This summer I began to feel strongly that we should take this year when Hannah and Jack are really at pre-preschool age to focus on building their characters and instilling good habits. I have read so many times that habits developed at early ages make a big difference later on in life, and I wanted to make sure that we had a good foundation in place before we start any major academics. I may post more on my current preschool plan in the future, but for purposes of this post I’ll just lay out what we decided to do for habit training.
One of my inspirations for habit training was reading more about Charlotte Mason and her approach to education. You might be familiar with her ideas regarding living books and using narration rather than traditional types of examinations, but she actually had a good deal to say on the whole parcel of child development, believing as she did that education should be a systemic part of life rather than just a small part of it.
I looked over a variety of resources purporting to instill good habits, but quickly decided that it was more important for me to confer with my husband and agree on what habits and character issues were most important to us, most foundational for the ages our children now are, and most needed in our kids’ lives right now. I took some thoughts from Sonlight and some from my aunt Catherine who teaches in a Charlotte Mason school in Virginia and the rest we came up with ourselves.
At present we have thirteen habits, and we’re focusing on one per week. We’re also doing letter of the week for Jack so this will work out to doing each habit twice by the time we get through the alphabet. For each habit we have a corresponding Bible verse that is our memory verse of the week, and a few short “scripts” that are helpful to talk over during the week so we can quickly remind the children as they are in the midst of their day if we see them neglecting a habit. I tried to make the little blurbs positive and easy to remember. I like to have the memory verse and habit tie together because I think it’s important to remind the kids that it’s not just what I say, but what God says. Both Hannah and Jack have done really well at the memory verses so far and I think we’ve seen some good improvements in their behavior over the past four weeks as well.
In case some or all of these might be helpful to anyone else who is thinking of ways to build character and good habits in small children, our list is below in the order we’re using it week by week. I realize there are a lot of other habits and character traits we could focus on, and other ways to explain them and other verses to use. I will probably change the list as I go along. Even if this list is not really applicable to where your kids are, maybe it will help you think of different things that are important or pressing needs in your house. If not, that’s fine too!
I say yes ma’am or sir and obey right away.
I do not dawdle.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. -Ephesians 6:1
I never talk back.
I have good manners; I say yes ma’am and yes sir to adults.
I am careful with my belongings and with other people’s things.
Honor your father and mother that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. -Exodus 20:12
I never throw tempter tantrums; I change my thoughts to calm down and use words instead.
I use calm words instead of angry words.
If I am tempted to hit or bite or pinch I change my thoughts and do something kind instead.
A wise man restrains his anger. -Proverbs 19:11
I listen carefully with my ears and heart.
I sit quietly when someone is teaching me or talking to me.
Pay attention, my child, to what I say. Listen carefully. -Proverbs 4:20
I share my things with a cheerful heart.
I give my siblings and friends a chance to play with things even when I would rather have the toy myself.
I help other people even when I would rather do something else.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. -1 John 3:16
I work hard to finish a task.
I keep trying cheerfully even when something seems hard.
I ask for help so I can learn to do it myself, not so someone else can do it for me.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. -Colossians 3:23
I do not fight, argue, tattle or talk back.
I am a peacemaker.
Only fools insist on quarreling. -Proverbs 20:3
Do everything without complaining or disputing. -Philippians 2:14
I keep my face, hands, clothes and hair clean and neat.
I make my bed.
I keep my toys picked up and I am careful with them.
Let all things be done decently and in order. -1 Corinthians 14:40
I make sure my words are kind and loving.
I treat other people as I hope they will treat me.
I love other people like Jesus loves them.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. -Ephesians 4:32
I wait my turn with a happy heart.
I ask once and wait quietly until someone can help me.
Be patient with everyone. -1 Thessalonians 5:14
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. -Galatians 5:22-23
I put other people before myself.
I do not demand my own way.
I consider what other people need, not just what I need.
Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. -Matthew 7:12
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. -Proverbs 29:15
I am thankful for my blessings.
When I feel grumpy or grouchy or like whining I change my thoughts and I’m cheerful instead.
In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. -1 Thessalonians 5:18
I speak truthful words and act truthfully.
Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment. -Proverbs 12:19