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    Educational Philosophy

    Lessons from Charlotte: Nipping it in the Bud

    June 8, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I mentioned yesterday that I have a summer study program for myself (and, by extension, for our educational program here on the microhomestead). This is the beginning of many reflections on what I’ve read. Last night, I sat with a pile of books in my lap, trying to decide which one called to me. Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine was the winner for the evening. As much as I wanted to start reading School Education (because Home Education is a reread for me — I first read it in 2005 or 2006), I really think that it is kindergarten that is going to be the biggest challenge for me, for a variety of reasons I won’t get into today. Naturally, this means I should read Home Education first, so that I have the rest of the summer to chew on the ideas.

    Lessons from Charlotte: Nipping it in the Bud

    If you read enough Charlotte Mason, you begin to realize that there are foundational underlying principles which she repeats as a constant refrain, sort of like the chorus in a hymn. Sure, the verses are beautiful, but it’s the chorus which holds it all together.

    One of these underlying principles is that of habit training. It has taken me years to wrap my mind around this. I don’t know why I’ve been so dense; it’s almost like I didn’t have any categories for the concept the first few times I encountered it. (This, incidentally, is a good argument for rereading important books.) I remember a couple years ago when the Simply Charlotte Mason blog was talking about the concept of laying down the rails — I read and reread, and felt no closer to grasping it.

    You know what helped? Reading Volume V: Character Formation! (If 350-plus pages can’t help, nothing can.)

    Mason said that habit is ten natures. This means that though the natural man may be inclined to be a certain way, the building of good habits can overpower nature — in other words, habit is ten times as strong.

    In the very beginning of Volume I: Home Education, Mason starts in on habits. Children with bad habits (which are a default — untrained children fall into their natural habits by simply following their natures) are not easy to educate, are they? Can you imagine trying to teach a child something, and he immediately throws a fit because he has decided he isn’t interested in learning it?

    So Mason encourages us to take a child’s faults seriously, if for no other reason than for what they may become as the faults bind themselves to the child’s character. By “seriously,” she means dealing with them the very first time they appear. We are not to let an incident of stealing turn a child into a thief, an incident of a child telling Mommy “no” turn into a problem with authority, nor an incident of tantrum turn a child into a tyrant. The children are not yet these things — why tempt them to become them?

    We had a few faults that we let slide in early years with our two older children. We paid dearly when we realized we had a four-year-old, to give one example, who had to be broken of tantrums. How many mothers might benefit from reading Mason while pregnant with a first child! She writes:

    [W]hat happy days for herself and her children would the mother secure if she would keep watch at the place of the letting out of waters! If the mother settle it in her own mind that the child never does wrong without being aware of his wrong-doing, she will see that he is not too young to have his fault corrected or prevented. Deal with a child on his first offence, and a grieved look is enough to convict the little transgressor; but let him go on until a habit of wrong-doing is formed, and the cure is a slow one; then the mother has no chance until she has formed in him a contrary habit of well-doing. To laugh at ugly tempers and let them pass because the child is small, is to sow the wind.

    We are often tempted to put off correction, to say that we will deal with such things tomorrow. Children, we are told, outgrow lying, stealing, and defiance. (What they outgrow is doing these things in socially unacceptable ways.) The battle, my friends, is more easily won today than tomorrow, this year than two years hence. I say this as a mother who had two separate tantrums thrown by two different children today. As hard as it is to hold my ground with a 21-month-old screaming (in public!), I know from experience that I don’t want to fight that battle in three years. I have done it before, and I know that procrastinating on child training is the harder road to travel.

    I also know that dealing with it young means enjoying the latter half of the toddler years. Well trained children are a pleasure to be around. The home they live in is not perfect (for we are all still sinners, are we not?), but peace lives there with them. Scripture tells us that this is so:

    All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

    One last thought.

    These are agrarian images. Words like “yield” and “fruit” imply that something — a seed and water — preceded the crop that is ready for harvest. Children are fertile soil. The reason that Charlotte Mason was so wise is that she believed God — she knew that mankind is born with a conscience, and this the gift of God. When children are little, it is as if planting season has arrived. In this stage, will grow without much interruption from weeds or birds. The sooner we plant, the sooner we harvest.

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  • Reply 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Habit Formation 101 (Day 9) | Afterthoughts August 28, 2019 at 9:44 am

    […] Nipping it in the Bud: stopping bad habits before they start […]

  • Reply Julie March 3, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I read that part of Volume 5 (about the running) and tried to train my 5 year old to go jump on the trampoline when he felt the anger coming on, but he won’t go. When he is upset with me for saying no to him, he stops obeying completely. I am at a bit of a loss of what I could do.

  • Reply shellatte June 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I hope you still see this…3 years later! My 6yo still can’t control himself when he doesn’t get his way and STILL throws tantrums. We immediately send him to his room where, really, he just CONTINUES the tantrum. After reading your post here, how did you go about changing this bad habit? I try to tell him to count to ten, breathe deep…but once he’s started, there is no stopping him. Ugh.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 28, 2013 at 4:07 am

      I see it! 🙂

      Miss Mason (in vol. 5) used running. The child was taught to identify his fit as it was coming on and then drop everything and outrun that “bad man” and we did something similar, only it was jumping on the trampoline. I highly recommend the first few chapters of vol. 5 for from it we gained so many ideas and insights.

  • Reply Mystie June 11, 2010 at 3:43 am

    Oh, Brandy, you got me again! 🙂

    I am in the habit of tackling more than one habit at a time! So not only do I have to fight my bad habits, I have to fight myself to not tackle more than one of them at a time. My husband has been trying to slow me down this time around, but instead of all, it’s becoming nothing. It’s a mind-thing, though; I have a hard time with slow and steady. Maybe this is actually the next habit I should work on. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    ps. I linked both of you to the bottom of my post today…a little late because I forgot to do it before publishing, and only remembered a few hours later.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm


    When I saw that you were reading HE, I was so excited because I knew I was only about a month out from reading it myself. I always like your reviews. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm


    I always like that phrase: “takes violence to undo.” This is why I try to discipline myself to babysteps most of the time, rather than trying to remedy my every fault all at once. I find that it is easier for me to tackle one area, make that a habit, and then go on to the next thing. I cannot tell you how many times I got really worked up, only to fail because I took on too many new “habits” (attempts at habits, more like it) at once.

    I find the same thing with my children. I have a mental list of what they need to work on, but I try and pick only one or two things at a time. I figure if I can’t do it all at once, if I feel lost when I try to reform myself too drastically, they are probably just like me!

    Poor them. 🙂

  • Reply Mystie June 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Ok, so now posting about Home Education made it to the second-place priority list of computer time. 🙂 The first is processing my books before putting them in their new places! 🙂

    Understanding the habit stuff took me a while, also, but coming to terms with it and understanding it was like getting the key to why I have such a hard time doing what I should do around the house. She says that habits (good or bad) once established take violence to undo. So I felt better that it is taking me such trouble to undo my lifelong untidy habits. Home Education also had a section on “weak wills,” that I identified with.

    Somehow I always come away from CM’s stuff thinking, “Oh, my, I have to get myself under control!” 🙂

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 9, 2010 at 1:53 am

    Finally, we’re reading a book at the same time! (Though that’s partly because I’ve been reading it for something like six months…) I can’t wait to learn what else strikes you on the re-read!

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