Habits are those elements of our behavior that have, through repeated practice, become ingrained in our character. Good habits make our lives easier and better, bad ones make them difficult and worse. A child, for example, with the habit of neatness, enjoys a bedroom that is free of clutter. For a child without the habit for neatness, however, cleaning his room becomes a stressful, defeating drudgery. A great part of the educational task, therefore, is to support children in the formation of good habits. What makes the task urgent is that the formation of habits is inevitable: where good habits are absent, bad habits will surely take hold.
Habits are formed through labor. We practice those things we desire as habits until they become effortless second nature. Few adults need to concentrate on holding a pencil correctly because it has become habit. For the five year old, however, the act of holding a pencil requires concentrated thought. Good habits ease our way. They are like the rails on which the train of life runs.
Perhaps no habit is more important in the education of a child, however, than the intellectual habit of attention. It is the hall-mark of the educated person. From the earliest grades, we train children at Ambleside to attend to the matter before them. By asking students to make a single reading of the material and then tell back what they have read, we help the child to develop and reinforce the habit of attention, one which will serve them mightily in later years.