Education is the Formation of Habits
"The formation of habits is education and Education is the formation of habits." [emphasis mine]
- Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 97.
Researchers have found that at least half of all that we do is based on habits.¹ This makes sense if you start to consider all the little things that we do automatically; everything from how we brush our teeth, to how we get into the car, or the way we make our coffee are probably all things that most of us do without thinking. We can use less trivial examples as well. For instance, habits of the heart are revealed in how we respond to our spouse when he disagrees with us, or through the facial expressions and voice tones we use when our children disappoint us. All of these actions, behaviors, and heart attitudes are habitual.
Charlotte Mason was a century ahead of her time when she wrote about the brain science of habits as they relate to our children’s education. She wrote, “...whether you choose or not to take any trouble about the formation of habits, it is habit, all the same, which will govern ninety-nine one-hundredths of the child’s life.”² Throughout her writings she insists that parents and teachers must be highly intentional to train good habits because, “it is unchangeably true that the child who is not being constantly raised to a higher and higher platform will sink to a lower and a lower.”³
Charlotte Mason believed our children's character is greatly affected by the habits he has formed. She was also of the opinion that the three most important habits to cultivate in our children are: attention, obedience and truthfulness. The habit of attention is of primary importance. Have you ever noticed how many times throughout the Bible we are exhorted to pay attention? “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention.”⁴ Perhaps this is because our ability to obey, succeed, realize mistakes, achieve goals and even relate to others very much relies on the habit of attention. We cannot truly do something well if we cannot fully attend to it.
One of the best analogies that Charlotte Mason uses to illustrate the power of habit formation is that of the locomotive. She states, “...for just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. It follows that this business of laying down lines towards the unexplored country of the child’s future is a very serious and responsible one for the parent. It rests with him to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure; and along these tracks, to lay down lines so invitingly smooth and easy that the little traveller is going upon them at full speed without stopping to consider whether or not he chooses to go that way.”⁵
What are some areas you would like to work on intentionally forming good habits - either for yourself or your children?
¹ Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit, p. xvii.
² Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 110.
³ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 103.
⁴ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 146.
⁵ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 109.