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The other day, I was at my 5 year old’s  Kindergarten picnic party and saw one of my daughter’s classmates desperately try to join a conversation that two other girls were having, only to be literally pushed away by one of the girls. This happened in front of the girls’ parents yet no one thought it worth interfering and instead laughed at it.  Raising kids who are kinder and stand up for others is a joint responsibility of parents and schools. Although life presents many teachable moments for us to shape our kids’ characters, we consider here some basic components of character education in our schools and a few useful resources for parents.

 What is Character Education:

According the Character Education Partnership (CEP) a national advocate and leader of character education based in Washington DC, character education “includes and complements a broad range of educational approaches such as whole child education, service learning, social-emotional learning, and civic education. All share a commitment to helping young people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens.”  While many of these areas are addressed in school parents can also play a key role in reinforcing the messaging at home.

Key Components of Character Education:

CharacterCounts!  is the most widely implemented character education program in the US and it lists 6  pillars that are key to character education. These are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. Curriculum that is taught in schools covers these main components and also extends to related areas such as controlling anger, making the right choices, learning to say ‘no’, conflict management and appreciating oneself.

Character Education in Schools

The degree to which schools implement character education varies and depends on the school’s overall philosophy, approach to education as well as priorities. In general, most US public schools will have a guidance counselor who conducts specific lessons and discussions around the different components. In order for it to be truly successful in schools, the schools need to walk the talk and most character education training says that all school personnel from teachers to counselors to sports coaches need to follow the same tenets. 

What Can Parents Do:

  • Be strong role models. Kids will always follow what you do rather than what you say.
  • Spend time discussing with kids what they learnt in school during their guidance class. It’s a great way to reinforce some of the positive learnings without sounding like you’re preaching.
  • Pick a couple of the key pillars of character education that can be easily taught at home – e.g. responsibility, caring, citizenship and make them a focus for the family. For instance,the Ned Program, which is a school-wide character education program centering around a 45 minute assembly called the Ned Show, has some wonderful printable resources such as Responsibility Rocks, Champion Choices and Healthy choices that parents can print out and have kids fill in on a daily/weekly basis.   
  • Enroll kids in team sports and activities which encourage character building  - for instance Scouting, religious or Sunday school programs that have elements of charity and community involvement.
  • Use Books and Movies as a Teaching tool – there are some very good movies which send the right message without coming across as being preachy – e.g. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Annie, and The Lion King, to name a few. Messages from beloved movies can be related to the pillars of character education to drive home a consistent message. For children’s books that build character– here’s a very useful list put together by CharacterCounts!

6.       Other Online Resources: 

  • For younger kids the Dove media has some easy games and printables to learn the message about being responsible
  • Advance publishing  has some great activity sheets that your kids can fill in such as the kind of person they want to be, word scrambles and so on. There are a lot of activities on the page so make sure you scroll down to find the best ones.
  • You can also get a terrific parent tip sheet from CharacterCounts! to help parents with character education at home.

You might also be interested in our article The Importance of Volunteering for Kids.


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