Cultivating Good Habits
We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, 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. (Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, 101)
How we help students develop essential academic habits and relational habits.
Attention: the hallmark of the educated person
Charlotte Mason’s method secures attention by reading engaging books, keeping lessons short and focused, and by calling students to narrate what they have seen or heard. Narrating on a daily basis in all subjects develops the habit of close attention. The brain adapts itself to the need to attend since a lack of attentiveness shows up immediately in an inability to narrate with accuracy and thoroughness.
Excellence: putting forth one’s best effort, truly caring about the subject at hand
For Charlotte Mason the real question was “not how much does the student know, but how much does he care about what he knows.” We help our students to care by placing before them “a great feast of ideas” and calling them respond with their own ideas in discussion and narration. We spare them the distraction of external rewards (no stickers, prizes, or privileges) so that growing in knowledge remains the focus and reward of their labor. See: Brain Study on Internal vs. External Rewards.
Humility: self knowledge, the willingness to honor our strengths while facing our weaknesses
We call our students to know their strengths, pursue their interests, and develop a self understanding based on the truth that “we have gifts that differ according to the favor bestowed on us” (Romans 12:6). In an atmosphere of encouragement, students learn to face their weaknesses and humbly ask for assistance. They come to understand that mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, but are a normal part of life and a starting point for growth.
Curiosity: the fuel of all sound academic work
Curiosity asks: why? how? and what if? How does that plane lift off the ground? Why did those people act in that way? What if the opposite happened? Properly cultivated, curiosity leads from egocentrism to engagement with the world. We support the development of this habit by creating a safe environment where students are free to pose questions about all they read and observe.
Responsibility: ownership and accountability
Students at Plumfield are responsible for their own work and must learn to manage their own attention, time, and productivity. This habit is built up slowly over time. In the primary grades, there is much supervision and coaching. Our young scholars narrate (dictate) what they have seen and heard, practice basic skills, and organize their portfolios. Middle school students are taught planning strategies and are held accountable for completing their work. At the beginning of the week, students in grades 5 -8 receive a weekly outline listing the specific narrations that are to be typed* and brought to finished form. They are responsible for scheduling when this work is to be done: during skills hour, personal time, or at home. Any work not finished by the end of the week must be completed the following Monday during the student’s personal time. Fortunately, we seldom have to apply this consequence. (*Students who have not yet learned to type are given assistance until this skill is mastered.)
Order: the management of one’s own things
At Plumfield, each student is assigned an open cubby with color coded binders for each subject. Students are responsible for keeping these binders labeled and in order. Papers must be properly filed in sheet protectors. Students who struggle with order need much friendly support until they acquire this habit. Order also refers to coming to class with the materials needed for work. At the end of the day, students participate in keeping the school in order by doing assigned chores.