Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CM on Building Character

Well, hoorah! I have finally finished Chapter 3 of the first CM book. I'm only a third of the way through the book and it's almost Thanksgiving! I'm hoping to read A Pocketful of Pinecones and A Charlotte Mason Companion before the new year. LOL, we'll see! :) Certainly they'll be faster reads than Home Education has been.

Truthfully, though, this most recent chapter was a fast and relatively easy read for me. It was absolutely stellar. Not without fault, but, I read it with wholehearted agreement and enjoyment. Having already discussed the importance of exercise, rest, nutrition, fresh air, sunshine, and long hours in nature regarding the education of young children, Charlotte goes on to elaborate upon the importance of habit.

If we thought at first that CM was a bit wishy-washy in this area - remember taking care to not encroach upon the child's personality? - she puts all doubts to rest here in this third chapter. Her basic premise is that the difference between a good education and an exemplary education is the formation of habits within the child. She acknowledges the power and persuasiveness of nature in all human beings, adults and children alike. However, she asserts that, "If that be true, strong as nature is, habit is not only as strong, but tenfold as strong." There is no excuse in an "inherently" inattentive child, a boisterous child, an excessively emotional child. "It rests with parents and teachers to lay down lines of habit"...

This is not to say that the child has no individual will. CM is not talking about assertions of our wills in this section of the book. She is referring to the countless little things we do daily without thinking or willfully choosing, which largely make us into the men, women, or children we are. Are we habitually late or punctual? Habitually cheerful or melancholy? Habitually truthful or prone to exaggeration? And so on.

"...the habits of the child produce the character of the man..."

That is, really, what she is getting at. Educating a child, or attempting to educate him, without also training him in areas of character will produce only a half-satisfactory education - regardless of the method you use. A child prone to letting his mind wander will do so whether reading Shakespeare or A.A. Milne. A child satisfied with clumsy work will not produce careful and beautiful handwriting whether he write a Bible verse or the alphabet. Careful and watchful training in habit and character is essential.

She has some wonderfully practical words for mothers on building positive habits in children. Habits of courtesy, cleanliness, orderliness, a sense of honor, duty, etc. She exhorts mothers to go about training the habits of their children in a bright and positive mood - one of expectation and not reproach. What a seasoned word! How easy it is to simply get fed up with undesirable habits instead of methodically and gently retraining those habits by replacing them with positive ones!

I found this to be such an excellent, excellent chapter for any mother to read. As I said, not without its faults, but certainly the 'meat' tips the scales, and the bones are few and far between. I am so pleased with her thoughts on forming character in children, just as I have been about her thoughts on the out-of-doors life. I have no reservations in agreeing that training children toward what they ought to do regardless of what they feel naturally inclined to do is a major battleground in Christian parenting. What well-placed admonition and encouragement!