Earlier this year I shared some initial thoughts on the role of habit in education and life, including my intention to dig deeper into understanding habit. The cause of this, even though I am nearing the end of my homeschooling journey with my youngest daughter, is that I see so many bad and derailing-type habits in my young adult children and my middle-aged adult self. Also, as I tutor teens I have begun to make connections between habits, quality of learning, enjoyment of learning, expression of learning, and whether the teen has a positive or negative view of their learning abilities. This last connection is something that has especially surprised me, partially because we tend to categorise those aspects of learning under personality types, learning style, interests and natural abilities. We do not tend to connect the discipline of habit as a doorway to enjoying learning or viewing yourself as a learner. Witnessing the wonder and joy grow, as a teen realises they can read and enjoy a variety of books and texts, challenge ideas and discuss and write about them, is a real privilege.
In her principles of education, Charlotte Mason lists three tools that are available to the parent/tutor in the education of young people. These three tools are the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and a life of ideas that feed the mind and the soul. The first and third tools can be broken down into the lifestyle of your family, daily rhythms and schedules, the physical lay out of your home, the use of books, hobbies, relationships with people, and natural learning opportunities within your community.
Miss Mason introduces us to the idea of the second tool with these words;
'By EDUCATION IS A DISCIPLINE, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought- i.e., to our habits.' (Volume 6)
What is meant by Discipine?
When we speak of education as a discipline we are referring to a concept of education as a means of training our character and methodically working to improve any character flaws, in ourselves and our children. Discipline here does not refer to strict authoritarian rules or punishment. Discipline of habit is first trained by parents and then grows into self-discipline as the children learns to strengthen his/her will and conscience to do what is right and good and beneficial. The disciplines we hope to develop as habits include habits of the mind, heart, behaviour and body.
Habit training as part of our natural educational and parenting practises run smoothest when begun from a young age, partially because both parents and children are in the habit of habit training. It is trickier to begin habit training older and children and teens, but it is always possible to do something. Every small step counts.
How to Begin: 3 Steps
1) Begin with love. Something I have learned is that habits are best formed with a foundation of love. Love your child. Make sure your child is secure in your love for them and look for ways to demonstrate your constant love for them in ways they connect with. I have found The Five Love Languages of Teenagers helpful in this area. Living, working, and learning with teens can sometimes be bumpy. But, whatever else we need to do during those times, we need to love them in a demonstrable way.
2) Break the old habit with a new habit. Pick one habit to focus on stopping. Begin replacing the old habit with a new appealing habit, this helps to train the brain in new lines through a positive and active solution. It also provides motivation and something that is new, life giving and interesting in place of the old negative habit. This is a process of not only weeding the garden, but also nurturing the flowers.
3) Practise patience and persistence. Habit training is not a matter of nagging or punishment. It is mindful parenting and teaching. It is a way of following the lead of nature, awareness and gentle redirection.
I have been focusing on putting these three steps into practise more mindfully and diligently this year. When something comes undone in the process I think back over these three steps and consider where the weakness might be. When I discover the weakness, I focus on strengthening that part of the process. It is simple, but not easy.
In this process I am also learning that habit is the handmaiden of virtue.