SS #129 – Education: Physical Habits (with Charlotte Mason)

In her book School Education, Charlotte Mason has four chapters on habits that we thought would be valuable to discuss. We often talk about HOW to train habits, but not necessarily what to train. These chapters say very little about the HOW. Instead, they talk about the WHY and then the WHAT – WHAT habits should we form anyway?

Charlotte Mason has four categories of habits, one for each chapter. Today, we are starting with the first one: physical habits.

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Training in Physical Habits

  • [2:53-24:33] Scholé Everyday segment
  • [26:28] Why worry about physical habits?
  • [34:19] Habit of self-restraint
  • [39:35] Habit of self-control
  • [42:16] The self-discipline of habits themselves
  • [XX] Habits are reinforced at home and in society
  • [51:34] Appropriate behavior changes in age and context
  • [53:30] Habit of alertness
  • [XX] How to inspire alertness & perception
  • [1:02:27] Habit of fortitude – training heroes
  • [1:05:46] Habit of courage
  • [1:11:59] What’s the difference between virtues and habits?

Today’s Hosts and Source

Brandy Vencel
has graduated half her kids and has 2 high schoolers left; the physical habit she fails hardest is quick perception.

Mystie Winckler
has graduated 2 of 5 kids from her homeschool; the physical habit she fails is self-restraint when chocolate is in the pantry.

Abby Wahl
has graduated 2 of her 5 kids from her homeschool; Abby puts the others to shame when it comes to physical habits.

Charlotte Mason’s third volume contains a chapter on physical habits – and it includes more than you might think! If you want to follow along with our discussion, check out chapter 10.

“It is a curious thing that we, in the full light of Revelation, have a less idea of vocation and of preparation for that vocation than had nations of the Old World with their ‘few, faint and feeble’ rays of illumination as to the meaning and purpose of life. ‘Ye are your own,’ is perhaps the unspoken thought of most young persons–your own, and free to do what you like with your own.”

Charlotte Mason, School Education

Scholé Everyday: What We’re Reading

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully

Albion’s Seed, David Hacket Fischer

Mystie is reading this large book with a local book club, all about how four British folkways created American culture – with elaborate details about what makes up each folkway.

Built to Move, Kelly & Juliette Starett

Abby brings a relevant title to the topical discussion to her Scholé Everyday.

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

Brandy is reading this aloud with her teens in order to expose them to genres they are all unfamiliar with – for that goal, she is succeeding.

Our usual focus on habits is how we build habits. We learn about the process and method of habit building, but less on the actual habits themselves and the purpose of each individual habit. In this series, we’ll be using Charlotte Mason’s elaboration of 4 different kinds of habits to discuss what we should be cultivating in ourselves and our children.

Living with our bodies under authority

The main reason we work on our physical health and habits is that our body is not our own. We live under the authority of God, who gives us commands and requires worship with our bodies.

Our physical habits and training aren’t cultivated so we’re better specimens for the sake of our own comfort or attractiveness, but to better glorify God.

Charlotte Mason’s Physical Habits

Here’s a bullet point list of physical habits according to Charlotte Mason:

  • Self-restraint
  • Self-control
  • Self-discipline
  • Alertness
  • Quick perception
  • Fortitude
  • Service
  • Courage
  • Prudence
  • Chastity


We can’t give our children virtues we don’t pursue ourselves. It starts not with giving our children something they need, but with desiring these virtues for ourselves and working toward them. Then we can invite our children along on our growth path.

Because we as a society have divorced virtue from knowledge, we no longer connect self-restraint with education or self-indulgence with ignorance and folly.

Self-restraint is the consequence of teaching our children to think of others before they think about what they want for themselves.

Heroes have to work when it is hard and uncomfortable, in circumstances of want and need, so that means our kids need practice in denying themselves and being fine with minor discomfort and small annoyances.

Making habits personal

It takes a long time to teach mechanics and physical motions and habits, but the goal is more than knowing what to do or even just doing it. The goal is to enjoy and desire the good habits for oneself. Personally desiring the habits is what makes habits stick, not mere practice, especially forced practice.

The draw of good physical habits ought to be in joining the ranks of responsible adulthood. We want our boys to desire manhood and be working toward earning that position. We want our girls to desire motherhood and be working toward preparing for that position.

Because society doesn’t reinforce those expectations, we have to work even harder to give those positions the honor they are due and respect our children’s efforts toward them.

Surprising physical habits

Charlotte Mason lists alertness and quick perception as physical habits that we might not ever think about as either physical capacities much less habits.

Practice improves these abilities, so it is the job of educators to call students to the cultivation of the abilities and also being able to direct attention habitually in these ways.

Fortitude as physical habits

Fortitude is both steady effort and not complaining about it or drawing attention to the effort we’re expending.

“Every kind of fretfulness, impatience, resentfulness, nervous irritability generally, grows with expression and passes away under self-control. It is worth while to remember that the physical signs promote mental state just as much as the mental state causes the physical signs.”

Charlotte Mason, School Education

Fortitude and courage counts the right thing to be done as more important than the self, the doer. It is worth giving your life, as the martyrs, for something that matters more than your comfort, more even than your own individual life.

Mentioned in the Episode

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People
For the Family’s Sake: The Value of Home in Everyone’s Life
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution
Eusebius: The Church History
You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

SS #132 – Intellectual Habit Training

This is the second in our four-part series on Charlotte Mason’s chapters from School Education that cover the training of physical, intellectual, moral, and religious habits. Today, we’re discussing the training of intellectual habits. First, though, we need to go through Charlotte Mason’s paradigm for thinking about these things. Habit Training with Charlotte Mason Series…
Read More SS #132 – Intellectual Habit Training

SS #96: Can Virtue Be Taught?

Yes, you can teach virtue. However, that doesn’t mean education can make people into Christians.  We must distinguish between training in good habits and a changed heart. Only God changes hearts, but he ordains discipleship (education) to train in the way people should go. Education does not save, so it will not make one morally…
Read More SS #96: Can Virtue Be Taught?

SS #27: Education is a Discipline

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Today, in the second of our three-part series, we’re discussing education as a discipline. What do we mean by discipline? How do we use it as a tool of education? The Scholé Sisters get real about this topic. Don’t forget to download your free Discipline Audit…
Read More SS #27: Education is a Discipline

Want to talk about the ideas presented here? The conversation is happening inside Sistership.

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