Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Character Training For Children

  • What is "character" exactly, anyway?
  • Why should we care about character?
  • One of the ways we teach character to our children
  • Our monthly plan
  • How our own character can re-enforce or undermine our teaching efforts

We have had a great many people searching our blog for character training for children. *smile* So we felt it was a good time to share this post with you of excellent information on this topic.
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Have you ever told your children that you expect "patience" or "orderliness", "diligence" or "gratefulness" from them, only to have them look at you with a mystified expression on their face revealing that they have no idea what you're talking about?  Or maybe when you tell them that you expect this type of character they ask you "...Why?" and then find that you can't actually explain that character trait to them in a way they can understand and apply it?  I certainly found this to be true for me!  I began to discover how vague descriptions of character traits were to children and how that made character very difficult  to understand.


What is "character" exactly, anyway?

I was taught growing up that I ought to have good character, and I had a few ideas of what that would mean; but when Bob and I became parents and I faced teaching our children character I realized that I really didn't know what that included!  Here's a definition of Character,

"Good character is the inward values that determine outward actions" (Character First).  

An example:
If our children value showing attentiveness when someone else is speaking to them (instructing, teaching, sharing something, performing, etc.) then they will do these five things:

(1) look at people when they speak to them
(2) ask questions if they don't understand
(3) sit or stand up strait
(4) not draw attention to themselves
(5) keep their eyes, ears, hands, feet, and mouth from distractions.  

(Here are our children showing attentiveness during the main service at church)


If they do not value attentiveness at a music recital for example, then their outward actions will reflect it.  They may be looking around at other things while the musician is performing; dismissing the music and tuning out if they don't like it; slouching in their chair reflecting boredom; drawing attention to them self by yawning blatantly, stretching, or giggling and playing with those around them; or fidgeting noisily with the papers they have, kicking the chair in front of them, noisily twirling a bracelet around on their finger, maybe unwrapping noisy candy wrappers or snacks and disturbing others.

Now our children are not perfect in demonstrating attentiveness yet, especially the younger ones, but they are learning.  And having a defined goal is so important.  *smile*  They know what is expected (it's not vague in their mind), what attentiveness looks like, and why it's valuable.  And they love it when others mention to us or to them how well they did during a recital, or during church, during a class, or even just in conversation.  They love having the pastor or a church family member tell them that they felt honored by the children's effort to show attentiveness during the preaching.

Our children also enjoy being invited to go places to have further educational experiences presented to them because they displayed attentiveness in a situation.  When our 13-year-old daughter demonstrated attentiveness really well with our chiropractor she was honored by an invitation from him to attend (with one of her parents) a prestigious annual chiropractic event with him as a guest.  Here she could learn from doctors a great deal about the body, how it works, how to maintain health in her own life, and if she desired to pursue a chiropractic practice in her life she would have a head start on what that would involve and whether or not she has the aptitudes and desire for it.

There is good "fruit" to be had with good character.  We've recently been invited to a friend's bakery for a tour, to have a tour of another friend's Blackhawk helicopter that he flies for Homeland Security, to yet another friend's dairy farm for a 2 hour tour, to visit a local radio station of Praise 106.5 and Anna Marie (age 8 at the time) even got to go on the air to give the local weather report for one day, and we've been invited to many other businesses and opportunities.  We believe a large part of this is because the children show attentiveness, interest, appreciation, give value to, enjoy, and appreciate these opportunities.

Here is a list of 49 character traits from Character First that need to be taught to children and why - and which we parents need to be able to demonstrate, model, and teach:  Attentiveness, Obedience, Truthfulness, Gratefulness, Generosity, Orderliness, Forgiveness, Sincerity, Virtue, Responsibility, Patience, Initiative, Self-Control, Punctuality, Resourcefulness, Tolerance, Creativity, Discretion, Diligence, Loyalty, Hospitality, Sensitivity, Enthusiasm, Flexibility, Discernment, Cautiousness, Boldness, Dependability, Thoroughness, Determination, Thriftiness, Availability, Deference, Compassion, Persuasiveness, and Wisdom.

Here is a printable list of the traits with definitions, courtesy of Character First (copyright permission granted).  (click on the image below to enlarge; click again to enlarge a second time)


*whew!*  After reading that for the first time I thought, "Well... that's nice to know...so now I'm totally overwhelmed.  How in the world do I teach those things to children... and where do I start?!"  Before getting in to the how of teaching character quite yet, let's look at why character training is important.


Why should we care about character?

