How habits can help homeschooling this season

How habits can help homeschooling during the holidays
Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane

There’s a one-word banner I’m waving these days: Habits

The word probably doesn’t kindle a fire of passion or enthusiasm in your soul.


Though you may not come alive when you hear the word habits, I will tell you this one-word anthem is revolutionizing our homeschool like nothing else has in a long time.

I stumbled upon this volume, Habits: The Mother’s Secret to Success, a selection of Charlotte Mason’s writings on the topic of character formation in children. I had been in a weary season, struggling with homeschool, behavior issues, and general overwhelm with life.

There was so much to do, where to begin? Our days felt haphazard and aimless. I lacked passion and zeal for homeschooling. I found myself wondering if I was even cut out for this home-education thing.

Insert habits

habit aristotles

Within the first few pages, I knew this was what I’d been missing. Her words of wisdom rang true and clear, timeless.  We began with baby steps, heeding her advice and implementing simple habits.

The keys for me to remember were:

  • Don’t implement a habit you cannot completely reinforce for 2-4 weeks. Previously I would assign my children more than I was willing to reinforce. This led to constant frustration, overwhelm, and frequent negative interactions. To my amazement, scaling back and only requiring a few things, which I was completely devoted to joyfully and enthusiastically reinforcing, has brought success, giving us far more frequent joyful interactions. Hooray!
  • Don’t ease up on a past habit as a “reward” for good behavior. Mason maintains that this is the fatal move so many mothers make. Let’s say Johnny has been doing an excellent job of picking up his dirty clothes, for two whole weeks. You’re so happy, that when you notice he left them on the floor, you kindly do it for him, “just this once.” But that actually undoes the habit-keeping, and will extend the amount of time it takes to actually make a habit. It will harm him in the end, because the sooner the habit is solidified, the sooner he’ll have mental-space for other things. Once something is habit you don’t have to think about it anymore!
  • Reward with freedom, not food or money or toys.  The reward for finishing math early is not a lollipop, it’s free time. It’s the freedom to do whatever he wishes with the time that’s left. The reward for finishing all his chores without being asked is free time, time to play outside or read or craft or Lego or whatever his heart desires. What a wonderful, wholesome, and refreshing reward!


So why do I bring this up at the holidays? Isn’t this the time when schedules and structure are tossed to the wind in the name of fun and festivities?


I’m finding that our simple habits are carrying us through the would-be chaos of the holiday season.

We drove 3,000 miles over a two-week period recently, and I found that keeping our simple habits in place, even as so many other things were different or unpredictable, helped us have a refreshing, renewing, joyful trip, returning back to our home-routine with relative ease.

So what will your Holiday Habits be?

That is, what simple habits will you reinforce to help your family navigate this often-hectic season?

Perhaps it’s a 4-part morning chore routine. Perhaps it’s always beginning something at 10 a.m. Perhaps it’s your read-aloud time in the afternoon. Perhaps it’s eating green vegetables at every meal. Perhaps it’s saying the Lord’s Prayer at breakfast. Perhaps it’s a nature-walk every day at 1 p.m. Perhaps it’s reading an advent book before bed.

For those of you who are naturally highly-structured, this may seem like a no-brainer.

But maybe just a few of you, like me, need a nudge to stake out healthy habits this holiday season. I guarantee we’ll have an easier time easing into January if we’ve not abandoned these things all month long.

Your turn! What helpful habits have you implemented with your children? What new habits do you think might be helpful to include this holiday season? Thanks for reading.

Originally published on Dec 17, 2015

About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available now.


  1. I guess I’m one of those naturally structured women, and I need my kids to help out and do it every day. I printed off a checklist of all the jobs that particular child has to do every morning before lessons and then I stuck it in a clear page protector. They check off each job done with a dry erase marker and when they’re done, it’s playtime until their lessons. It’s sure taken a lot of pressure off me because I don’t have to be on anyone’s back to finish their work, and the jobs usually get done pretty well. The kids don’t always like their lists, but I sure do!

  2. Rebekah Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing these last two posts on habits. Lately I too have been feeling the nudge to make sure character is first above all. I ordered the book you recommended and can’t wait to read it. I’m wondering if you would be willing to share the different habits you are working on and how you go about implementing them. I’m also hoping the book gives a clear idea in how to go about each step. Sometimes my kids will say that I’m asking them to do too much at once (ask them to do something else while they are working on completing the first thing I asked). I don’t want to overwhelm them, but I want to work on adding new habits and others become mastered.

  3. First off, I was just introduced to your blog about two months ago and I’m in love. Thank you. After your last post on this topic, I picked up Mason’s works on habits and I’m reading it now. We unschool and I have 5 kids ages 8, 6, 4, 3, 1. Here’s my struggle… I’m an overachiever and have been working on letting go of some of my insanity. 🙂 And yet I know and believe in the power of habits. I have a huge list of things for the oldest 3 kids to do each morning before their free time. My over achieving oldest gets it done with no problem most days. My second born dawdles and drags all morning long unless I stay on top of him (which I hate). My third born is similar to my second but with spunk. 🙂 Anyway…. my question is this… how do you determine what is most important and what you can let go of? 3-4 weeks per habit turns into a long time, even with working on only 4 habits or so. Their current responsibilities are as follows: Get dressed, Unload 1 rack on dishwasher, Sweep/Clean up the table after breakfast, Put up any clean clothes or things in stair basket (they each have their own), Brush teeth and hair, Make bed, Pick up bedroom floor. Wow. Even writing this down makes me realize that that IS a lot for a 4, 6 and 8yr old. Agh. Thoughts?! Thanks!

