Updated: Jun 14, 2019
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Before I was introduced to Charlotte Mason I never gave a single thought to habit training. At that point I had a first grader and kindergartner in public school. I just thought, either you have a good attention span or you don't.
How my world changed
The first time I sat through a lecture on habit training, I was quite stunned. The speaker spoke of habits in our lives being like railroad tracks in the mind. When a baby is born, they don't have those "rails" put down yet. Isn't that a genius way to describe habits? I took a lot of notes that day almost ten years ago. I went home knowing I needed to start right away. Late or not! These two kids are going to work on habits!
Introducing...the habit of attention
First we have to acknowledge that attention can be trained. The modern thought that our attentions just "are what they are" is simply not true. Attention can be worked trained.
When I got home that day I made a list of ways to train this habit naturally throughout the day. I knew it would take my determination and almost constant watch.
This particular habit is the one Charlotte Mason said to begin with. Is it worth mentioning how valuable this habit is?
This single habit will affect every aspect of your child's life.
Service to God
The other habits of cleanliness, excellency, reading etc. cannot be formed properly with attention first.
How to start...
For babies: Start small with the toys they play with. Most babies ( I've had 6 ) only like to play with a toy or look at a book for a certain period of time. Instead of letting them move on the next toy or book, "ask" them to linger a little longer.
Not force but gently, "Let's keep reading this one". And so on...
Toddlers: The same principle applies, but you may get more resistance. The human will is so strong and resists the training at times. Just like we do as adults.
Strategies that are working for me with toddlers: I say, "let's wait for 1 more minute" and then build on that number of how many more minutes. I am up to 3 minutes with my 2 year old. And for her that is a lot!
My 2 year old is learning to color a little longer, work on puzzles until they are complete and look at mommy in the eyes when we talk. For encouragement all she needs is my small reminder from me. I've noticed just lightly touching her shoulder when we talk reminds her to look at my fully. When she looks at me, she is able to repeat what the instructions I gave her. If she isn't looking I can tell she isn't paying full attention to me.
"The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days." ~ Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason said this habit should be worked on before children are 6. That does not mean older kids cannot work on their attention. Habit training, as important as it is, isn't popular anymore because it requires so much work! You have to keep your child near you to work on habits.
Setting a timer
Charlotte Mason believed in having a set time for set work. Therefore, if you have math scheduled for 20 minutes, set your timer for 20 minutes. If your student finishes before timer goes off he/she has free time until the next subject begins.
We have used this timer for the last 4 years. I know you can use your phone timer, but I prefer not to use screens too much during school hours. I like this one because it's sturdy and has a small stand on the back to prop it up. I set this up in the middle of the table and no one is permitted to touch it until I say.
This timer can be set for little ones too. My kindergartner is learning to paint, draw and color. He often wants to give up much too soon! I say, "let's color these pages until our timer goes off". He is generally compliant.
Part of a Charlotte Mason education is not giving children "twaddle" work or busy work. I believe that applies to everything our young children do. Charlotte Mason Kindergartens will not send you twaddle or junk education materials. I simply will not waste my time or yours.
I created a botany coloring pack for my kindergarten student, I want him to focus on the small details and take his time.
Next week we will explore the habit of cleanliness! Share with me in the comments below how you cultivate the habit of attention at your home.
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