“Habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord. We avoid decision and indecision brings its own delays.” ~ Charlotte Mason
Since the first day of school, seventh-grade students have heard me say, “give your full attention” to whatever we have before us at any given moment. Sometimes our attention is focused on a text, other times a flower, another a map, still another the speaker at the front of morning assembly. Regardless of what or to whom we are giving our attention, there is “one common factor in all mind activity, and that’s attention.” When we give our undivided attention to the thing that is set before us, we grant ourselves the opportunity to truly learn it, to know it. And once we’ve established the habit of attention, we don’t even think about it anymore. We simply give our full attention when it’s necessary. Unfortunately, when we fail to “lay down the lines of [the] habit [of attention] upon which our behavior might run easily,” we inadvertently develop the poor habit of inattention.
Developing habits within ourselves and our children provides us the opportunity to no longer labor over things which should come naturally: brushing our teeth, putting on our seatbelts, saying thank you, to name a few. But before we can expect our students (or ourselves for that matter) to adopt a habit, we must first sow the idea, the “why” which makes the act worthwhile in the first place. Why brush my teeth? Why wear my seatbelt? Why give my attention? When we know the “why,” we might more easily embrace the “what.” Similar to beginning with the end in mind, we begin with habit formation so that we might lay the rails of right thinking and right living. And habit formation occurs at home and school, whether intentional or not.
We have all experienced the consequences of poor habits, and of course, none of us set out with that intent. We stay up too late, or interrupt people when they’re talking, or fail to give our attention to the good and beautiful things that God has set before us each day. Let us consider what rails we are laying, both at home and school, in ourselves and our children. And let us seek to intentionally “sow a habit, reap a character.”
Quotes from Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education.