Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 5th Grade :)

Smooth and Easy Days with Our Children

on March 15, 2013

Charlotte Mason Friends Book Club, Home Education (Vol. 1) pages 75-150

Habit Training

“My kids drive me crazy! I could never homeschool them!” is an honest confession that I have heard from some mothers. Others put it milder, “I need some me time while my kids are at school. I need that break.” If mothering was easier, even blissful, I wonder how many would take a second look at homeschooling? The reality is moms understandably need a reprieve from the noise, the half cleaned up messes, the silly chatter, disobedience, possessions not properly cared for, cupboard doors left open, instructions going in one ear and out the other, dirty laundry left on the floor again, requests and demands, lack of courtesy, the style and tastes in discord with her own preferences–all the normal things kids do that grate on mom’s nerves. And doesn’t it seem like it gets worse with time as the kids get older? Is there any hope for smooth, peaceful, and enjoyable days as the norm with our children, or do we just cope through weary days by taking breaks, hot baths, deep breaths, and drinking strong coffee?

Today I hope  to show how parenting can be smooth and easy by sharing the secrets of habit training set forth by Charlotte Mason, my esteemed mentor. Our children’s habits of thought and action will effect not only who they are today, but ultimately form who they become someday, and parents have the power to influence every one of those important habits acquired in childhood. We know that thoughts and actions, whether purifying or defiling, all follow the same natural law: one after another develops, matures, and increases after its own kind. Good habits will beget goodness in our children and homes, and goodness provides the pleasure of family life that is desired by the heart of every parent. Parents sow seeds of good habits into the open souls of their children, which shall germinate, blossom and bear fruit. The Lord gives parents seeds of truth to sow, and the love and patience required to continue tending the garden of their children’s hearts.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character,” the maxim goes.

Habit training is the answer to securing smooth and easy days for parents simply looking to enjoy their vocation of parenthood more, a Christian family looking to instill Christian character in their children, or a homeschooling family looking to avoid the weariness of the homeschool room–whoever you are, I promise this information will be relevant to what you want for your family. Everyone wants to have an easy life, its a natural desire, and there is a way to bring you and your children on the same page, making your days together a joy rather than a frustration. Charlotte Mason says, “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 our, Do this!’ and they do not; ‘Do that!’ and they do the other.” Don’t live in frustration, study and implement Charlotte Mason’s principles of habit training with me, and after much diligence, we shall delight in the sweet fruit of our labor all through the years to come with our children.

Charlotte warns that too many Christian parents expect that they can “let a child 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. And their trust is not always misplaced; but the poor man endures anguish, is torn asunder in the process of recovery which his parents might have spared him had they trained the early shoots which should develop by-and-by into the character of their child.” Divine grace doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the trouble to understand how to best educate and train our children. Divine grace is exerted on the lines of enlightened human effort.

Habits Are Why I Homeschool

There are lots of reasons why I homeschool, but habit training, which ultimately develops character in my children, is at the top of the list. I think about all the habits in which I am training my children and could not possibly imagine any other other option than having them at home with me all week in order to train them up successfully. Lets take just one small segment of the day–mealtime–and list all the things that I (and perhaps you too), daily without miss, train my children to do: remembering to go potty before a meal, keeping cups off the edge of the table, sitting forward in their chairs, not wiggling, serving others first, not interrupting in conversation, use voices at an appropriate volume, allowing no potty talk or fluffing at the table, keeping silliness and (annoying) noises to a minimum, waiting patiently for food, using please and thank you, asking daddy about his day, sharing details with daddy about their day, waiting patiently for everyone to finish their meal before being excused, cleaning up after themselves, asking to be excused from the table, washing their hands and face and dishes at the sink. When I think about what habits we are trying to instill in the course of a whole day, it is astounding– it is so so so much!! Obviously habit training is time consuming when taking the whole picture into consideration (see Charlotte Mason’s entire list of habits).

So does habit training end when kids are school age and can no longer be under our constant supervision? Habit training at home does not end, it only evolves into bigger and more important goals as children grow, which poses a compatibility problem with the typical school day schedule and homework. And how capable are our young ones of holding onto to what we teach them while they are away at school? Is school supposed to take over habit training so that your child learns from her peers or the teacher while away from us? I could never expect a teacher of an entire classroom to have the time to continue my child’s personal habit training for me. Its simply unrealistic to believe that a teacher could properly and consistently train each student in the habits they personally need to acquire (or that the teacher even has the same views/emphasis/priorities about habits as I do anyway). As for peers having worthwhile character developing influence on our children, we only have to recall my posts reviewing the book Hold Onto Your Kids to know that is an alarming myth. So I wonder why most of us send our children away 6 hours a day, where habits we’ve been working so hard on at home become dangerously unguarded for the most part, and find our ourselves surprised when our child is constantly coming home with new contrary habits that require an immense effort of constant undoing? Sounds like a weary never ending battle.

