All good classical educators know about Susan Wise-Bauer’s book, The Well-Trained Mind. We would love to do everything she recommends, but before we can achieve a well-trained mind, I propose we begin with The Well-Made Bed.
I mentioned this at dinner with some fellow Classical Conversations moms. Everyone was talking about what they were doing to prepare for a new school year. Some had begun math and some were practicing the English grammar charts. I said, “We made our beds this week.” Everyone laughed thinking I was just joking, but I did not mean to be funny at all; I was serious. I spent a week concentrating on getting my children to make their beds well.
How could a well-made bed be nearly as important as math? Or English grammar charts? It is not required for college, so why do it? As is often the case, it was not the subject, but the skill that mattered. I wanted to begin training my children to do the right thing, even if nobody sees it. I just used the beds as a tool to begin to teach this idea.
I want them to develop a habit of taking care of the things God has entrusted them with. Luke 12:48 was the focus of the week: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” They needed to learn to take good care of their things before they could be entrusted with more. After a week of giving lots of reminders, advice, encouragement, and some reprimands, making the beds had become a habit.
Developing the habit of doing something daily without even considering skipping it is what Leigh refers to as “Milking the Cow.” She is talking about the family cow of the American pioneers. It needed to be milked every morning, no matter what. It was usually a job given to the older children. If you have read the Little House on the Prairie books or the Little Britches books you know the children did many daily chores like milking the cow without being told. It was a habit. Today, we tend to not expect as much from our children as the pioneers did, but we could.
We could help them develop the habit of doing math each morning right after breakfast. We could help them develop the habit of reading the Bible a bit every day or writing a little every day. Classical Conversations families usually develop the habit of practicing their memory work every day at a certain time. When the students move into the Challenge program, we have to develop the habit of practicing Latin every day and drilling whatever memory work needs attention: in Challenge A it is countries and their capitals, in Challenge B it is logic vocabulary, in Challenge I it is economics terms, etc.
The other thing Leigh impresses on us is that the cow got milked even on days the barn caught fire or mom was sick. Likewise, we cannot wait for conditions to be perfect for school to be done. Math can go on and the children can practice their memory work even on days when “life” happens.
Begin each day with a well-made bed and remind yourself to “Milk the Cow.” Before you know it, you and your children will be on your way to having a well-trained mind and a great classical education.