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Character counts in my home. I vividly remember a banner in a 5th grade classroom that said “Character is what you do when no one is looking!” I remember that it was to the left of the whiteboard, tucked back in a small alcove where the teacher kept office supplies and such. It had purple and blue on it. The Os in look were eyes. It made quite the impression on me.
This phrase has become the definition of good character for me. Character isn’t being nice because it’s expected of you or honest because you are afraid of being caught in a lie. It’s doing the right thing simply because it’s right without reward or punishment.
Why We Teach Character
I always see each moment as a way to teach character. I don't want to be a passive memory for my kids. When they are grown, I want them to realize that I spent every moment actively working to give them the best.
Modeling is the first step to teach children right from wrong. Children do what we do. Kids will not do the things we want them to, unless they see us doing them first. You can make your kids memorize a thousand character definitions but without walking the walk, all the talk is useless.
I often apologize to my kids when I model bad character. It really shows, even Connor (11 now) tells me how much he appreciates living in a family that apologizes and does not hold grudges.
Parents often overlook a fun tool that can teach character and increase empathy: FICTION!
Reading puts you in another's shoes and gives you experiences that you may have never had otherwise! It helps us to stretch our brains and get us thinking about why characters feel a certain way or why they acted that way.
How to Use this in Homeschool
Not all fiction is created equal. Pick high quality stories that focus on the character's thoughts and relationships, stories that make you want to understand why the character does crazy things.
It is important that these experiences be ones you can talk about with your kids so read the stories aloud together.
Please leave a comment if you'd like to hear more about the habit of reading aloud in homeschool.
That way you can pause to talk and reflect on the most important, puzzling, and shocking aspects of the character's motivation and resulting actions.
This is a good time to reinforce character words like responsibility, honesty, diligence, etc.
Talk about how their emotions affect their reactions. I always tell my kids that anger is like fire: it burns up all that is good and leave ashes in its place. I use every opportunity I can to reinforce this using stories (and movies!).
Explore the right reaction the character should have had.
Let your child tell your or write in their journal, what they would have done in the same spit and why.
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When possible, relate these ideas to real life experiences you have had to give your kids a jumping point to feel what they characters feel.
Last, don't hesitate to repeat this process with movies or TV shows. In fact, research shows that when parents watch, are engaged, and discuss TV shows like Daniel Tiger, their preschoolers learn much social and emotional intelligence from the experience. However, engagement and discussion are key. Without them, the kids don't learn as much.