Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Year(s) with Charlotte, Part Three: ~Pay Attention, and that goes for you too, Mom!~


First of all, I had to get real with the title of this series, because "Summer with Charlotte" was just NOT going to happen... the summer has long gone (it's now winter), and I have made it through maybe two of her six volumes. I'm still digesting and re-reading the information in those two! Although I began this post in the summer, it has been lying dormant along with my other unpublished posts since then. After recently sharing with a mom's group about my struggle and desire to become a gentler mom, I returned to this post because Charlotte's method of forming habits in children is very gentle, and that's why I love it. 

 A  favorite topic of mine in Charlotte Mason's writings has been her treatment of forming good habits in our children.  This post will focus mainly on the "habit of attention," but first I would like to share directly from her work how Charlotte suggests we help a child form a good habit. I am impressed and touched by the gentleness involved, and I think there is much wisdom in trying to avoid "friction" with our children.  

(I apologize for having to use pictures of the texts as quotes, but I cannot figure out how to copy and paste anything from the Kindle app on my phone, and this is better than typing them all out. Hopefully, they are legible.) It's long and tedious, I know, but it's worth reading:



While this is more her "formula" involving the forming of physical habits (which she makes sound easy, doesn't she?!), she also spends a good amount of time on the more difficult and perpetual task of forming mental habits, one of the most crucial being the habit of attention, "because the highest intellectual gifts depend for their value upon the measure in which their owner has cultivated" this habit. Charlotte gives no single formula for helping children develop this habit, but rather gives many examples of how mothers can advance it on a daily basis.
Before I go into these examples, allow me to digress and mention why I added us "moms" to the title of this post. If we don't cultivate our own habit of attention, we won't be able to help them with theirs! When I think of mothers of small children (myself included), the one adjective that always comes to mind is: distracted. We are always distracted... by our children usually, but also by our housework, homeschooling duties, hobbies, desires, and whatever else we allow ourselves to succumb to. 

Noticing the importance that Charlotte puts on children attaining this habit of attention really convicts me that I have to work on it in myself as well. In fact, this is not the only habit she mentions that I need work on, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there! :) With G-d's help and grace, we can develop and improve these good habits in ourselves. As an example, I have noticed that although I enjoy reading and I read fast, I don't always retain what I read, because I have not thoroughly paid attention to all of it. With Charlotte Mason, I have had to read these sections at least twice, and sometimes more. She uses some lofty (British) English, and her wit and even her sarcasm can be hard to discern and follow at times. I have found reading it several times over very helpful. I am still only on volume two, but I really want to understand her, so that's okay. 

The same exercises that CM suggests for children can be used by us to increase our power of attention. CM gives examples, such as piquing a child's interest in something as simple as a daisy. A mother could say:
I think it is very natural for a mother to do this, whether she knows why she is doing it or not. After reading a book called "Nature Spy," my four-year-old has decided she wants to be one. With us being on an extended road trip, we have had many opportunities to visit parks and even stay on 45 acres of farmland with a garden on it, where we spotted all sorts of insects and plants we don't see in Brooklyn. I have been documenting the findings with pictures. 


We have also been collecting some natural objects to take back home. These will go in our "nature center" I plan to create in our Kindergarten homeschool space. Being a lover of nature, I have always pointed wildlife out to my daughter. I am pleased to say that she is now pointing it out to me! In our travels, she has spotted a snake and a small green anole lizard before me! :) 


Another example that CM suggests which may not be so commonly done, is asking a child to survey a (real, outdoors) familiar landscape...


...and then close their eyes and tell you what they see, practiced frequently until they can "see" everything with their eyes closed. Adults could certainly benefit from this exercise. CM makes the interesting point that the reason our childhood memories of places tend to be foggy or unclear is because we never took the time to really "see" them when we were young. I want my children's memories to be clearer than mine are. CM speaks of taking mental pictures, which makes us more likely to remember what we saw. This also comes into play in her mention of reading and spelling, and I have since been telling my daughter to "take a picture" with her mind when I show her new words. 

The reason CM places so much importance on raising children who know how to pay attention lies in the fact that she is always trying to look ahead to their "after life" (by which she means their 'after school' or adult lives). I have gathered that one of her primary goals in educating children is to make them independent, self-compelled learners. That is definitely what I desire for my children. The habit of attention goes far beyond being able to observe nature. Children need this ability in order to learn anything really. As CM illuminates, children's minds are "slaves to association" insomuch as when they hear one thing, they instantly associate it with something else they know. CM explains it like this: In the

This makes it a challenge for children to develop the habit of attention, but its something they must develop nonetheless. (Am I holding your attention? Just checking...) I know that my mind tends to wander all.the.time, so I am in the same boat as my children sometimes! CM has some more methods to help us and them learn to focus. Short lessons, interesting books to read, not allowing children to "dawdle" over any lesson or daydream when they should be doing math, and always giving a set amount of time in which they must complete their work are a few she lists. 

With my 5-year old daughter now a homeschooled "kindergartner,"  I am realizing how difficult it is to homeschool, period. Trying to incorporate CM's methods into modern-day NYC presents its own additional challenges. However, as CM would challenge us to do, let's "work wonders" and make it happen anyway. It seems easier to form and accept bad habits than to turn them into good ones (in our kids and ourselves). Forming good habits is hard (but important) work, because it leads to good character as our children grow.

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