Character is the core of all people's behavior.  Here's a great explanation from the curriculum I highly recommend called Character First as to why character is invaluable:

"We tend to judge people by wealth, position, demeanor, education, and external circumstances.  We evaluate them by the size of their bank account, the model of their car, or their possession of the latest gadget.  But how much can you really know by looking at these things?  
Contrast such superficial 'success' with the contributions made by individuals such as Mother Theresa, Booker T. Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison.  Each achieved a level of success admired by all who dare to believe  they too can change their world.
Upon inspection, these heroes' success lay not in what they achieved, but in what propelled them to their achievements - personal character.  Their impact rose from who they were as individuals.  Character regulated the majority of their life decisions.
You have probably heard is said that 'knowledge is power.'  But a person may understand difficult problems, have flawless logic, or know how to operate machinery perfectly, and still lack character.  Consider the effects of knowledge without character.  What good are facts without the ability to apply them with wisdom, discernment, and decisiveness?
Good character is the inward values that determine outward actions.  It is the inward motivation to do what is right in every situation.
With character and competence, you will discover unlimited possibilities.  You will see challenges overcome with determination, solutions achieved with creativity, opportunities uncovered with alertness, and relationships maintained with patience and forgiveness...Success is not limited to the elite or the rich.  It is available to each person who develops the inward motivation to do what is right."  ("What is Character", by Character First)

In 2003 I began using the Character First Curriculum to teach our children about character traits.  When we first started within the first week the children began developing a very solid understanding of that first character trait we studied.  Now when I say something to the children like, "While we're in church you need to show attentiveness", the children know exactly what I mean.  They know what that looks like, what 5 things that it involves, and they have practiced it.  They associate it with a historical figure they're now very familiar with, such as George Washington Carver, or Abraham Lincoln.  They have observed how an animal in nature such as the deer shows attentiveness (each character trait is associated with an animal that demonstrates that trait), and they have memorized a very simple definition.  The children can now (if they choose) have success in that situation requiring attentiveness because they fully understand it, why it's important and how to apply it.  And I can offer correction if necessary and with confidence that the child fully understood what I was asking and expecting.  The children learn crucial life skills that lay a foundation for success in learning and in their relationships.  This helps them enjoy their own life and they can be all the more enjoyed by others around them.


One of the ways we teach character to our children

When I began homeschooling in 2003 I attended my first W.H.O. Convention (Washington Homeschool Organization) curriculum fair at the Puyallup Fair Grounds.  One of the gems I came across was this curriculum for teaching character, called Character First geared for elementary aged children 6-12 years-old (although I've used it with 4-year-olds successfully, and with our oldest who is 15-year-old).  It's awesome - one of the best teaching items I've ever purchased.  I highly recommend this method for teaching character traits.

There is curriculum available to be purchased for all 49 character traits.  That is the curriculum we used for 11 years, and it is excellent.

However they have just recently revamped their curriculum with a new look - and most of it is offered online now for FREE!  *cheer!*  Here are 8 of the character traits they have put up online so far, and Robert Greenlaw of Character First has told me that they have the goal of adding one character trait to this online selection per month (as of July 2015 they are up to 20 available now!).


        

 

Each character trait has these aspects offered with it:

* An 11x17" full color poster (on nice, heavy duty paper) with a photo of the animal associated with that character trait, the definition, and the 5 "I will" statements listed which are the 5 aspects of that character trait to be learned.  (These are available for purchase for $2.99 each - we always buy these.)
For example, for Patience the definition is "Waiting without getting upset". The 5 I will's are: I will wait my turn, I will not complain when I don't get my way, I will accept what cannot be changed, I will use my time wisely, I will try and try again.
 
* A coloring page of the animal, which is FREE, and you can print as many copies as you need for your family strait from your computer! *beam!*  Our children color the corresponding page while we watch Robert Greenlaw tell the animal story via the FREE video online!  They love it!
* A nature story detailing how an animal in nature demonstrates each character trait, FREE online with a video where children can watch Robert Greenlaw tell the story.

* A song, offered on both audio CD (a whole set of songs on one CD), or there is a video online of each song FREE where the children can watch Robert Greenlaw teaching it.

* A short poem with hand motions, also offered FREE via an online video with Robert Greenlaw.
 
* A history story, detailing how a famous person has demonstrated that character in their life, such as Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington Carver.

* Several simple crafts, games, and activities to help deepen children's understanding and instill the meaning behind each character trait.  These are designed to reach visual, auditory, tactual, and kinesthetic learners.  FREE online are three activities, or parents can purchase a curriculum guide with even more activities for $9.99.


Our Monthly Plan

We focus on learning one character trait per month, but we follow the same general weekly plan each week of that month.  To prepare for that month's trait in advance I purchase a character trait's poster from the website (or I purchase 4 posters at a time for the next 4 months).  Then I print off FREE from the website:
  • The history story, to be read aloud by me
  • Copies of the coloring page, one per child 
  • Pages for 2-3 of the different activities offered online, one page per child
  • Copies of the "Family Connection" character quiz (5 questions) to be completed at the end of the month just for fun.
And I make sure I have any items I'll need for the crafts or activities I chose, such as some construction paper, or some cheerios to glue on to the colored paper giraffes we made for the trait "Availability".  Now I'm ready to go.


Each week day morning of the month - We begin by learning the definition on the first day for that month's trait.  (Later we just recite it  aloud daily, maybe alternating who recites it that day, or saying it as a group, or saying it in a funny way, "like a mouse" or "like a big, slow giant").  To help kids learn it initially I read the definition aloud and play a couple quick games that take about 3 minutes.  I write the definition on the sliding glass door with window crayons.



