One of the most profound—and often under appreciated—methods of Charlotte Mason is her teachings on habits. How I wish I had known of this extremely influential concept when my children were younger, before they formed the bad habits we invested a lot of time undoing. Mason addresses the fascinating subject of attention: The Habit of Attention.
She explains that a child should stay focused on a subject and not allow his mind to wander hither and thither with every interesting thought that pops into his brain. The thing is, our children have fascinating thoughts and ideas, but they must be taught to keep their minds focused on the subject at hand.
This is a difficult task.
A child must be trained —even with rewards—to keep his mind focused. A child that is not trained into this habit of attention will struggle through school and work for a lifetime. I didn’t realize this was simply a bad habit, but it is. The child should be aware of this fault in letting his mind flitter away and wander off. He should be taught that staying on task and keeping his mind on a subject is an amazing achievement, a great triumph about which he should feel very accomplished when he is successful at it. Let him know that if his mind wanders, it is a choice he has made. It’s work for our children to keep their minds on task.
With training, they can accomplish what few people do. If they can learn to focus their mind’s attention, they will find that everything they pursue in life will come much easier for them.
In schoolwork, short lessons help to achieve the habit of attention.
If the lesson is too long, the child will find it difficult to develop the habit. As he begins to develop the habit of attention, you can begin to lengthen the lesson. Each of my children had a small timer. They set it at a prescribed time for each subject. They then worked diligently for that short amount of time and got a great deal done. They felt successful when they saw how much more they achieved each week in that short time period. The timers were also motivation for them. If they worked diligently, they could finish school sooner and go out to play earlier.
Aristotle said it best:
You are what you repeatedly do; excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.
Read more about Charlotte Mason’s methodologies.