Charlotte Mason’s List of Habits
Decency and Propriety Habits
Modesty and Purity
Mental Habits
Mental Effort
Perfect Execution
Reading for Instruction
Moral Habits
Use of Time
Borrowed Property
Personal Initiative
Sweet, Even Temper
Physical Habits
Alertness to Seize Opportunities
Managing One’s Own Body
Outdoor Life
Quick Perception of Senses
Self-Control in Emergencies
Self-Discipline in Habits
Self-Restraint in Indulgences
Training the Ear and Voice
Religious Habits
Regularity in Devotions
Reading the Bible
Reverent Attitude
Thought of God

The purpose of habit training should be to secure beauty, order, and goodness at home and in each others eyes. “A mother whose final question is, ‘What will people say? what will people think? how will it look? and the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well dressed, well mannered, and well intentioned to outsiders.” Homeschool is stripping me of a lot of my “appearance” hang ups and helping me to focus in on what really matters–internal beauty and goodness starting at home.

Truthfully, the last thing we want is for our kids to drive us crazy, but the solution for preventing discord sounds like counter logic: keep your children with you. The irony is that, the more children are sent away so we can have a break, the more they will drive us crazy, because they become less responsive to our parenting. The more we send them out of our watchful care, the more our children will accumulate contrary habits from outside influences, plus we will have less time together to work on habits at home that create harmony. Harmony in the home is a treasure worthy of your life’s pursuit. Habit training is a full time job, too precious and personal to delegate out to anyone else.

To me, the crucial nature of habit training is what makes homeschool so necessary and so appropriate for families who value character education as a #1 priority. That means that no matter how inadequate we feel we are are at teaching certain academic subjects, for those of us who hold the educational priority of character development at the top of our list, home is still the very best place for our children to receive their education. My philosophy about education is that above all else, it shall secure the step by step progression of my children’s character development. If my children’s education teaches math and language and science, but is ineffective at forming character in them, it is a failure.

A Real Education is About Character

Charlotte began her teaching career with zealous enthusiasm believing that there wasn’t anything a teacher could not influence her students to do, and that it was the teacher’s fault if any child was not succeeding in school or out of it. The disappointing thing was that she found nothing extraordinary happened. The kids were good and came from good families on the whole, but it was clear that they still behaved very much as it was their nature to. The good meek little girl still told fibs. The bright generous child was incurably idle. The dawdling child went on dawdling, the dull child became no brighter. She felt disappointed and like they were playing at education, getting on a little bit with sums and French and history each year, but she wondered: would not the application of a few hours later in life effect more than years drudgery at any one subject in childhood– for who remembers the scraps of knowledge he labored over as a child? “If education is to secure the step-by-step progress of the individual and the race, it must mean something over and above the daily plodding at small talks which goes by the name.” A real education is about character development, much more than it is about academics. Who cares what you know when you grow up if you haven’t the character to make any use of it?

Whether you choose to or not to take any trouble about the formation of your child’s habits, it is habit, all the same, which will govern 99/100ths of your child’s life. Is it really possible for parents to form in children desirable habits of doing and saying, even of thinking and feeling? Although there is some goodness in the heart of every child, they are all incapable of steady effort, because they have no strength of will, no power to make themselves do that which they knew they ought to do. Children, immature of will, do not do what they should do, or think what they should think. People, especially children, think as they are accustomed to think. Adults have the will to stop some trains of thought that they object to, but it requires great effort. A child has feeble moral power, a weak will, and is unused to the weapons of spiritual warfare. “He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow. Only to initiate; no more is permitted to them; but from this initiation will result the habits of thought and feeling which govern the man–his character, that is to say…….The child is born, doubtless with the tendencies which should shape his future; but every tendency has its branch roads, its good or evil outcome; and to put the child on the right track for the fulfillment of the possibilities inherent in him, is the vocation of the parent.” Overseeing the development of character in our children is our primary job as parents. Are you willing to get some job training, and then faithfully lay your life down for your child that your job may be well done?