    • If it helps, you could break their responsibilities up. For example, I have my kids get dressed, make their beds and tidy their rooms prior to breakfast. After they eat, they do their teeth and hair, followed by their morning chore. The morning chore rotates each day for each child, but includes vacuuming, dusting, sweeping and a bathroom swish and swipe. For my littles, who are 8 and 5, it takes about 15 minutes before breakfast and 15 minutes after. Hope that helps.

      • Thank you, Mary! Yes, we break ours up too. Terra, in general with parenting, I think the best habit to begin with is that one thing that drives you crazy when they don’t do it. 😉 In terms of prioritizing, start with what few things (few!) are absolutely essential, then don’t add the others until those few things are down pat. That would be my suggestion, it’s amazing how powerful it is to have a few successful habits under your belt, then it feels easier to tackle more! Baby steps! Bless you, and Merry Christmas!

  4. This is sooo good! I like structure, I thrive on it, but I struggle with implementing new habits. I will try and take the time to read some of your links inside this post because they seem like they would help me out a lot.
    As far as keeping by with the little habits/routine, we do that ALL the time and always have. Just yesterday evening, we were at my parents house for a short visit and Mom said to us as we were leaving, “your kids aren’t schooling tomorrow, why do you need to leave, already?” Well, because as much as possible we stick with the same routine, school or no school and that has always included bedtimes. Of course, we make exceptions to this rule often and enough, but it’s a habit our kids don’t even question. Another thing we’ve done for years is, whenever it’s summer holidays or a school break, the kids always know that between 10/10:30 I will still do something with them, whether it be read alouds, going outside, or just spending time together. So, even though we aren’t starting school at 9 like usual, we will be together.

  5. Thank you for this post. We have been schooling at home for just a little over a year. Last holiday season we did not accomplish much at all. This year we are sticking with our minimum requirements and everything is going so much better. A little structure is so helpful!

  6. Oh my… The INFP in me is struggling right now! I’m such an anti-scheduler but as the littles grow and mature and begin taking on a more active roll in the keeping of the home and the direction of their education I’m beginning to feeeeeeeeel this. I sense we are on the cusp of a new direction, even if it does feel slightly (read: so very much so) confining. Your words bring me hope Kari! 🙂

    • Jess, my husband is an INFP. He struggles with clutter, disorganization, making plans, etc… interestingly, he finds that when he forces himself to do just those things that are unnatural to him, his life really is happier! He has slowly turned into someone who plans ahead. I think the key with an INFP is to not be rigid, but flexible, allowing for some spontaneity but having a loose plan. It works for him. 🙂
      Carrie Willard’s latest post: Reflecting on 2016: my goals & wins

  7. As a family of 12, I’ve found that we absolutely must stick with our chore routine. Must. And, yes, I have let them go withut doing them “just this once” and afterwards had to deal with not only an out-of-control house, but children who weren’t doing their jobs as well as they used to. Thanks for this great reminder.
    Shelly’s latest post: Hate Buying Batteries? Try These 25 Gift Ideas Instead!

  8. Good post! It’s very hard to reinforce a new habit, if you’re not going to be intentionally working on it. Thanks 🙂

  9. I love habits. So much so that I wrote a book about them!
    And I love that book you mentioned. I have read it twice and find it so important to take time to establish good habits and routines, especially since I have 7 kids. When things start to unravel with routines, it’s because of my laziness, not following through.
    Carrie Willard’s latest post: Reflecting on 2016: my goals & wins

  10. I have also read the Charlotte Mason Habits book and was initially very excited to work on habits with my kids, but while I found the physical things (i.e. hanging up your coat) to be easy to accomplish, I still struggle to work on the mental habits with my kids, like attention and not interrupting. I may think of them in the morning but forget about them the rest of day, drowned out by the needy sick toddler or the constant whining of the preschooler (the whining is easy to work on because it drives me crazy). Any ideas?

  11. Thank you for this! I loved your last post on habits too and resonate with everything you said. I’ve long appreciated CM’s teaching on habits, but struggled to begin implementing any of it. What’s finally brought it all together for me is an older book someone loaned me, Managers of Their Homes, by Steve and Teri Maxwell. This book has been revolutionary in giving me a framework for starting to learn/carry out good habits, for myself and for my kids. The very basic summary of their system is that you break up your day into 30-minute segments, and everyone has something specific to do in each time segment.

    It’s not perfect of course, but with four kids, it’s giving us much-needed structure. I’m getting more done, spending one-on-one time working with each child during the morning (even the preschooler), and have way fewer behavior problems with my kids. Of course it’s not perfect, but I can finally say our homeschool is becoming the peaceful, inspiring environment I hoped for.
    Julie’s latest post: mrs. gayle’s gingerbread party: 2016.

  12. As a creature of habit, I loved this post!
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: Bring Books to Life with Ivy Kids

  13. Cindy Miller says:

    Please help! I’m 70 but healthy and decided to homeschool my two sons 14 and 16. I read a blog about “curriculums and/or books that we love and ones we hate,” but I can’t find it now.😕 I need super simply and suggestions on curriculum. One of my sons may have ADHD but I refuse to test him because of the label…. thanks! Cindy

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