VIII. Infant ‘habits’
Babies and their environment should be kept clean and fresh. Don’t let the nanny let the room get stuffy or have the faintest of odors — air the beds and clothes before making them or putting them away. Our sense of smell, properly fine-tuned, alerts us to the dangers of noxious substances — smells are matter. Babies notice everything — so don’t let nanny work with a hole in her outfit.
Let children get messy in play and have proper clothing for it — but when it’s over, help them get immaculate again — let them have their own things for washing up and learn to do it all themselves. Dirty hands and clothes, stained tablecloths and silverware, are degrading.
Children should not be allowed to masturbate. Which Mason discusses without naming those parts which the child is not allowed “to speak of, think of, display, handle, except for purposes of cleanliness” (128). There is mention of “certain loss and ruin,” as well as “frightful risks” (128-129). I suppose the parent may name or indicate the relevant part so as to prevent confusion!
Order is as essential as cleanliness. Nothing broken or marred should remain in the house, much less be given to the children for playthings. (Sorry, Laura and Mary — your beloved chipped teacup and cracked saucer have to go…) Children should not leave their things scattered but learn to put them away, even as early as two years of age. Let the habit of getting and putting away be a pleasure to the child, part of his play
Neatness adds taste and suitability to order — let things be arranged beautifully. Beautiful things need not be expensive. Vulgar things should be avoided.
Mason mentions the importance of routine — regularity about meals and sleep and such. In tune with the recommendations of her times, she urges scheduled feeding and sleeping for infants regardless of crying. I think it’s clear that scheduling is unnecessary during infancy, and at times can even be harmful. Yes, routine is a comfort and a helpful structure for older children.
This section has some good points, quite overstated in my opinion. I love order, cleanliness, freshness, neatness — it’s one reason I love Montessori. I find I am more sensitive to such things than some folks — I notice smells or tastes that others don’t always notice, and disorder bothers me more than it bothers some others. Then again, I am not often put off by dirt and have little fear of germs. Even order and cleanliness are subject to some interpretation.
I’m glad, though, that Amy asked to tape the cracked plastic chocolate milk bottle she was unwilling to throw away. It’s good to eliminate clutter and junk (and to foster a proper carefulness with things such as glass or china), but she cared about this thing and had a good solution to make it workable again.
And no — it doesn’t make you go blind or insane and the Bible does not explicitly forbid it; one’s stance on the matter depends on holistic interpretation and not on any prooftext.
IX. Physical exercises
Some kind of light daily exercise is useful — providing “delight in the management of his own body” — dancing or calisthenics, for example (132). (Or, I might add, yoga. Or the Waldorfian eurythmy) Mason reminds us that the previous section on out-of-door life also deals with physical exercise.
Parents can do little light drills of manners — role-playing asking for directions, for example. Or practice different positions — “eyes right, hands still, heads up” and many variations, child- or parent-led. Or a light step instead of a heavy tread.
There should be some voice and ear training — emphasizing good pronunciation and enunciation, even training the ability to reproduce the sound of a tricky word heard just once. Here again is a bit of Mason’s classism, as she seems to believe that the lower classes’ speech is not merely different but inferior. Yes, a) it’s important and useful to know how to use the privileged dialect, the language of status in one’s culture — but let’s do so with the awareness that language is politicized. And, b) it’s important to remember that the point of using language is to communicate, and one should speak so as to be understood by one’s audience.
Musical training is good, too. Mason argues that it should be a matter of “carefully graduated exercises” (133). (I can argue both ways on this one. I know plenty of great musicians whose development did not follow a specially calibrated schedule — and plenty of piano-lesson-haters whose development did.)
The conclusion of this large section on habits is that the whole point of habit formation is so that parents can actually let their children alone more, instead of constantly badgering and nagging about this and that forgotten careless thing.