What's Character Education all about?
When they are young -smiling, carefree and in awe of just about everything - it is hard to imagine anything but idyllic thoughts about what our children's futures may hold. Unfortunately, we know that life can sometimes be difficult, and there will be points when even the most upbeat children will face tests of their courage and character.
To help children cope with the world outside of their homes in peaceful, creative ways, schools have always built character lessons into their curriculum. Throughout their preschool and elementary careers, children will be introduced, through books, games, crafts and role-playing, to positive ways of handling emotions and such difficult situations as disagreements with classmates, handling transitions, and even bullying. These are skills that will also help them make good personal choices throughout their lives.
Much of the character building that is taught in schools is based on a handful of simple principles. These include:
Trustworthiness. Be honest. Don't deceive, cheat or steal. Be reliable - do what you say you'll do. Have the courage to do the right thing. Build a good reputation. Be loyal - stand by your family, friends and country.
Respect. Treat others with respect and be tolerant of differences. Use good manners, not bad language. Be considerate of the feelings of others. Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone. Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements.
Responsibility. Do what you are supposed to do. Keep on trying and always do your best. Use self-control. Be self-disciplined. Think before you act - consider the consequences and be accountable for your choices.
Fairness. Play by the rules. Take turns and share. Be open-minded Listen to others. Don't take advantage of others. Don't blame others carelessly.
Caring. Be kind, compassionate and show you care. Express gratitude. Forgive others. Help people in need.
Citizenship. Do your share to make your community better. Cooperate and be a good neighbor. Obey laws and rules. Respect authority. Protect the environment.
Source: Character Counts
Character education begins at birth
Like reading and math, the foundations of good character begin at birth. Young children, with their gentle and sincere natures, are often the best examples of principles like tolerance and kindness. However, there are times, particularly when it comes to handling confusing emotions or being able to resolve conflicts, when they need our gentle guidance and positive examples to help them learn how to do the right thing. Following are some ways that families can help their children grow in their understanding of these ideas:
Help them learn about their emotions
From birth, young children begin making connections about feelings (i.e., snuggling in mom and dad's arms makes me feel safe, that big dog is scary, and I don't like the way mashed carrots feel on my tongue). By their second year, children are able to match their moods to those of their loved ones. For instance, think how cranky your toddler can get when you are rushing to make an appointment. They are also actively trying to figure out why other people feel the way they do. As you go about your day-to-day activities, talk with your children about how they are feeling. Simple phrases such as "It makes you mad when your brother won't share his trucks with you" or "Petting the kitty seems to make you feel happy" can go a long way toward helping your children tap into what they feel and give them the words to describe their emotions. Being able to talk about feelings can also prevent extreme reactions to emotions. In other words, your son is less likely to be bopped over the head with the offending truck!
As they enter the preschooler years (ages three to five), children have experienced such basic emotions as happiness, sadness or anger and can identify when they see them expressed in others. Think of how readily young children will rush to hug a friend who skins a knee or to pick flowers for you when you are sad. Expressing thanks for these gestures and gentle praise are two simple ways to reinforce sharing or showing concern for others. Children may still have difficulty understanding more complicated emotions, such as frustration or embarrassment, because they have not yet identified these feelings in themselves. Continue to talk with them and give them words to describe all of the ways they feel. A few fun books that can help expand their emotional vocabulary include: Baby Faces (Look Baby! Books) by Margaret Miller, The Way I Feel by Janan Cain, How Are You Peeling? by Saxton Freymann, Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Encourage positive ways for children to handle their emotions. A lack of emotional maturity and ability to handle their frustrations calmly is what often causes young children to hit, punch, scream and bite. Some alternatives to help children handle their emotions include: talking through problems, counting to 10, taking a few deep breaths, or sitting quietly - with you, another trusted person or alone - and thinking of something that makes them happy or calm. For some children, running a few laps around the back yard or a game of catch is all it takes to clear their minds.
Emphasize cooperative activities. Fun activities, such as cooking a tasty treat together, playing games like checkers or Go Fish, or building a snowman or a block tower, teach children about how to work as part of a team. Group activities are also a chance to learn about differences of opinion and taking turns.
Teach kids about being a positive part of a community. Learning how to be a cooperative member of groups other than your family takes practice. Play groups, library story hours and preschool environments all give children opportunities to practice important social skills like taking turns, listening, following directions and respecting others' differences.
Foster independence. Though it can be a lot quicker to do it yourself, setting aside the time each day to let your children practice tying their shoes and buttoning or zipping their coats goes a long way toward encouraging personal responsibility and a "can-do" attitude.
Make them responsible for chores around home. Children learn a lot about life as they mimic your daily activities. Providing them with age-appropriate chores also teaches responsibility, encourages self-reliance and helps kids learn about being a contributing member of your family. Young children can help put away their toys, hold the dustpan when you sweep, or toss ingredients for a salad. Older children can take basic care of their room (bed-making with assistance, putting dirty clothes in the hamper), feed and brush pets, and set and clear the table at meal time. Just like personal care, learning how to complete household chores involves your guidance and gentle encouragement. Their first attempts at folding t-shirts are not going to look like yours; keep in mind that the confidence in their abilities that comes from trying is actually more important than the finished product.
Plan family service projects or civic activities. Caring and concern for others are at the heart of good character. Within your community there are likely many opportunities for family service projects that you and your young children can help with. Simple acts like shoveling an elderly neighbor's walk or donating outgrown clothes and toys to charities help children learn the joys of helping others and develop lifelong habits of service. For ideas, check with your local city or town hall, religious group, or such charitable organizations as the United Way.