Habit is the Strength of Ten Natures

Every child is born with a weak will and a strong nature (disposition or personal natural tendencies of behavior), but the good news is that, as Charlotte Mason says, habit has the strength of ten natures. Suppose that the doing of a certain action 20 or 40 times in unbroken sequence forms a habit which is easy to follow, and then persist in that habit without lapses for many years, and the habit now has the strength of ten natures. How does the doing of an act or the thinking of a thought 20 times in succession, make that habit so strong that it becomes a part of a child’s nature? Charlotte studied the physiology of habit to find some answers.

Muscular tissue is constantly regrowing according to the modes of action required of it. As a child learns to write, his muscles are adapting to the action required of them and the better he gets, the less his mind must be engaged to tell him how to do it–the action is becoming automatic. The greatest growth and adaption of muscles takes place with the greatest ease in youth. Dancing, swimming, sports, etc. are all learned best when young or by an adult whose muscles have kept up the habit of adaption through regular exposure to new physical activities. Charlotte says, “But teach a ploughman to write, and you see the enormous physical difficulty which unaccustomed muscles have in growing to any new sort of effort.” Hour by hour children’s muscles are forming their habits, and this is why Charlotte says it is important to even keep watch over habits of enunciation and posture. She says, “The poke, the stoop, the indistinct utterance, is not a mere trick to be left off at pleasure ‘when he is older and knows better,’ but it is all the time growing into him becoming a part of himself, because it is registered int he very substance of his spinal cord……And to correct bad habits of speaking, for instance, it will not be enough for the child to intend to speak plainly and try to speak plainly; he will not be able to do so habitually until some degree of new growth has taken place in the organs of voice whilst he is making efforts to form the new habit.”

Interestingly, habits which do not appear to be in any sense physical–a truthful habit, an orderly habit, a habit of inattention–also make their mark upon a physical tissue, and it is to this physical effect that the enormous strength of habit is probably due. The brain is always modified by the work it has to do. “….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.” The cerebrum of man grows to the modes of thought in which it is habitually exercised. We find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do. At first an action requires all our attention and volition in order to perform it, but by frequent repetition, it becomes part of us, and is performed without volition or consciousness. Thoughts headed in the same constant direction in the tissues of the brain traces out a rut or path, a line of least resistance, along which the same impression, made another time, will find it easier to travel than to take another path. The habit of action or thought now has right-of-way in the traffic of the brain. So parents who diligently oversee their children’s habits of doing, saying, thinking, and feeling; and allow little opposing traffic from outside influences, are laying down rails on which our children’s whole lives can run smoothly. The deeper the ruts, the better.

Soooo what does all this mean?

Charlotte explains, “Why, that 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.”

How are bad habits to be cured? By time? Rewards? Punishment? Not at all; the only way to cure a habit is by supplanting it with the contrary habit, and “the mother must devote herself for a few weeks to this cure as steadily and untiringly as she would to the nursing of her child through measles.” If you would like a real life example of a mother doing this, and without nagging or reproach, make sure to read Charlotte’s Habit is Ten Natures (page 120). The fatal mistake in habit training is to relax your efforts–to overlook a little dawdling or white lie or tardiness–because your little sweetie has been trying so hard. A little relaxation means the formation of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before your child gets back to where he was before. Remember, a habit by definition is something that has become easy and natural, done without thought. There is no need to take pity on a child as if her habits still require great effort–she is doing it now without even realizing that she is! Again, read a real life example of the fatality of “letting your child off once” in Habit is Ten Natures (pages 122-124).

I don’t have time my friends to discuss all that Charlotte says about training each specific habit, but you will find that Home Education specifically addresses each of the habits listed on the chart above. If you are interested, you should think about reading the book or even the whole series, as a Charlotte Mason education is largely about character development!! Or if you enjoy taking the easy route :), has compiled what Charlotte has to say about habits from all 6 of her volumes, into one very useful handbook called Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook.

Habit Training is a Pleasure

“The boy who has been accustomed to find both profit and pleasure from his books does not fall easily into idle ways because he is attracted by an idle schoolfellow. The girl who has been trained to speak the exact truth simply does not think of a lie as a ready means of getting our of a scrape, coward as she may be.” Habit training has huge rewards, and to succeed, parents only need to be tactful, watchful, persistant, and prayerful. To form a good habit takes a few weeks, to guard it takes never ending watchful care. However, guarding habits already formed is not hard work, it just takes persistant watchful effort. Forming a new habit takes a lot of diligence and so we should only choose one or two at a time to work on with our children (choose one off the chart that is most needed in your child).

