Habit-Training as a Part of Homeschooling

During my first pregnancy, time seemed to drip slowly forward.  The hours, the minutes… I nearly counted them all.  Every time someone was near, all I wanted to talk about was pregnancy and the wonder and discomfort of it.  No matter what I could do, I couldn’t make the days go any faster.  I was so excited to be done with pregnancy and on to fully being a mother!

Now that I’m passing the half-way point of my 6th pregnancy in the past 7 years time seems to race by so quickly that it’s difficult to not get overly anxious about the bad habits in place now in my family that I’m hoping can be adjusted (or at least improved) by the time we receive our next child in July.  I now find myself hoping and praying for the days to slow down a bit so I can stay pregnant longer and be more prepared for mothering 5 small children, as well as homeschooling them.

(photo taken a few weeks before baby #4 arrived)

The entire conversation of habit-training has been something I’ve avoided like the plague.  Creating good habits as an adult is difficult enough and so it can be overwhelming to even envision how to create good habits in my children.  In the Charlotte Mason method, an important part of the early years education, especially applicable to homeschooling, is the development of good habits.

As I encouraged my daughters earlier today to stop playing in my bedroom and play in their own, their reply showed me the need for figuring out how to truly assist them in developing good habits.  They fought tooth-and-nail to go to their bedroom because there was no room to play in there.  There wasn’t even room to walk without stepping on something, they told me.  So what ended up happening?  I’m embarrassed to say that to relocate their play as quickly as possible and to get them to stop making a fuss, I quickly cleaned up the floor in their room, all the while telling them “it was your choices that made this room messy.  See how easy it is to quickly clean up so you have room to play?  You can do this, too.”  In hindsight, I’m sure they were thinking something along the lines of, “yeah, it IS fantastically easy to have you clean our room instead of having to do it ourselves.”

Yikes.  Habit training emergency?  I think so.  It’s definitely safe to say that what I have been doing isn’t working (especially in the cleanliness and tidyness departments).

This quote from Charlotte Mason shifted my thinking about habit-training (as quoted from “Smooth and Easy Days” a free ebook on habit-training from, pages 5 & 6):

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”

Smooth and easy days sound like EXACTLY what our expanding little family could use.  However, I was still confused about how to encourage the development of good habits without resorting to fully becoming the nagging mother.

In regards to nagging, Charlotte said:

“But, perhaps, even his mother does not know how unutterably dreary is this ‘always telling,’ which produces nothing, to the child…. As for any impression on his character, any habit really formed, all this labour is without result” (as quoted in “Smooth and Easy Days” pages 18-19).

Bottom line: nagging doesn’t work and it doesn’t develop proper habits.  In fact, it reinforces the habit of the child always needing to be told what to do, rather than freely acting by themselves.  Dang it!!

So how do we assist our children in developing good habits like cleanliness, respect, attention, kindness, gratitude, good stewardship and the myriad of other good habits that exist?  Charlotte suggests focusing on the development of one habit at a time.  In the “Smooth and Easy Days” ebook, they suggest choosing one habit to focus on for 6-8 weeks and then add the development of another habit thereafter (“Smooth and Easy Days” page 12).

At first this led me to discouragement: I want children full of good habits now (or at least before our next baby arrives).  However, taking on every good habit is overwhelming to both me and my children, so – of course – that would be ineffective.  Now, I’m shifting my perspective to envisioning developing 3 strong habits in my children in the time before our next baby arrives.  This makes me really excited, rather than worried it will be like every other pregnancy where I had high hopes, but ultimately things continued on in our household similarly as before, only adding another little one’s messes to the mix.

As I read more to try to figure out the right attitude and strategy to go into habit training with, I was deeply struck by this example that was shared in “Smooth and Easy Days“:

“Charlotte gave the example of a child who is dawdling.  ‘The child goes to dress for a walk; she dreams over the lacing of her boots – the tag in her fingers poised in mid air – but her conscience is awake; she is constrained to look up, and her mother’s eye is upon her…” – stop the action right there for a moment.  What does her mother look like?  Is she zapping her child with the infamous ‘evil eye’ that all mothers instinctively know how to deliver?

“No.  Charlotte used two other words to describe her mother’s expression: ‘her mother’s eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant.

“Without this principle of expectant encouragement, habit training becomes a drudgery and mother becomes a drill sergeant.  No matter how old we grow, we are all motivated by a person who is ‘for’ us – someone who unequivocally believes we can succeed and who encourages us every step of the way.  Let’s be that person for our children.”

The line, “her mother’s eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant,” stirred an excitement within me so riveting that I am tempted to learn how to cross-stitch just so I can cross-stitch that phrase and hang it up in my house.  Instead, for now, I’ll make do with cross-stitching these words in my heart and asking the Lord to assist me in developing the habit to encourage my children to develop good habits with “hopeful and expectant” eyes.  I want to be their best cheerleader, inspiring and rescuing all the goodness within them.  With habit training, I want my children to see that we’re on the same side and I am not their enemy.

I found so much value in the ideas and concepts found in “Smooth and Easy Days” and would highly recommend it.  It’s completely altered my perspectives on habit training.  I see habit training now as giving my children little nuggets of gold that will bless their lives forever for having them instilled within them in childhood, rather than struggling to start developing them in adulthood.

Is habit training a part of your homeschooling and parenting routines?  Is it something you consciously have planned out or something that has just unfolded naturally?  What tips do you have for developing good habits, especially in young children?