In this world of intense focus on intellectual education, I often wonder whether we neglect “Character Education”. How do you define character? What are the character traits that we want in our kids so that they will be successful in the world?
What is Character?
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a person with a good character is a person with moral excellence and firmness.
What is Character Education?
According to character.org – an organization that promotes character education, it is the social, emotional and ethical education of our children.
While character.org advocates for character education in schools. For the kids that are homeschooled, character education then is up to the parents who are the teachers at the homeschool. I just had a mini anxiety attack at thinking about the scope of “Character Education” for my son. Some furious googling didn’t help either. Moral education seems to be such a HUGE concept.
After a while, I do what I always do when I’m intimidated by something, I started to deconstruct it. I started to make this character trait list and I immediately felt better. When I’m half way through the list of character traits, I realized that I have already STARTED my son’s character education without even knowing that I did by implementing Montessori education and Waldorf education concepts in our home.
At a preschool level, setting the foundation for character education is more important than actually instilling the traits themselves. It is more effective to set the foundation at a preschool level so that the child can easily learn the concepts when the child is older.
Below is a list of character traits (25+) for building the foundation of character education and how we managed to work it into our homeschooling. I hope you will find ideas on this list that you can incorporate into your character education at home.
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List of Character Traits for Building the Foundation of Character Education
Starting at 1 year old, I taught my son to celebrate his accomplishments with a “high five” or “Good Job” or a little dance. You can spot him often on the playground doing his little dance after he’s come off “that big slide”. Each time, he’s celebrating his independence and I applaud that.
Lately though, he does not like it when I make a big deal out of simple effort on his part, so now it’s as though he’s steering his own education, I praise him more and more on effort rather than the outcome.
How do you create a happy baby? Well, attachment, attachment and more attachment! Then, injecting our days with a dose of humor. Holding my son frequently from birth to 3 years old has helped him to detach happily from me when we are out in the world.
At home, I frequently create social games with him where we just laugh until we drop. At close to 3 years old, he’s taken to make jokes at me. It’s great fun to see your preschooler develop a sense of humor.
Citizenship & Responsibility
This was instilled into my son out of sheer necessity. I had to involve my son into my everyday chores. We have a cleaning routine where he will help me clean our living spaces. He’s now routinely practicing to wipe, sweep and pick up his toys. He wants to help simply because he delights in performing these tasks. He also likes the reward of seeing a clean space, the completion of a cleaning task.
At a very early age with incorporating Montessori education into our home, my son learned that there’s a structure to eating activities. We bring the plates out, serve the food, eat the food and then we wipe the table. Frequently, wiping the table is his favorite activity.
Personal cleanliness is also stressed such as brushing teeth, bathing, washing hands and wiping nose. With a sensory sensitivity, it was very easy to get my son to perform these tasks and relish in personal cleanliness.
At the preschool level, commitment means the completion of an activity. Frequently, when I put together activities that are above my son’s level. He will do what all toddlers do when frustrated, throw the contents of the tray on the floor. As a teacher, I then say “No, no throwing toys please.” I pick up the contents of the tray and say “Let’s try this again in a different way.” I demonstrate the activity with an easier modification. I help him complete it. I tell him “Good Job.” Then, ask him if he wants to try again. He almost certainly wants to do it again. Very often, he will attempt the more difficult variation until he gets it.
This whole sequences is repeated day in and day out with different activities. The commitment to not give up on something difficult becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Compassion and Kindness
Instilling empathy in my son as a baby has helped with this tremendously. He will often give toys to teachers and other students to share. He’s kind with me when I get frustrated and tired. Often when another child cries at the playground, he feels a need to help that child.
From the beginning, I created our household into a cooperative living household. This means, we do chores together, we share food together, we share our activities together and we cook together. This also means that cooperation is key to our days.
When cooperation is built into our family life, I find it easier to ask for his cooperation in activities. Don’t get me wrong, I get the “NOOOOO” from him all the time. But, when I explain why or ask him gently a couple more times, he will often cooperate.
I didn’t realize the need to instill this value into him until I saw him practice this on his own. My son has over sensitivities with people and visual stimuli. Often, when he watches even Sesame Street episodes, there will be “monsters” that scare him.
He has established a routine of putting hands over his ears or hiding under the table, when the “monster” appears. To encourage him to be brave, we play “hide and seek” games often. Sometimes, we will act out a “monster” chasing routine or talk about halloween ghosts.
