August 2022 Newsletter – Strengthening Character Traits: Director’s Corner – Focusing on Character at all Levels

Director’s Corner – Focusing on Character at all Levels

If you are familiar with this newsletter, you know we are big fans of the idea that every element of a program’s success starts at the top. Building a robust character education program is no exception.  Members of leadership set the tone for the entire program community. Just as teachers must model important character traits and values for children, leaders must embody the character traits that are important to the program at all times.

Consider how the program recognizes and appreciates its team members.  For example, there is a difference between:

Shouting “Thanks for turning in your lesson plan” to a teacher as they are walking out the door

and

Asking them to stop in the office and sharing heartfelt acknowledgment of their efforts.

Leaders should think about ways that they demonstrate character to their staff, families, and children; this includes in person, in written communication, and as part of their online presence.  Which character traits are important to the program and how is this information conveyed to others?

  • Are these traits woven into the program’s mission statement? The website? Social media posts?
  • How does the program prioritize the purchase of materials related to character education in the budget?
  • How does the program align new staff members to these character traits during orientation?
  • Are the valued character traits evident in performance evaluations and other program documentation?

Highlighting character education activities and opportunities for families helps create consistency between home and school.  Taking that a step further, programs could send a survey to families, asking them to identify or rank the character traits that are most important to them. The program can then use that information to make decisions about the traits to prioritize.  The same survey can be completed by teachers as a way to gather their feedback on the topic.

Members of leadership can pick a character trait each week (or month) to focus on as they interact with families and staff members.  This can either be announced ahead of time or creatively turned into a game, where at the end of the week/month families and staff can try to guess which trait was the focus of the period. Prizes can be awarded.

Contests can also be organized to recognize families and teachers for demonstrating excellent character. Nominations can be submitted for selection to be recognized on a display in the lobby.  Leaders could also collect reports of positive character traits being used, then pick winners at random. Reports can be submitted by families, children, and other team members.  Prizes don’t have to be big, and in many cases, acknowledgment is all that is necessary.

Using this top-down approach can lead to a unified team that understands the behaviors and actions that are valued at every level of interaction, which is an admirable accomplishment for any early learning program.

 

For the main article Strengthening Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the Exploring Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Recognizing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Practicing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

August 2022 Newsletter – Strengthening Character Traits: Practicing Character Traits

Practicing Character Traits

There are tons of opportunities for children to demonstrate character traits in spontaneous situations but it is important to give them a chance to practice these skills, as you would any other developmental skill.

Role-playing and acting out scenarios with small groups of children can help children associate specific actions that align with different character traits.  Teachers can pose questions to children such as “What would you do if you saw a friend struggling with their coat zipper?” or “What would happen if someone asked you to tell a lie?”  Children could then act out how they might respond.  Depending on the age of the children in the group, an entire play could be created based on these types of prompts.  See where the children take it!

Games are another way that children can practice character traits.  Teachers can set up games and other activities that require children to problem solve, work together, or share materials. These activities can be related solely to character education activities.  Teachers can also integrate elements of cooperation, empathy, and generosity into academic or curriculum-related activities.

Service projects are another way for children to strengthen their developing skills. Projects that collect money, goods, and materials for a cause can be a great way for children to put character into action.  A used toy or book drive helps children make a direct impact on their community and feel the pride and positive emotions associated with helping others.

As children gain experience using their character traits, they may choose to put them on display for others. Ambitious groups may put on a character talent show for younger children. They might also be interested in organizing a party or carnival where the games are designed to help younger children learn about character development.

Children will explore both desirable and less than desirable character-related behaviors. When children make poor choices, such as taking something that does not belong to them or telling a lie, teachers should focus on the character education lesson rather than punishing the child.  Processing situations with a character education focus can help children connect to the feelings of others and the impact of their decisions.  Simply punishing a child for these decisions is a missed opportunity to help the child make different decisions in the future.

 

For the main article Strengthening Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Exploring Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Recognizing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Focusing on Character at all Levels, CLICK HERE

August 2022 Newsletter – Strengthening Character Traits: Recognizing Character Traits

Recognizing Character Traits

There are two aspects of recognizing character traits in action that are important in early learning.  First, is the ability of children to observe and identify character traits as they are being displayed? To promote this, teachers can facilitate activities that ask children to identify character traits that people are demonstrating in photos, videos, or other images.  These materials can be gathered from families, pulled from newspaper or magazine stories, or found in books and online.

To identify character traits, children need to be exposed to the language associated with different traits, including synonyms and antonyms (when appropriate).  Language should be adapted to meet the needs of the children in the group.  Some children may be ready for the word appreciation and other children may better understand thanks or thankful.

The second element is the way in which children are recognized for demonstrating character in the classroom. Teachers should make a point of recognizing when children are using their character traits in daily situations.  Simple statements often suffice.  For example, “I noticed that you shared some of your blocks with Sammie. That was very generous of you.”

