As parents, we're all familiar with the important role character plays through our lives. Character development should start early, since it lays the foundation of values for our children to turn to as they grow older and are faced with difficult decisions and pressure from their peers.
When we send our kids to school, we want to trust that the teachers and staff will aid in our child’s well-rounded development. Unlike test scores and grades, it can be hard for parents to evaluate how a school’s community, environment and curriculum support a student’s character growth.
Here are three tips to consider this school year to nurture character development at home and in the classroom.
Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher. In my experience as a parent, leader and educator, I’ve found that parent involvement and an active partnership with your child’s teachers brings the best results.
The start of the school year is a great time to meet your child’s teacher to determine how you can support character growth at home. You can ask direct questions about how the school’s curriculum or mission addresses moral and character growth. Or you can ask more general questions to uncover what student relationships are like in the classroom.
Asking teachers about the leadership opportunities and even buddy programs that the school offers will also help you understand how the school supports or introduces character skills, such as being a strong role model and navigating ethical decision making.
Create actionable character-building habits at home. After you understand how the teacher supports character development at school, create actionable opportunities to develop habits at home.
Character can be defined in many ways, but in its simplest form, it is the possession of a core set of virtues. These virtues include, but are not limited to, gratitude, responsibility, respect, courage, integrity, tolerance, compassion, perseverance and generosity. However, for a child in grades K–8, these virtues can be a bit daunting and difficult to grasp.
Introducing proper manners, leading by example, and giving your child responsibility around the house will help instill these values in a way that young children can understand. Whether it’s getting the mail each day, unloading the dishwasher, or saying please and thank you, starting small and introducing these values into relatable and actionable habits at home will help lay the groundwork for a strong moral compass that can grow and evolve over time.
Make time for reflection and family conversations. In today’s political and social climate, children are faced with very real, and often confusing, challenges. They are on the cusp of entering a complex world in which they will be trusted to make decisions that impact themselves, their families and friends, as well as their local and global communities.
Taking time to discuss what is happening in the news and at school presents the opportunity for parents to guide, or coach, their children and help them understand what tolerance, integrity and respect can look like. The ability to reflect, both before and after a decision is made, is a meaningful skill for anyone to attain and improve on as we move through our lives. Although reflection can be a practice that takes time for young children to fully embrace, it’s important for parents to introduce the idea, explain why it is valuable, and break reflection down into bite-sized pieces to practice.
As children embrace life, both inside and outside the classroom, experiences are ingrained in them and become patterns for future actions and decisions. When children know how to act with character, they are better equipped to harness these opportunities and be a force for good. Practicing the art of reflection can help lay down patterns that influence future decisions and behaviors.
As we dig deeper this school year, take time to understand how school and home life can go hand-in-hand to nourish and nurture character development. These tips can help you begin to map how you will introduce character education in a way that is right for your child and family.