You may remember our foray into habit and character training during the last school year. I think our list helped a lot, but I found that my plan to cover one new habit/character trait every week was too ambitious.
Since I’m already interested in how a good education is built on the foundation of good habits and strong character, I was intrigued by Sonya Shafer’s book Laying Down the Rails, which is a compendium of all the habits Charlotte Mason discussed in her writings.
Charlotte Mason was an influential educational reformer in England in the 1800s and trained teachers and governesses in education in addition to children directly. Her philosophy of education involves a rigorous course of study that is directed not at filling the child with bits of information, but in teaching him to engage with ideas, to love to learn, and to have good character. She also advocated teaching through “living books” – by which she meant direct sources, first hand accounts, well written and excellent literature instead of mindless twaddle, books about books, or books that talk down to children. You can learn more about Charlotte Mason here.
In any case, I thought perhaps Sonya Shafer’s book would just be a list of quotes, and I feared that would be redundant since I already own the full set of Charlotte Mason’s writings. On the contrary, Laying Down the Rails is so much more helpful than I envisioned. Shafer categorized each habit mentioned (ranging from moral habits such as obedience and reverence to mental habits like attention and perfect execution to physical habits like alertness, perception, and self-restraint. In addition to Charlotte Mason’s writings on each habit, Shafer explores what each habit really means and how to go about instilling it gently, replacing a bad habit with the good habit, and giving practical advice.
I found the book incredibly convicting for me as a parent. I noted many of the habits that I need to work on myself, especially in the finer points where it’s easy to let myself skate. Last year I found that when the children were working on a particular habit, I was working on it too, and I think the same will be true for us this year.
One thing I would have liked to see added to Laying Down the Rails is Scripture verses for each habit like the ones we linked from our list last year. A few of the habits list verses, but I like having a Biblical reference for why we pursue a given trait or response so that the kids can understand that it’s not just because we say so, but because God says so. All of the habits in the book are Biblical, so I think I’ll be able to find verses for them, and maybe it’s better for each family to pursue memory work along their own plan.
Even if you’re not homeschooling or not using Charlotte Mason’s approach, I think Laying Down the Rails would be immensely helpful to you in parenting as a good reference tool and to inspire you to help your children develop good habits that will serve them well in life and education.
Note: Unlike most of my book reviews, the links in this post are not affiliate links because the best price for this book is directly through Sonya Shafer’s website Simple Charlotte Mason.