Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Tag: Habits

Top 5 Books of 2019

As I’ve done in previous years, I am posting my favorite 5 books read in 2019. My reading list was much smaller than in 2018. There are a few reasons for this: my schedule became more full with an afternoon co-op added to my weekly commitments as well as two days of therapy; I had less time and was more tired; I also began a lot of books that I didn’t finish, some of those which I have no intention of finishing. Reading was happening but nothing that I could check off a list. The demands of the schedule aside, I also didn’t prioritize reading as much as I could have. I plan to rectify this in 2020 and prioritize reading more. To help me do this, I am participating in the Scholé Sisters 5×5 reading challenge. You should join me! Even though I didn’t read as many books, I did read a few really good books. Incidentally, my top 5 are chosen from each of my reading categories for this year’s Scholé Sisters reading challenge, except for my last category, Education/Philosophy. Here they are:

Top 5 Books of 2019

None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
(Category: Christian)

None_Like_HimChoosing one Theology/Christian book was very difficult. I read some really wonderful books in this category. But in the end, None Like Him had the most impact on me. In it, Wilkin teaches the incommunicable attributes of God. She shows the ways that God is not like us and we are NOT like Him, yet TRY to be like Him in ways that are actually sinful. For example, God is self-sufficient; we are not. We are supposed to be dependent on Him and not usurp His authority by relying on ourselves. We want to be in control instead of realizing that God is the one in control. I was very convicted that I often have a self-sufficient attitude toward my parenting and homeschooling. I don’t depend on God, instead, I try to do the work of God. As a result, I go out of my mind with stress thinking that every success and failure, weakness and strength of my children is a direct result of my work in parenting/homeschooling. As if I can change the hearts of my children. Excellent, biblically solid book. I highly recommend.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
(Category: Literature)

Oliver_TwistA Dickens novel has made it to my Top 5 two years in a row. I think he is becoming one of my fave’s (although I didn’t love Pickwick Papers). Oliver Twist was a re-read for me. It is scheduled for Ambleside Online Year 5 so I read it aloud to E-Age 11. I love reading this aloud and sharing the experience with my kids. It is delightful to put into my voice the sarcasm that Dickens uses as he “praises” the “worthy” attributes of Mr. Bumble, who is far from praiseworthy. My children always understand what is really meant. They never like the book at first but by the end are begging me to read it. The beginning is sad and frustrating as we encounter Oliver being mistreated by person after person and in circumstances no child should have to endure. But that’s the point. Dickens was shining a spotlight on societal problems as only literature can do. It may seem depressing to some, but if there is ever a book to cultivate compassion, it’s this one. And it all works out justly in the end, except maybe for poor Nancy.

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman (Category: Science)

Phineas_GageWhen I think of science books, the word “riveting” doesn’t usually come to mind. But this book I could not put down. It is scheduled by Ambleside Online for Year 8 science. My intention was to skim through it quickly to make plans for any LABS or notebooking I wanted A-Ag-13 to do, but once I started reading it, I had to read it properly for myself. It was so engaging. It tells the story of a man, Phineas Gage, who in 1848 had an accident where an iron bar shot through his brain. Surprisingly, it didn’t kill him. He literally had a hole in his head and yet was walking and talking. They discovered through studying Gage’s injury and observing his behavior, that his personality changed as a result of his injuries. It was the first scientific evidence of the brain’s structure and that certain areas of the brain were responsible for certain behaviors and functions. Science is not my best subject but I learned so much about the brain from this book and it was enjoyable to read. Fleischman weaves current knowledge of brain science in and around telling the history of the discipline and the story of Phineas. It is extremely well written. A wonderful example of a living science book.

Abigail Adams: Witness To a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober
(Category: History)

Abigail_AdamsThis biography of Abigail Adams, wife to the second president of the United States, John Adams, is scheduled by Ambleside Online for Year 4. This was a re-read for me as I read it aloud to G-Age-10. It is an eyewitness account of the Revolutionary War between America and England and the birth of a nation. There is so much to admire about Abigail Adams. She was a pious, sacrificial, opinionated, self-educated, hardworking woman. In a time when it wasn’t thought proper for women to get an education, she did everything she could to cultivate her own mind and understand literature, art, history, and politics. She was John Adams’s most reliable source of news about the state of the war as it was fought on her doorstep while John was away at congress in Philadelphia. What stood out the most to me in this book was the devotion that John and Abigail kept for one another through their letters, even though they spent much of their married life apart. Also, their views on the raising and educating of their children as they discussed and even argued about them through their letters across the ocean when John was serving in France. A wonderful, personal account of life during this pivotal time in America’s History.