Habits make life easy and thank goodness for that. What if we still had to think about how to carry out simple small talk, take a bath, write, or read? We would be worn out. Habits make tasks perfectly easy and natural. Charlotte describes forming habits in children as no laborious task “for the reward goes hand in hand with the labor; 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. This is one of the rocks that mothers sometimes split upon: they lose sight of the fact that [a good habit is a real pleasure].” What becomes tiresome in parenting then is not habit training, but the undoing of habits by outside influences such as children at school, or the undoing of habits by inconsistent training at home, and having to begin all over again. The more time you are able to devote to training habits and guarding character, the greater your pleasure in your children will be.

“There is nothing which a mother can not bring her child up to.” –Charlotte Mason

Your child has been sending you signals all along that “I need you mommy!!” Have you noticed? The way he gets clingy at times or the way he lights up when you spend quality time with him. The way he behaves well when he is just with you, but when your attention is diverted to something or someone else, he starts acting up. Whether he can express it or not, deep down he knows that you and daddy are the only ones who can help him grow up into who he is to become. If you could hear his heart, he would be crying out, “I need you so much mommy! All these habits in life that are so easy and automatic for you, are very wearying to me, because I am a child and everything is brand new for me. Won’t you hold me close through it all? Will you keep holding onto me through the years so that I can grow into the man God wants me to be? I need you so much to help me grow into maturity!” Please don’t think that signals of dependance quieting down in your older school age child means that he is ready to be independent from you. More likely it means that he has acquiesced your need for time apart, and since the void for attachment doesn’t just simply disappear, he has started to look elsewhere, like peer relationships, for someone to guide him, and essentially train him up. Yikes!! Please review the posts Hold Onto Your Kids Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV as they go hand in hand with today’s topic of habit training.

You know you have always said that your child comes before anything else in your life. He or she is your priority above anything else. Does your lifestyle back up your conviction? There is nothing that you can not bring your child up to. Now the question is……….how will you rearrange the commitments in your life to make time with your children your top priority?

Someday after we mothers have enjoyed many years together with our children in sweet fellowship, our children will come to realize how much they have been preserved from by growing up under our ever protecting wing, and I foresee this as the day that they will “rise up and call us blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). You are the virtuous woman who is taking great pains in your duties, and you shall take pleasure in the sweet fruit of your labor.

If this post has helped you, please share it with another parent you care about–or all the parents you know!
Do you want to be a part of my Charlotte Mason Friends Book Club? Read pages 150-225 in Home Education and bring some thoughts to share on the Little Lambs blog by April 15th. Let’s inspire others to bring the atmosphere of a living education into their home too!

Daffodil Heaven. I Heart Daffodils.


Easter Garden Baskets Are Probably My Favorite School Project of the Whole Year

See March Lesson Plans for more details. We used Irish Moss (Sagina Subulata), purple Campanula Get Mee (Campanula Portenschlagiana), and an indoor plant that I don’t know the name of. I wanted something frilly to keep indoors since last year we did hearty succulent plants (the advantage was that the basket lasted all year).


Reminders of the Cross Sitting Pretty in Our Kitchen


The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock, The Foolish (Wo)Man Built His (Her) House Upon the Sand

This was our Bible story in circle time this week since being hard working helpers is our theme this month. The blocks represented work we do and aspirations we have, and how we build our lives on the rock of Jesus Christ by doing “every task heartily as unto the Lord” as the Bible says, or on the sand by doing things “unto man”. With the first two blocks representing Tayler’s dreams of doing gymnastics and becoming a nurse someday, we discussed with very practical examples, what it would look like to build her dreams on the rock verses the sand. The next block represented building a life of doing kind things in a showy way so that man rewards us (sand), or doing kind things in secret as the Bible says to so that only our Heavenly Father knows and He will reward us (rock). The last block represented school, and how we prepare our hearts and attitudes through early morning devotions and using God’s promises in the Word when frustrations arise (rock) or doing it all in our own strength (sand). Their favorite part was making the storm come and knocking down blocks built on sand of course. You should have heard the peals of laughter. Its so fun to be 4 years old.


I Love Mud!

That is all Tayler kept saying as I watched her help herself to playing in the mud. Then I asked, “Has your family ever let you play in the mud before?” “No,” she replied. Ooops?


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