Charlotte Mason, a British educator at the turn of the twentieth century, said, “The habits of the child produce the character of the man.” She believed habit training is the foundation for developing and producing godly characteristics. Three of her habits have become an integral part of my kindergarten classroom: obedience, attention, and respect.
The importance of habit training became clear to me while teaching my young class the skill of finger knitting. Several students proclaimed loudly that they knew how to finger knit and moved ahead with the task before I finished instructing them. The result was a fistful of knots and cries of dismay: “I just can’t do this!”
I chatted quietly with each student and gently untangled the mess they had made. “This is a difficult task,” I said. “I know you thought you knew how to do this, and now it’s not working out. Let’s start again, but this time, trust me to show you the right way. If you pay close attention and obey, God will help you accomplish it.”
Later in the day, during our class devotions, one of the students who had struggled with finger knitting prayed, “Dear Jesus, help us listen to Mrs. Steel when she tells us how to finger knit so we can do it the right way.” How lovely to see this young child understand the biblical truth of obedience and its impact on her life. My student expressed her understanding that she ought to obey not because she is little and I’m big, but because the acts of attention, obedience, and respect produced good things for her. She would learn to do things the right way.
Yet even the reward of good things is not the end goal of habit training in the classroom. Reliance on Christ is essential. Otherwise, the training is merely another behavior modification program. We must steer our students away from the secular mantra of “I can do this!” The “just apply yourself and work hard” ideology is a dead end for students. Relying on themselves to do better, achieve more, and work harder leads students to believe they are the beginning and the end of their own success. If what they can do is the basis of their value, they are likely to be wrapped up in pride or swallowed in the despair of mediocrity or failure.
My students’ initial approach to finger knitting produced the inevitable response of self-deprecation. They set themselves up as ones who knew best and could accomplish the task in their own way. Yet failure turned them against themselves and produced such frustration that they would have quit the task without redirection. Reminding them to submit themselves to the power of Christ and apply themselves to the habits of attention, respect, and obedience encouraged them to try again. Their new exclamations over the beautiful work filled our room with joy and produced a response of thanksgiving to God for the help He provided.
Habit training that leads students to rely on Christ requires extra time and patience, as well as a shift from secular thinking. It is not our job to get students to merely do what we want them to do but to train them to desire to do right because they love God and love others. The Bible does not teach self-help skills. It teaches dependence on God: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Training students to rely on the power of Christ enables them to rise above their own natural abilities and tackle new skills with God-driven confidence. Teachers who train their class in the biblical habits of attention, respect, and obedience will witness the joy of godly character formation in their students—a worthy investment to be sure.
Joleen Steel is the curriculum specialist for Camping Stick Kids (campingstickkids.org). Her love for the good news of Jesus Christ flows out of her and into the Camping Stick Kids curriculum. She earned a B.A. in elementary education and taught public school for ten years before deciding to open her own music studio and homeschool her boys. Now that her two oldest boys are grown, Joleen teaches at Clapham School, a classical Christian school in Wheaton, IL.