Atomic Habits by James Clear
(Category: Self Help/Productivity)

Atomic_HabitsI listened to this one on audiobook early in the year and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is an extremely practical book about establishing tiny, doable habits that over time develop into big changes. Change is cumulative. Clear outlines Four Laws of Behavior Change for developing good habits and breaking down bad habits. It is filled with practical examples of how to put into practice the ideas he teaches in the book. I have implemented many of the ideas he discussed and it has made a big difference to actually establishing the habits I want to establish. Even though it’s been many months since I read this, I remember being struck with how beautifully his ideas dovetailed with what Charlotte Mason says about habit training. His section at the beginning about the relationship between habits and how we identify ourselves was fascinating to think about. I think I need to flip through this one again for a refresher. It was very good.

Books I Read 2019

Non-Fiction

1. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
2. The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
3. In The Year of Our Lord by Sinclair Ferguson
4. None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
5. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
6. Life of a Spider by Jean-Henri Fabre
7. Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean-Henri Fabre
8. Eric Sloane’s Weather Book by Eric Sloane
9. How The Heather Looks by Joan Badger
10. Christopher Columbus, Mariner by Samuel Eliot
11. Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman
12. Voyage of The Armada: The Spanish Story by David Howarth
13. Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

Fiction

14. Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain (Historical Fiction)
15. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Historical Fiction)
16. The Once and Future King by T.H. White (books 1&2)
17. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
18. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

School Book Re-reads Aloud To Children

19. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
20. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
21. Abraham Lincoln’s World by Genevieve Foster
22. Carry A Big Stick by George Grant
23. Great Inventors and Their Inventions by Frank Bachman
24. George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster
25. Abigail Adams: Witness To A Revolution by Natalie S. Bober
26. The Ocean of Truth by Joyce McPherson
27. Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley
28. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsey
29. The Muddleheaded Wombat by Ruth Park
30. The Complete Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs

Audiobooks

31. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery (narrated by Mary Sarah)
32. Echo by Pam Munez Ryan
33. Atomic Habits by James Clear
34. Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

The Discipline of Habit – Part 1

Habits photo

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 1

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

There is so much to be said in the area of habits. In fact, Charlotte Mason herself said a lot. There was a LOT of reading for this principle, y’all! In order to unpack it in a way that was helpful to me, I organized the ideas into three different questions. Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education? What did Mason consider were the habits of the mind and the body? How do we initiate the formation of these habits in our homes? For the sake of length, this post will be concerned with the first two questions. The ‘how’ will be addressed in a separate post.

Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education?

1. It makes life easier

“But the most comfortable thing in this view of habit is, that it falls in with our natural love of an easy life. We are not unwilling to make efforts in the beginning with the assurance that by-and-by things will go smoothly; and this is just what habit is, in an extraordinary degree, pledged to effect.” Vol 1, p136

This is the most obvious and well-known reason for the establishment of habits. A plethora of self-help and productivity books have been written about habits with this purpose in mind. As Mason points out, our natural desire is to make life easier. Decision fatigue is a real thing which Mason discusses at length. She describes the strain that making a lot of decisions can have on a person. It is a burden which can easily become too much to bear. Imagine needing to make the decision every morning to get out of bed, to brush your teeth, to eat your meals, to brush your hair. For most of us, we don’t have to make the decision to do these things every day. We just do them out of habit. No mental energy has been expended to complete our morning routine and get ready for the day. We just do it. Habits take the decision out of what is to be done next. As Mystie Winkler often says, just do the right next thing.

Mason explains that we want the children to do the work of learning for themselves. Developing habits of mind and body is the best way to help them take ownership of their work, know the right next thing to do, and avoid the strain of making decisions about what the right thing to do is.

2. Habits are inevitable
Mason points out that our very natures prove that habits will form whether we purposely instill them or not. The question is, will they be good habits or bad? More often than not, left to ourselves, without any purposeful action toward establishing right habits, we will tend to establish unhelpful bad habits, naturally seeking the ease of life rather than the work of a good life. Therefore, establishing right habits is all the more important in the education of our children.