Or another idea is putting each word of the definition on a separate piece of colored paper and used Plasti-Tac to stick it to the sliding glass door. We keep the definition on the glass door the whole month we're learning that character trait, so the kids see it all the time and read it aloud to themselves during lunch, or see who can recite it the fastest.  This is the definition for Punctuality.


We read the definition together out loud, then when they're first learning it I'll remove one word at a time (or cover it up with my hand) while the children have their eyes closed, and see if they can guess which word is missing.  Or, we'll mix the whole definition up and see if they can put it in order.  This takes about 3 minutes.

We also say the 5 "I Will's" aloud together from the poster hung on our white board, or I let the kids each tell me one from memory. The 5 "I will's" are the things we will do to practice that particular character trait.  For example, for the character trait of Punctuality:  "I will be at the right place at the right time; I will prepare for unexpected delays; I will do my work ahead of time; I will plan a daily schedule and keep it; I will not fall in to the trap of 'just one more'."  This takes about 2 minutes.

We review the definition and the 5 I will's very briefly each morning, and we do an activity from the website (free) four times per month, only on Mondays.

First Monday of the month - We watch or just listen to the few minute video of Robert Greenlaw telling the Nature story (free online), of how one particular animal demonstrates that character quality.  From the kitchen table on a laptop while the kids are listening they also do a craft of that animal (free online). This takes about 15 minutes.







Second Monday of the month - I read aloud the 1 page history story (free online) which describes how a famous historical figure demonstrated that character trait.  While I'm doing this the children color the coloring page for that trait.

Third Monday of the month - I play again the video of the animal story being read (it's been 2 weeks since they heard it the first time) and the children either do another very simple craft from the website or they build an image of that animal with our Thinking Putty.


(the whale, which represents Enthusiasm)


Fourth Monday of the month - I read again the history story being read (it's been 2 weeks since they heard it the first time) and the children do another very simple craft from the website.


How our parental character can re-enforce or undermine our teaching efforts

Bob and I are always noticing areas in which we need to develop our own character as well, and we feel thisit is crucial for us to "practice what we preach".  It is especially important with adolescents who are really watching our adult example, and this HUGELY effects both our relationships with them and our ability to lead by example instead of driving them towards what they should be.

In the latest Growing Families International (GFI) class we took called "Reaching the Heart of Your Teen" we were taught that one of the thing teens hate most is hypocrisy.  Parents often have high expectations of their children and teens, but do we ourselves model, for example, Diligence (definition: Investing all my energy to complete the tasks assigned to me")?  Joyfulness (definition: Maintaining a good attitude, even when faced with unpleasant conditions)?  Punctuality (definition: Showing esteem for others by doing the right thing at the right time)?  Orderliness (definition: Arranging myself and my surroundings to achieve greater efficiency)?  Our character as parents can re-enforce or undermine our teaching efforts.  It's not complicated to learn or practice, it's actually simple when we take just one character trait at a time (not easy necessarily, mind you, but simple; not complicated) - and the "fruit" is so very sweet for us, for our children, and for everyone else we and they come in contact with.

Bob and I are fully convinced that one of the reasons God gives parents children is to help refine our own adult character.  Like a rough-cut diamond He refines us, chips off the undesirable parts, buffs and lovingly polishes us until we sparkle and ultimately come closer to the example of His Son, Jesus.  It's not always easy - in fact, it's often really hard at first to form new habits in ourselves and in our children - but it's invaluable.  And the world notices, and desires what we have.  It's actually a witnessing tool!  And drawing others closer to, or pointing them towards Christ is so important.  *smile*


So we've looked at what it means to develop great character in children, why it's valuable, and at least one great method for doing so.  Building actual character comes through practice and life experience.  For new, young homeschoolers we've used this as their only "curriculum" initially, or we've used it for a summer curriculum.  If they work on character skills alone for preschool, and as a supplement for kindergarten on up, it will prepare them for all the rest of their schooling years, their career, and their relationships.  I have had older children joining in (and it's at least as valuable for them as it is for the younger children!) even though the curriculum is obviously set to a younger age group, so I've had the older ones help the younger ones and learn it simultaneously themselves.  Using Character First is still the best way I've found to learn character traits no matter what the age - adults included.  Our oldest daughters are currently ages 14 and 15 and from my recommendation, and a desire to improve their character, they will sometimes pick up a binder and just read through the aspects of the character traits to learn them that way on their own. 

This spring if you are considering which homeschool curriculum to purchase for next year, I would highly recommend Character First.  It's one of our highest priorities with family discipleship.  You can also purchase more supplies from the website to teach character in your home if you desire.  *smile*

Blessings on your efforts!

You also might be interested in reading my related posts:

Recommended Resources:
Character First Curriculum 
Character Journal - FREE material similar to Character First
"Reaching the Heart of Your Teen", Growing Families International 6-session DVD class with workbook (also available on CD).

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