Charlotte Mason said,
“No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required from him as a matter of course” (Home Education, p. 160).
Your parenting and homeschooling aim is for your children to always do their best. Training and instruction that develop good habits form ‘railway tracks’ for smooth parenting and homeschooling days. (You can read this excellent post at Homegrown Learners Laying Down Rails – The Foundations.) While this training stage may seem to extend for years, may feel completely irrelevant and can be annoying and time-consuming, it is worth it — oh, mom, it is so very worth it.
Training should be simple, clear, easy to remember, possibly made fun with songs or rhymes. Work done poorly because of haste or because of inability needs to be quickly addressed. Don’t overlook poor effort, sloppy attempts or bad attitudes. Any inability requires training if the task is appropriate to your child’s age and stage. If your child can’t manage the training, then break it down further or leave that task or skill for a month or so until he has matured a little and can manage better.
Craft each child’s assignments thoughtfully, then require his best effort – every time. Think about how you taught your child to brush his teeth; how you carefully demonstrated and instructed him? How you watched him doing it first with your help, and then by himself until he did it perfectly? Then for weeks and months (and some children even take years …), you sat watching and supervising his teeth-brushing before just assuming that when he went to the bathroom, he was going to do an excellent job on his own. Age played an important factor in knowing when your child was ready to learn, able to physically do the job and trained to remember to do it well on their own every time.
Don’t confuse a gentle approach with being a “push-over.” If he gives sloppy or resentful work, immediately address his attitude. Don’t worry about his academics if his negative attitude is an issue. Character training is your chief job in parenting and homeschooling. Have a tea break and talk about what is worrying or troubling your child and try to get to the root of the issue and reassure him.
Recognize your child’s efforts and encourage improvement where needed. Don’t shower your child with blanket praises such as, “Good job!” but rather be specific and mention actual skills or abilities such as, “Well done on packing all the toys into the correct baskets,” or “I can see how shiny the mirror is now that you’ve dusted the room.” Start any necessary critique firstly with acknowledgement of your child’s effort and things he has done well. Then be clear, specific and encouraging regarding any area that requires more effort or greater perfection, “You remembered all your spelling words and wrote your dictation so neatly. Just remember to use a capital letter for … next time.”
Focus on one area or task or skill at a time. Set the expectation with the most positive statement or description and keep your voice and tone cheerful, happy, and positive. If your words are filled with rebukes and negativity or filled with disappointment or exasperation, your negative approach will shut down your child’s happy response. You want your child to engage with enthusiasm. Timing, approach and positivity are key. Pray for guidance on what to focus on and how to encourage your child to do their best. Avoid all manipulation and autocratic demands, especially using fear and punishment as a form of motivation. Focus on the rewards your child will gain from doing something correctly and excellently, from doing their very best.
May I encourage grace for you and your family for failures, for any faltering, for fear in the process. Growth and character development are not easy, not always perfect and we are not always at our best. But take a moment to breathe and find grace to start again. Grace to you as you do your best and instill the desire for your children to do their very best!