“We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.” Vol 6, P101

3. Brain science tells us that habits restructure the brain.
Mason was greatly impressed with new brain research showing that pathways in the brain are rewired through habitual activity. The latest habit book I have read, Atomic Habits, also refers to current studies on the power of habits to the brain.

“We all know something of the genesis of a habit, and most of us recognise its physical basis, i.e. that frequently-repeated thoughts or acts leave some sort of register in the brain tissue which tends to make the repetition of such thoughts, at first easy, and at last automatic.”vol 3, p105

4. Establishes tools for good living in adulthood.
“training in habit becomes a habit.” (Vol 1, p126)

By initiating habits in the home, you not only equip your children with good, intentional, and thorough habits for the time they live in your home, you also give them the tools to continue to develop their own good habits of mind and body into the rest of their lives.

“habit is like fire, a bad master but an indispensable servant;” Vol 6, p101

5. Reinforces the idea of authority.
This idea is developed by Mason in Volume 3, when she talks about the training of physical habits. She says that through physical training, the idea of “living under authority, training under authority, serving under authority” (Vol 3, p103) can be brought to bear. Through habit a person is taught to bring their body into subjection first to his parents, then to his own will, and always under the authority of God. (I discussed the idea of authority in this post and this post.)

6. Prepares for a life of service
The training in habits prepares the children to be fit for whatever plans God has for them. Mason explains that the Greeks disciplined their bodies so that they were prepared for any heroic feats that the ‘gods’ would ask of them. How much more should our children, who we raise to serve the living true God, develop habits of mind and body in order that they would be prepared to serve Him in whatever capacity He places them. It prepares them to love their neighbor.

“we are empirically certain that a chief function of education is the establishment of such ways of thinking in children as shall issue in good and useful living, clear thinking, aesthetic enjoyment, and, above all, in the religious life.” – Vol 6, p100

What are the Habits of the Mind?

1. Habit of Attention
“You want them to remember? Then secure his whole attention.” (Vol 1, p157)

The development of the habit of attention is a significant aspect of Mason’s philosophy of education. She believed it was so important to develop the habit of fixing a child’s thoughts completely on what it should be on at that moment.

“no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person.” Vol 6, p99

“A vigorous effort of will should enable us at any time to fix our thoughts.” (Vol 1, p137) A person’s capacity for mental effort is reduced when allowed to wonder off or day dream. Mason believed that overpressure or burn out was a result of a failure of the habit of attention. The children are so overly distracted that the lesson becomes overburdensome for lack of attention. She had much to say about how this habit should be developed which I hope to discuss in the next post.

2. Religious Life
Mason discusses the benefit of requiring participation in liturgy and religious habits. It encourages the religious life to be “fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life.” (Vol 6, p103) I do not remember reading Mason outlining religious habits specifically in the readings for this principle, but we can assume she means prayer, Scripture reading, and worship.

3. Thinking
This is the development of right thinking that results in right living. It can be seen as synonymous with ‘wisdom and knowledge’ so often referred to in the Bible. It is clear thinking that asks and attempts to answer their own questions. “Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out.” (Vol 1, p194) It is the development of tracing effect from cause, or cause from effect, comparing alike and different, and drawing conclusions as to causes or consequences from certain premises.

4. Morals
Although this is not a comprehensive list, Mason draws specific attention to obedience, “obedience the whole duty of a child” (Vol 1, p161) as well as sense of honor, gentleness, kindness, candor, respect, truthfulness, temper (keeping his temper).

Other habits of the mind briefly mentioned to work on in the education of children were concentration, thoroughness, intellectual volition, accuracy, reflection, remembering, and meditation.

As we consider these habits of the mind, Mason warns parents to be careful to not look to:

“‘What will people say? what will people think? how will it look?’ [so that] the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-intentioned to outsiders, with very little effort after beauty, order, and goodness at home, and in each other’s eyes.” Vol 1, p106

What are the habits of the body?