This is one that we slowly work on. From the beginning, when I told my son to say “Thank you” and “Sorry”, he just refuses to do it. So, I let him naturally work out when to say these words by saying them myself often. It took a whole year, but frequently, now he will say “Thank you” and “Sorry” at the appropriate times. Modeling is a powerful tool when all else fails.
I use sensory activities and gross motor activities to create opportunities for my son to be creative. He will draw, paint, and knead dough. Often, these activities are so open ended that he practices creativity on top of gaining confidence.
How do you run your household? We have a kind of open honesty in our house. When I’m frustrated, I don’t hide it, I don’t yell, I verbalize my frustration. You will hear me say to my son: “I’m very frustrated with you right now.” This will often make him feel bad, then he will come over for a hug, and sometimes I will hear a “sorry” from him.
In the same way, he is allowed to be a mess, he’s allowed to have bad days, he’s allowed to be a toddler. When he has those days, I simply am a mom who picks up the pieces. In the same way, when he does not want to do an activity, I don’t force the issue. I “listen to him” by following his cues. It’s unspoken and works like magic. When I follow his cues, he’s as cooperative as can be.
Dependability comes when a person thrives on repetition and routine. This is where I see the magic of Montessori Education lies. As a child, there has to be a place and a person the child can depend on. This way, dependability is modeled. My son can count on his morning green juice, morning yoga with mom, bath time fun with his dolls and nightly dance party. These are the things he depends on to be happy. In turn, he can concentrate on his preschool activities when activities are presented without a thought about what comes next.
Diligence is practiced in small doses in our household. My son’s quite obsessive when it comes to certain things, so I tend to give him opportunities to create messes instead. However, one example would be if we are cleaning, there’s a speck of dust left on the window, my son will point it out until I wipe it way. It all has to be perfect.
With a child who’s less obsessive, I would try to demonstrate completion in all sense of the word so that each task is performed well. Tasks don’t have to be performed perfectly. However, a good amount of effort has to be put into the task.
I’ve gotten a lot of advice about parents warning me to not be that parent who is too lenient. Equality is not about giving your children free reign. Equality means that each member of the household has a voice.
This means that I will listen to my son’s cues and respect his feelings. This also means that I don’t force activities on him. There have been times when we have left the supermarket, children’s museums, playgrounds and play dates simply because my son’s overstimulated and needed a quiet space.
There have been times, when I wanted him to learn (letters for example), he simply wanted to work on other skills that he was more interested in. I listened to him at those times when he’s cuing me. Eventually, he will learn letters when he’s more interested.
Since I respect him at the same time, when boundaries need to be set, I tell him firmly and I expect him to listen to me. It is a two way street. Respect has to be given. That is what equality means, that we will respect each other’s needs and wants.
Faireness and Honor
Are you fair when instituting discipline? I often catch myself when I am not being fair.
Fairness (to me means) consistency. We have a good amount of boundaries set at home and much less rules. By setting boundaries firmly and consistently, I see my son internalizing the boundaries as his own. This is a core part of “self discipline” in Montessori Education.
If I make the boundaries into rules, he will defy the rules often because he’s a preschooler, he wants to question them. So, I make it a boundary and trust him to honor that boundary. We practice this over and over until he internalizes the boundary.
Frugality & Moderation
This one is hard for me as a parent. At the preschool age, it’s really about having just the right amount of food, toys and activities to satisfy all the different types of hungers our preschoolers have. It’s really about not having “too much”:
- portion controlled eating
- toy rotations
- activities that recycles practical materials
- holidays that revolve around bonding and not solely about receiving presents
One of the best ways for me to practice generosity with my son is to share a plate of food with him. Eventually, he internalized sharing so that we can practice that on the playground.
Generosity means that we share the “extra” toys that we have. It’s about not forcing “sharing” when your child is attached to a particular toy. As a mom, I always have a few extra toys in my bag, so that we share those instead of forcing him to share his beloved “dolls” that he has in his hands.
This one at the preschooler level just means “honesty” in our self-expressions. When I ask my son where his toy went, he tells me that it’s “lost”. I ask him how his toy got to that “hiding place”. I call him out on the fact that “he” did it. When he messed up the cake that I’m about to cut, I tell him that “it’s okay.” But, at the same time, he’s aware that he’s the one who messed it up.
In other words, I don’t “sugar coat” experiences. If it’s a bad day, I say that it’s a bad day. If we tried and things didn’t work out, I tell him “I’m sorry that things didn’t work out. ” We hug and I let him cry it out. By giving him those honest experiences and being straight forward with him, I believe that in the process I’ve modeled “honesty”.
Knowledge is not the end all and be all. It’s a fluid concept that simply points to learning.
