till the poor man loses his reason, simply because he cannot get his thoughts out of that one channel made in the substance of his brain. And, indeed, "that way of madness lies" for every one of us, in the persistent preying of any one train of thought upon the brain tissue. Pride, resentment, jealousy, an invention that a man has laboured over, an opinion he has conceived, any line of thought which he has not longer the power to divert, will endanger a man's sanity. (p. 114-115)
How many times have I stewed over something that became a pattern of bad thinking, a rut, which in turn caused me great stress and turmoil, nearly driving me mad. Charlotte called me out here on my sinful way of thinking. Negative or obsessive thoughts do actually affect the brain long term just as I suspect positive thoughts could. A thought takes the known path or path of least resistance and because new brain tissue is being constantly regenerated, we have the power to redirect thoughts through habit training. One thinks or becomes what they repeatedly think and do. This supports the importance of speaking grammatically correct to our young children rather than using baby talk so they learn to speak grammatically correct with proper pronunciation. It also behooves our children to listen to the best music and read the best books so they acquire a taste for them at an early age.  Charlotte states this acquisition of good habits begins with the parents as they model them for their children.
...the actual conformation of the child's brain depends upon the habits which the parents permit or encourage; and that the habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on for ever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, 'It doesn't matter,' 'Oh, he'll grow out of it,' 'He'll know better by-and-by,' 'He's so young, what can we expect?' and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend. 
Outside Influence. - And here comes in the consideration of outside influence. Nine times out of ten we begin to do a thing because we see some one else do it; we go on doing it, and - there is the habit! If it is so easy for ourselves to take up a new habit, it is tenfold as easy for the children ; and this is the real difficultly in the matter of the education of habit. It is necessary that the mother be always on the alert to nip in the bud the bad habit her children may be in the act of picking up from servants or from other children. (p. 118)
The Forming of a Habit - 'Shut the Door After You'
The effort of decision, we have seen, is the greatest effort of life; not the doing of the thing, but the making up of one's mind as to which thing to do first. It is commonly this sort of mental indolence, born of indecision, which leads to dawdling habits. (p. 119)
Amen!! In habit training, parents need to give clear expectations and few choices so as to spare the child the effort of decision. If the best choice has already been made for the child and is the only alternative, the child's thought takes that path of least resistance and a good habit is formed without room for an error in thinking.

Now I'm sure some will argue that we must let our children make mistakes in order for them to learn from them. However, keep in mind Charlotte was writing to parents of children under the age of nine, who most certainly should not have free range to make decisions like an adult, which may be part of the problem of our current society. There will be time for the child to practice independent decision making skills once the positive paths or habits have been laid. I don't allow my 5-year old the authority over decision that I give my 12 and 13-year old. Because the older children have had habit training in the early years, they are now capable of thinking and acting in a positive manner. This is not to say that they don't make mistakes or aren't still learning, but there is a difference in maturity that allows for a bit more freedom, for lack of a better word.

Even as an adult, I appreciate a decision that has been made for me ahead of time. This is why I take pains during our break in the summer months to create a plan or schedule for the following school year. It is not dated so as to bind me into feeling guilty if life happens and my plan doesn't. Instead, on days when I don't feel like doing school or life does happens, I can check my plan and do whatever comes next. There is no effort of decision because it's all laid out. The decision has already been made. It allows me to be consistent and maintain regularity. This makes it much easier for me to stick to my guns when a whining child is bucking the plan because isn't this the truth....
The habit of regularity is as attractive to older children as to the infant. The days when the usual programme falls through are, we know, the days when the children are apt to be naughty. (p. 132)
Children crave consistency and stability. It makes them feel safe.

If by chance, a bad habit has already been formed, no amount of time, punishment, or reward will change it. Instead, Charlotte says we must replace the bad habit with a new one in order to form a new pattern of thinking in the brain. Then the mother must guard that habit ceaselessly to be sure the child doesn't relapse into the old pattern of thinking. She says, "To form a good habit is the work of a few weeks; to guard it is a work of incessant, but by no means anxious care." Tact, watchfulness and persistence are qualities Charlotte advocates mothers cultivate in themselves to ensure good habits are not only formed in their children, but maintained.

Charlotte also goes on to explain how pleasurable it is when a child has formed a good habit...
Habit a Delight in itself. - Except for this one drawback the forming of habits in the children is no laborious task, for the reward goes hand in hand with the labour; so much so, that it is like the laying out of a penny with the certainty of the immediate return of a pound. For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and, therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable. (p. 121)
Charlotte then gives an example of steps we can follow to instill and ensure that good habits stick. She refers to some 'infant' habits that every child needs and on which everyday life depends. These being, cleanliness, order, neatness, regularity, and punctuality. All of which can be taught in the day to day through regular housekeeping, baths and hygiene, routine bedtimes, etc.

In the end, habit training will make for smooth and easy days. Charlotte says it allows us to leave our children alone and not pester them to do this and that.
In conclusion, let me say that the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions - a running fire of Do and Don't; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose. The gardener, it is true, 'digs about and dungs,' prunes and trains, his peach tree; but that occupies a small fraction of the tree's life: all the rest of the time the sweet airs and sunshine, the rains and dews, play about it and breathe upon it, get into its substance, and the result is - peaches. But let the gardener neglect his part, and the peaches will be no better than sloes. (p. 134)
There is so much wisdom in Part III, but I will stop there! I'm looking forward to carrying on with Part IV.

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