“This union of joy and gentleness is the very temper to cultivate.” ~ Charlotte Mason Home Education 1906
I distinctly remember the first time I read that statement. I read it again, hoping it made better sense the second time. Nope. I was still confused. Did my home emanate joy? Did it radiate gentleness? Oh, I was in a mess here if she was right. Our homeschool days were NOT filled with joy and gentleness. They were filled with boredom, whining, bickering, and just plain real life. There were lots of peaceful times in which it kind of looked like I might be getting it right, but was I actually cultivating joy and gentleness? I didn’t think so. So many excuses came to mind. Surely if she had lived nowadays she wouldn’t have said that. Things are different now. People yell at their kids, and kids are bratty sometimes. They have attitudes and don’t listen.
As I continued to read, I began to understand. Charlotte was right. I hated to admit it but she was right. Admitting it meant that I had some work to do. I really wanted to believe, though, that there were joyful and gentle days ahead for us. It all sounded so unattainable, but right. I knew in my heart, right. I read further, on and on until I finally got it. What she said was attainable for anyone, anywhere. It’s how it should be. Now I knew. Now, the work began.v
Charlotte Mason was a pioneer in homeschooling and revolutionized the way society looked at it. She was a great woman and I highly recommend you read her works. They are chocked full of wisdom and sound advice. Joy and gentleness, she said. How do we cultivate joy and gentleness in our homeschool?
Basically, it was a two-fold process: natural consequences and habit training. First of all, I spent a lot of time telling my kids things, reminding them of the rules, handing out punishments, time-outs and the like. All of this is ineffective. Natural bad choices should have natural consequences. If a child is late in starting school, they should have to stay later than the others. If a child has an attitude about their work, they should not get to do a fun thing they are looking forward to until it is finished with a good attitude. If a child is unkind to another during school, they should not have the privilege of playing with that child after school.
This simple concept changed my life. As simple as it is, it is very hard for the parent to stay attentive and patient and allow the natural consequences to do their work. With this approach, you will not get immediate results, but it will work, and in a while, your world, and your child’s will be changed forever.
The second is a term I was unfamiliar with when I heard it: habit training. Specifically, Charlotte believed in moral habit training. Now, I never thought of morals as habits but that’s exactly what they are. Whether we intended it or not, our children have created habits of rudeness and disobedience. The same can be done with the positive. She believed in training your child in the habits of obedience, truthfulness, and kindness. She believed these could be taught by simply becoming healthy habits to your child. This was another eye-opener to me. So, I tried it. Guess what? As these gradually became habits to my kids, they began to sink into their hearts as well. It worked! I had to be super diligent. We chose one habit at a time to focus on. As each one became more automated in their thinking, we would add another.
IT IS POSSIBLE!
Over the course of a few months, everything changed. With the natural consequences in place for bad choices and the morals becoming habits, enter JOY. We were all joyful. When someone acted out, they simply got consequences. No drama, no harshness. Enter GENTLENESS. Finally, an atmosphere of joy and gentleness were being cultivated in our homeschool. We began to have more and more great days. Gone was the bickering and whining.
If you find yourself like me, not really believing this is possible, I don’t blame you. This is certainly not how society approaches life. But take it from a skeptic: It works. I am a hardcore Charlotte Mason student now. I love her philosophies and her methods. We use a resource called Laying Down the Rails in our homeschool. It has helped us add more and more habits to our lives.
I hope there are many days filled with joy and gentleness ahead for you.