My son actually taught me in the way that he learns that we should focus on “depth”.
I let him “hook” onto subjects for months on end so that he can learn all he can about that subject. It’s important at the preschool level to not just gloss over subjects of interest but to create opportunities to deeply explore those subjects.
I really believe, this is when “passions” are created for children who will carry them on for a life time.
Patience & Perseverance
This one is difficult for any preschooler who have “short” attention spans. However, I found from Montessori education that focusing on “interest” as a hook will lead to a natural practice of patience and perseverance.
We definitely focus on activities that my son’s interested in. I tend to put together activities with many extensions so that he can work on something for a long time without interruption.
We do five minute activities but those activities often lead to 20 minute explorations. During those explorations, he will have failed at many attempts to try more difficult extensions of that activity; he will then have repeated easier extensions many times until he felt that he’s done with playing with the materials.
At the heart of patriotism, it is the sense of “oneness” that we feel for the world around us. Blind patriotism is simply fulfilling a need for nationalism. What is good about the country that you live in? Appreciating that and feeling the community around you helping you live your life, that’s patriotism that is true and honest.
It’s a “give and take” process where a person feel a sense of community in the world that he or she lives in at the same time contributing to that community.
For a preschooler, feeling safe surrounded by teachers, family and friends are central to this process. For a preschooler, it’s also about wanting to contribute to that community, whether it’s taking care of a pet, cleaning the table or cracking a joke. If positive validation comes from those actions, then the preschooler will feel a sense of community which will lead to a sense of true patriotism later on.
Productivity & Punctuality
Before even having a sense of time, how do we instill productivity and punctuality into our children. That is through rhythm and play activities.
When we signal the beginning and the end to activity tray work, snack time and nap time, we are instilling a sense of time in our preschooler. This sense of time will eventually translate into greater awareness of punctuality later on.
At the end of an activity, if the preschooler feels satisfaction and success, then that preschooler will naturally explore and perform more activities. This “feeling of productivity” comes from the “feeling of success”.
Working at the preschooler’s level for activities is central to instilling productivity and punctuality.
Respect & Tolerance
Respect has many categories: respect for authority, respecting yourself, respecting the environment, respect for “god”, respect for one’s health and respect for people who are different.
As a preschooler, I find exposure to differences, increase in empathy and demonstrating authority to be the most helpful in instilling respect of all varieties.
- Exposure to Differences – We study other living creatures such as animals, plants and people from reading books and going to zoos, aquariums. Through these interactions, my son learns to love the differences in all living things. He also feels a “oneness” in the world around him.
- Increase in Empathy – A large part of being able to respect others is being able to have loving feelings toward other people. I try my best to instill empathy into my son since he was a baby so that he will actively listen to me and others. The act of listening is the beginning of respect.
- Demonstrating Authority – Authority is earned and not waved around because of size or age or familial ties. It’s through demonstrating empathy toward my son in all circumstances, showing him patience and helping him through difficulties that my son will respect me. Through his respect for me, he learns to respect the world around him.
Self-control & Self-regulation
Self-control and self-regulation seems to be impossible tasks for a preschooler. It’s almost a guarantee that a preschooler will have tantrums and meltdowns. That is why self-control and self-regulation skills has to be demonstrated from the beginning.
These tantrums and meltdowns are teachable moments each and every time. Lately, I’ve noticed that I use my “stern whisper” a lot. I try not to yell at my son. I try to use positive discipline all the time. Sometimes however, positive discipline just does not work. Then, I use the “stern whisper” to make him listen to me.
When he turned 2.5 years old, it was a lot easier to reason with him using that “stern whisper”. When he understands the reason, almost always there’s a leeway that gives him a moment to reflect and listen. Creating that kind of “breathing” space to turn the preschooler’s attention to reason instead of focusing on the preschooler’s big emotions at the moment is key.
When it’s done successfully, my son almost always calms down after some time and we are able to move on peacefully.
Is your child a sore loser? Well, every preschooler is probably a sore loser. We practice “letting go” often. This “letting go” eventually translates being a “happy loser” who will pick himself up quickly and start again.
My son frequently can not play with the “toy” he wants at playrooms; his doll’s misplaced and he can’t find it; we ran out of his favorite snack. All of these incidents help him “let go” of his idea of the situation and simply be.
I always offer replacements or offer to move him on to other activities. Sometimes it’s easy and he’s satisfied with the replacements. Sometimes it literally takes the whole day for him to forget about what he wanted. This one is definitely hard work.
If you have read until the end, amazing and thanks! I hope I gave you a few ideas surrounding character education by providing this character traits list.
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