Making Decisions about Character Education Programs

CCEI’s August Newsletter explores the importance of exploring character traits and how they develop with young learners. Several considerations arise when a program decides to implement a character education program. First, will they purchase a commercial program or develop their own?

There are pros and cons to each approach.  Developing a unique program takes time and experience. It can be challenging for new teachers who are developing their curriculum planning skills. However, the lessons can be tailored to meet the needs of the children and the program.

Purchasing a commercial product is easier but it has a cost associated with it. The style of the curriculum might not match your program’s philosophy and sometimes teachers feel their creativity is limited when using commercial products.

It is important for program staff to have multiple conversations about what the character education curriculum will look like in their program.  This may look completely different from the practices used at the center down the street.  Here are some things to talk about during these discussions:

  • Traits most important to your program culture – What are the character traits that align with your program’s philosophy, vision, and mission statements? Decision makers should gather feedback from the teaching staff and families to make sure that important elements of character development are apparent in any curriculum that is purchased or developed.
  • Developmental appropriateness – Some programs may be too advanced for use in the early learning environment. Some programs utilize worksheets or coloring pages, which may not align with the approaches used in your program. Discussions should be had concerning the language and activities provided in different programs to ensure there is a good fit.
  • Materials provided – When possible, staff should be able to preview the materials contained in any commercial kit. It might also be a good idea to share materials with the programs’ family committee so they have a chance to provide feedback.
  • Value of materials – Serious consideration should be given to the value of the materials provided in any commercial curriculum. Is it possible to accomplish the same outcomes with the books and materials that are already present in the classroom? What unique features do the materials add to the environment?
  • Flexibility – Commercial products will likely require adaptations. Teachers should be comfortable adding their own touch to any product to ensure they are reflecting the interest and needs of the children in their care.
  • Staff buy-in – Conversations must be had with staff to encourage participation and create positive feelings about the program. Conversations can focus on the benefits of character education and how it can beneficially impact the overall classroom atmosphere.
  • Professional development options – Some curriculum companies provide training on their materials. Sometimes, teachers benefit from additional training on the topic. What training resources are available to ensure that whichever approach is chosen is effective?
  • Time and resources – If everyone is feeling short on time or having difficulty completing assessments or other daily tasks, asking staff to develop character education lessons from scratch may not be successful. The same could be said for introducing a new and complex curriculum product.  It’s best to meet employees where they are and determine the most effective way to incorporate character education into weekly planning.

Programs should engage in these types of conversations before making a purchasing decision. Doing so will make it more likely that the curriculum chosen will actually be used. More than likely, programs will opt for a hybrid approach that utilizes pre-planned activities and teacher-initiated interactions to help children strengthen their character development.

Best of luck!