From Habit to Virtue – at School and at Home
Building healthy habits is a major part of educating children. As educators, we want to see neat handwriting, punctual assignments, chairs pushed in, bodies in control, and tidy desks. As parents, we want our children to have good manners and be responsible by making their beds, doing chores, having order, etc. but despite our best efforts to drill these healthy habits, at times it seems that our children are unable or unwilling to put them into practice.
Why do we bother to instill healthy habits and why is it so difficult to do so?
Building healthy habits exercises the muscle of temperance in our lives. If we can accomplish one thing well, this is going to build our capacity to persevere and overcome other obstacles in our lives. Our ultimate goal for our children is for them to develop virtue; the disposition in which healthy habits are firmly ingrained and one in which our children choose the good quickly and easily.
Building healthy habits takes much patience and fortitude. If we are not willing to work hard and struggle, we are not going to see improvement. We all are torn between our will to relax and our will to work hard and improve: the will to be productive and the will to be idle (stagnant). This is precisely where the battleground for building healthy habits is won and lost in ourselves and in helping our children. This is also why it can seem so difficult to build healthy habits. It is natural for us to want the easy and selfish path to comfort. But, often, it is in direct opposition to the generous and noble path of struggle and discomfort which leads to achievement. More than ever, our modern culture entices us to “stay put” and “consume” and we often do this at the expense of building our will, our healthy habits of self mastery, and ultimately our virtue.
How then do we work to cultivate healthy habits in our students and children?
Habit formation is alive and well in Pre-K at TSCS. Each student and I have a habit we are working on at all times. My desk needs order, my shoes need to be put back in the right place, my coffee cup needs a home. Sometimes it can be draining to repeat and remind others and ourselves of these habits but overtime, improvement will come. Charlotte Mason says in her writings on habits, “Tact, watchfulness and persistence are the qualities she must cultivate in herself; and, with these, she will be astonished at the readiness with which the child picks up the new habit.” (26)
As educators and parents, we must be persistent reinforcers and keen observers so that we can instill the good we wish to manifest in our children and also always be struggling to improve ourselves. This is not always easy but it is quite beautiful to see the children, encouraging others in their habit formation and the pure pleasure they experience when they have conquered a habit. In short, it is worth it! After having done the initial work to set productive classroom habits, my students often remind me of the importance of accountability, a good true friend who helps you strive in your weakness for betterment. I am thankful for their “little reminders” to be our best (oh how we all need accountability in this life!).
At TSCS we are striving to help form virtuous individuals in the world who can quickly and easily “choose the good” with their strength of will. This starts with doing what we can to instill healthy habits at the earliest of age. On a daily basis we are working on instilling cleanliness, responsibility, order, courtesy, respect, cheerfulness, empathy, generosity etc. and this is no easy task. We are hoping that our efforts in habit formation will aid our students to become the best sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues, husbands, wives, and ultimately, disciples of Christ which they are capable of becoming.
Building strong habits starts in the home at the youngest of ages. Parents are the primary educators of children. A good number of habits are formed between the ages of 0-3 and as we know, habit formation is a lifelong process. Having an eye on habit formation as we parent and educate early on, will set our children up for greater success later on. What are some habits we can encourage at home first for ourselves and then next, for our children. Our children and students learn more from our actions than our words. Actually, common thought suggests that children only hear 20% of what we say but notice 80% of what we do and how we live. How are we living and educating our children at home? Could we smile more, put down technology and look into the eyes of the people we live with a bit more. Could we have a sit down family dinner more often than not during the week (the research is strong in the link between family dinners and children’s success later on in life)! According to Charlotte Mason, “The child’s most fixed and dominant habits are those which the parents take no pains about, but which the child picks up for himself through his close observation of all that is said and done, felt and thought, in his home.” (39). The atmosphere in our homes naturally form us in our habits for good or for less good. I encourage you and myself to practice refinement, maybe add some habits at home to work on for yourself which in turn will educate your children toward the good and toward virtue!
Lent is upon us, a great time in the liturgical year to choose a habit to work on and refine some of those habits that are within us but cloudy. This is a great time to chisel and refine ourselves to serve and love God and others better. What habit will you choose to work on?
I have included a comprehensive list of habits from Charlotte Masons book titled Habits. I am happy to say many of the habits listed below are alive and well in our daily interactions with your students at TSCS.
Charlotte Mason’s List of Habits:
making way for elders
not holding a grudge
pleasure and profit from reading books
caring for possessions
appreciation of beauty
prompt and intelligent replies
respect for others
desire to excel
be first without vanity
be last without bitterness
appetite for knowledge
zeal for work
obedience to the conscience
obedience to the law
obedience to divine direction
respect for property
All citations are from Mason, Charlotte M., and Deborah Taylor-Hough. Habits: The Mother’s Secret of Success. Vol. 1, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.