Teachers can create a special place in the classroom where pictures and stories of children using character traits can be highlighted. This could be a Character Star of the Day display or an entire bulletin board that holds examples of the amazing character being used in the learning environment.  Children should be encouraged to recognize their peers for demonstrating character traits, either verbally or on a posted story of the encounter on the Character Board.  These stories should include the children’s language whenever possible, including a connection to the emotions that they experienced during the encounter.

Teachers can focus children’s attention by prompting them to look for and report back any sightings of cooperation that they see their peers display. The same can be done as a weekend project for families. Then children can return to school with a few stories to share about how cooperation is done at home.

Think of the old adage – You get what you focus on. Make it a point to focus on not only successful displays of character, but efforts that fall short. As with most skills, full development requires practice.  These are not skills that young children will master in preschool or even elementary school.  It takes a lot of time, discussion, and practice to solidify the character traits that will guide children in the future.  Early childhood is a great time to play with these important concepts.

 

For the article main article Strengthening Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Exploring Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Practicing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Focusing on Character at all Levels, CLICK HERE

August 2022 Newsletter – Strengthening Character Traits: Exploring Character Traits

Exploring Character Traits

Introducing character traits in early learning environments often occurs through modeling of those traits. How adults respond to situations and approach their daily activities tells children so much about the actions and behaviors that are valued within the classroom community.

Some programs may opt for a formal character education program that provides pre-planned activity ideas, books, posters, and other materials. These programs are a great way to get started. Unfortunately, if adults act in a manner that is out of alignment with the traits being taught in the program, children may become confused. It is important that teachers are mindful of the powerful role that their everyday actions have on children’s blossoming character development.

That being said, there are many ways that educators and children can explore character traits that can be either planned or spontaneous. Here are just a few activity ideas:

Children’s literature – There are books specifically targeting character development and then there are regular books that contain characters that demonstrate a wide variety of character traits.  You don’t need specialized books, just a careful review of the existing books in the library to determine if there are opportunities to start discussions about character traits before, during, or after reading the books.  Teachers should strive to ask questions that spark these discussions, rather than sticking to questions that only relate to the facts of the book.  Teachers can ask children to think about how different characters were feeling, their motivations, their decisions, and the consequences of those decisions.

The same approach can be taken with children’s favorite characters from television and movies.

Class discussions – Again, whether planned or spontaneous, discussions about character that occur during morning meetings, mealtimes, or brief asides with a small group of children can be very valuable. Teachers can ask children to think about how it feels to be a good friend or what it feels like when someone offers to be helpful.  Connecting character traits to emotions can help children identify with the abstract nature of character traits.  It provides children with something they can feel and identify.

For example, a child might share, “I was mad when my tower fell, but I felt happy when Jamel helped me rebuild it.” The teacher can help the child and Jamel connect to the emotions associated with the character-inspired interaction.

Character Brainstorms – Teachers can also facilitate brainstorming activities that relate to when certain traits can be used.  For example, a teacher could ask children to think of different situations in which patience is needed. Once the list is created, some children may be interested in illustrating some of the scenarios for a class book about patience.

 

For the main article Strengthening Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Recognizing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Practicing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Focusing on Character at all Levels, CLICK HERE

August 2022 Newsletter – Strengthening Character Traits

Strengthening Character Traits

Character traits are those pieces of our personalities that influence how we act and respond to everyday situations.  There are character traits that are deemed desirable within a community’s culture and those that may be viewed as less desirable.  Here are just a few examples:

Desirable TraitsLess Desirable Traits
KindnessRudeness
HonestyDeceitful
CooperationDisrespectfulness
PatienceDemanding
GenerositySelfishness
BraveryRecklessness
ConfidenceArrogance

 

It is important to note that these traits are not necessarily all good, or all bad.  As is often the case, too much of a good thing can be harmful, and sometimes we have to use less than desirable traits in certain scenarios.  Consider the character trait of dependability.  It is considered a good thing to be dependable. However, if a person continually puts the needs of others above their own needs, especially if they feel they have to be dependable at all times, the situation can become unhealthy.

Here are some additional examples:

  • A person can be generous to a fault, giving away more than they can afford to give.
  • Sometimes, a person might need to be selfish to ensure they are taking time to care for themselves properly.
  • A person can be too honest with others, causing hurt feelings.
  • Sometimes, a person might need to deceive someone for whom they are planning a surprise party.

As children strengthen their understanding of character traits, they will begin to demonstrate them more frequently. It is important to help children develop an understanding of all types of character traits, desirable or otherwise. This understanding should include what the traits are, what they look like in real-life scenarios, and the impact they have on individuals and others.

The U.S. Department of Education describes character education as a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.

Character traits are greatly influenced by what members of a family or community value as most important. As one of children’s first communities, early learning programs can help children develop character traits that will serve them their entire lives.

 

For the article Exploring Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Recognizing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Practicing Character Traits, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Focusing on Character at all Levels, CLICK HERE