More than a Charlotte Mason Moment
Stop a wandering mind by teaching the habit of attention!
Charlotte Mason spent much time focusing on the habit of attention. She explained that children should endeavor to stay focused on a subject, rather than allow their minds to wander to and fro, seizing upon any thought that pops into their heads. While children may have fascinating thoughts and ideas, they must be taught to keep focused on the subject at hand, rather than on giving into a wandering mind. The good news is a child’s wandering mind can be stopped. But how? Well, by teaching the habit of attention!
Children must be trained to have the habit of attention.
Teaching our children the habit of attention can be a difficult task. Children must be trained to stay focused. It is important they realize that allowing their mind to wander is a choice. Likewise, keeping their mind on the task at hand is a choice. Children need to be taught that they control their thoughts. Thoughts can flitter, wandering to and fro, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. Or, thoughts can stay attentive, be on task, and accomplish great things! Children – as well as adults – will find that whatever they pursue in life comes much easier with the habit of attention firmly intact and the wandering mind held at bay. So, the first step to teaching the habit of attention is to simply help children understand they control their thoughts. A wandering mind is a bad habit to be fixed, and the habit of attention can fix it!
Tip #1: Keep lessons short and gradually increase the amount of time spent on them each year.
Lessons should be kept short and in keeping with age and maturity. Preschool children’s lessons should be kept to about 5 minutes each, just as they are in each box of plans in Heart of Dakota‘s Little Hands to Heaven. Children’s lessons in kindergarten and first grade can be increased to about 10-15 minutes each, just as they are in each box of plans in HOD‘s Little Hearts and Beyond Little Hearts guides. As children mature, lessons can be gradually lengthened each year. By the time students reach high school, lessons can be lengthened to an hour at a time. Little by little, by increasing the length of lessons each year, Heart of Dakota helps children find success with the habit of attention. This is one reason it is important to do HOD’s guides in order of difficulty; it naturally supports the habit of attention!
Tip #2: Set a timer so children know about how long they should be expected to maintain attention and complete a task.
Children with wandering minds are often unaware of the passage of time. They begin a lesson that should take 20 minutes only to find an hour later they are nowhere near done. Why? They have not learned the habit of attention. Their minds have wandered away from the task at hand. Setting a timer lets children know how long they must maintain attention to complete their task. It gives them a goal they can achieve.
Tip #3: Alternate the kinds of lessons by carefully planning their order.
Children’s minds are prone to wander when doing a lot of seat work all in a row. Movement is important! Blessedly, HOD’s plans incorporate purposeful movement in projects, activities, experiments, etc. It just makes good sense to follow reading on the couch with a hands-on project, or seat work at the table with an experiment. Likewise, it is important to alternate disciplinary and inspirational subjects. We should not expect our children to display the habit of attention seated at the same table for hours and hours. By carefully planning the order of their ‘boxes’ of plans in HOD, rather than randomly moving through them in no particular order, we can better train our children to have the habit of attention. Likewise, by moving from place to place in our homes, we can signal the start and finish of lessons, and the expected amount of time to maintain attention for each.
Tip #4: Don’t stop and explain, and try not to repeat yourself.
Charlotte Mason stressed the importance of not stopping to explain. For example, when reading aloud, she did not stop to explain unknown words or seemingly difficult concepts. Why? The natural flow of the story is lost. Furthermore, the attention of the child is diverted. Have you ever been listening to someone tell a story, only to have them stop and start repeatedly? By the end, you’ve lost focus. They’ve lost focus. You might even both be weary of the whole thing. The same is true when giving directions. Read them once as fluidly as possible, having the child follow along in the HOD guide (if he/she is of reading age). Then, give the HOD guide to the child, so he/she can reference the written directions. This prevents the child from having to ask you to repeat directions, as he/she can plainly see them in the guide.
Remember, before you expect great changes…
Before you expect great changes in your children, make sure you do what you can to set them up for success! Let them know they control their thoughts, and a wandering mind is a bad habit that can be replaced with the habit of attention. Make sure they are placed in the right guide for their age, so their lessons are kept to a realistic amount of time. Set a timer, so they can see how long they should strive to pay attention to complete a task. Make a schedule that rotates seat work with movement, and disciplinary subjects with inspirational subjects. Finally, try not to stop to explain or repeat directions. Instead, keep things fluid and leave the guide’s written directions for help. Before you expect great changes, be sure you are doing what you can to help them form the habit of attention.
Charlotte Mason Quotes About the Habit of Attention
“Much must go before and along with a vigorous will if it is to be a power in the ruling of conduct. For instance, the man must have acquired the habit of attention, the great importance of which we have already considered. There are bird-witted people, who have no power of thinking connectedly for five minutes under any pressure, from within or from without. If they have never been trained to apply the whole of their mental faculties to a given subject, why, no energy of will, supposing they had it, which is impossible, could make them think steadily thoughts of their own choosing or of anyone else’s.” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, p. 326).
Attention is no more than this—the power of giving your mind to what you are about. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 5, p. 29)
In the first place, never let the child dawdle over copybook or sum, sit dreaming with his book before him. When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson as unlike the last as possible, and then go back with freshened wits to his unfinished task. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 141)
For whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 146)