1. Cleanliness, Neatness, and Order
After the children have been allowed to enjoy all the messy play that is foundational to childhood, Mason impresses the importance of training them to be anxious to clean themselves of any dirt from play, bathe themselves daily, and tidy and restore order to any messes they have made. All things to be put away in their place. She stresses the importance of having the children clean up for themselves. “The pleasure grown-up people take in waiting on children is really a fruitful source of mischief.” (Vol 1, p127)

2. Manners, elocution, music, singing, health, and physical fitness
These physical skills that Mason also identified should not require much explanation. These skills are improved and made easier through repetition. That is, through habit. The benefits of developing habits in these areas for the individual are discussed in books and blog posts all over the internet. But the highest benefit, as has already been discussed earlier in this post, is to glorify God and to love and serve others with our bodies.

Mason also identifies that physical activity such as playing on the field also helps to develop habits that she calls half physical and half moral. That is, habits of good character that develop through both habits of mind and body. These are:

1. Self-restraint – no overindulgence of food or activities. Also, the habit of restraining discontentedness as well as idleness.
2. Self-control – being “impervious to small annoyances.” That is, practicing the habit of self-control of emotional outbursts, “cheerful under small inconveniences” and ready for action with “presence of mind.” Self-control results in having mind and emotions in submission to your will so that you can act and respond reasonably in a given situation.
3. Self-discipline – In behavior, address, courtesy, deportment (conduct), tones of voice, tidying own messes.
4. Alertness – that is, developing the habit of alertness to seize opportunities of getting knowledge.
5. Quick perception.
6. Fortitude – to bear pain and inconvenience without making a sign.
7. Others – stimulating ideas, service, prudence, courage, and chastity.

This is a formidable list of habits that may seem overwhelming. You might, as I do, see a vast array of habits that you, yourself, need to work on, let alone train your children in. Mason herself acknowledges that forming habits requires certain “strenuousness.” As a mom of four, if I were to try to work on all of these at one time, this list would be unattainable. There are practical things we can do to help develop these habits for ourselves as well as our children which I will discuss in the next post, but as Cindy Rollins often says, we are in this for the “long haul.” We need to keep in mind that we will not always see results in the immediate future. These habits develop little by little over the many years that the children are with us, as part of the atmosphere of our homes. We need to allow ourselves grace to work on what is possible with much prayer and supplication, and leave the rest. We need to remember to lean not on our own strength but on the Lord’s. We can rest in the knowledge that God is faithful. He never slumbers nor sleeps and is working in us and in our children even when we are exhausted and do no more. We can trust in the knowledge that “we do not labor in the dark.” (Vol 3, p99) We do not labor in vain.

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
* Psalm 121:2-4

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

Half Way Around The World And Back Again


Growing up in Victoria, Australia, I had the opportunity to live among gum trees and wattles, admire the colorful rosellas, and laugh along with the kookaburras who had made their home in my back yard. In my early years, I went to school in the “bush.” The school was an hour from my suburban house, nestled in countryside thick with bushes and trees and lakes and wildlife. In later years, I moved school campuses to a farm boasting an equestrian program and land teeming with life. But I didn’t notice. Preferring to spend my time inside as much as possible, I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t see. I was surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation but spent my childhood with my eyes shut.

Fast forward to 2012. My husband, my then three small children (we now have four), and I moved halfway around the world to Florida, U.S.A. Everything was new and different. I had just discovered Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online and was beginning to learn about a philosophy that would change my life. I didn’t know then all of her principles, but I had learned enough to know that we should go outside and notice. And there was so much to notice in a new country. The colors were brighter, the flora and fauna were different. We delighted to see squirrels for the first time in our lives! We began to keep Nature Journals. They were not pretty. They were spiraled lined cheap notebooks whose pages would tear easily and get soggy with paint. But they were our first experience of going outside and really seeing. We didn’t know the names for most of what we saw but it didn’t matter. We were looking and we were really seeing. For the first time in my life, my eyes were open. Little did I know that I was building what Charlotte Mason termed a “habit of attention.”

When we went back to visit Australia in 2016, it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. It’s fields, it’s trees, it’s grasses, it’s flowers, it’s hills and cliffs and beaches were captivating. How had I not noticed before? I was struck by how different the color palate was to Florida. Gum trees have smooth grey bark! Who knew? I drew my children’s attention to the kookaburras and magpies, the variety of gum trees and the wattle. I didn’t have a name for everything, but I saw it. We saw it. Our eyes were open. And it was beautiful.

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