What is Character Education? The Jubilee Center, University of Birmingham, UK, describes it as “an umbrella term for all explicit and implicit educational activities that help young people develop positive personal strengths called virtues.” In other words, Character Education Lessons are a means of teaching youth moral ethics and values such as honesty, integrity, diligence, respect, consideration, etc., that will strengthen their character so they can grow into mature, responsible adults.
Through character development programs and Character Education Lessons students learn values that help them establish positive behavior patterns that will benefit their lives. Young people today are barraged with negative influences from a wide variety of sources. From violence on TV to sexual propaganda in books and magazines to online bullying, young people are exposed to negativity that can adversely affect their attitudes and mindsets.
A recent survey conducted by UK’s Birmingham University clearly illustrates the need for youth driven and targeted character education lessons. Of the 10,000 UK adolescents age 14-15 who participated in the survey, over half failed to demonstrate good judgments, according to researchers, in responding to questions dealing with moral problems.
Professor James Arthur, Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, which helped conduct the survey, believes that “A good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage can help children to flourish as human beings, and can also lead to improvements in the classroom. And that level of understanding doesn’t just happen – it needs to be nurtured and encouraged.”
Being successful in life relies on more than just high academic standing. Character education can help students develop a moral conscience to help them refute the negative influences in their lives and make wise decisions that will benefit their future. Young people need to understand that their actions will determine their character, and their character is what will define who they really are.
Teaching Character Education Lessons at Home
A child’s home is his or her first learning environment. Most kids develop their behavior patterns, mindsets and attitudes from their family. As a parent, you play a key role in building your child’s character from the time he or she is small. Your example is also important in teaching kids the positive traits they need to establish happy, productive lives.
character education lessons have a way of bringing out the best in people, making for a happier home environment. Whether you have one child or many, you can teach them values through daily living. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- By teaching your kids to be polite during meals, saying “please” and “thank you” to the cook or server, you’re ingraining in them respect and consideration for others.
- By encouraging your children to share, you instill in them kindness.
- Insisting that your kids always tell the truth, even in trivial affairs, teaches them the importance of honesty.
- Teaching your kids to talk civilly to each other and resolve differences without arguing and fighting instills in them courtesy and respect. Assigning your children jobs in the home or ensuring they complete their academic assignments on time teaches them responsibility.
These are just a few ways in which parents can incorporate character training into their children’s home life. Parents should discuss what character traits are important to them so they can make a united effort in teaching these to their children. You and your spouse should also be in agreement concerning the example you will set for your children to avoid sending confusing signals.
Perfection is not the Goal
No parent is perfect. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for your kids to see mistakes from time to time to show that you’re still learning and growing in these areas. It is important, however, to apologize for your mistakes and try to do better, rather than attempting to cover them up. To err is human and perfection is not the goal. The goal is to help your kids develop a foundation for their beliefs so they can make good decisions for their future.
As your kids transition into tweens and teens, they will undoubtedly face challenges to their upbringing in school or other social settings. This is where their training is put to the test. Young people with positive character traits are less susceptible to negative peer pressure or being swayed by bullying. They can also have a positive effect on their peers, making for a more pleasant and enjoyable school environment.
Teaching Character Development Lessons in School
As children and teens spend a great deal of time in school, it’s only natural for character training to be reinforced in this learning environment. For some children, school may be the only environment they receive this training. Teaching character training alongside academics helps students receive a well-rounded education that will help them transition into responsible adults.
The diversity of activities in contemporary schools provides ample opportunity for children and teens to practice the character values they are learning. With support from teachers and staff, students stand a better chance of living up to their convictions. Character education programs are most effective when teachers, parents and students cooperate together. Integrating this training into a school’s curriculum makes it easier for students to incorporate moral values into their lifestyle and culture.
Incorporating Character Education (CE) into the Classroom
There are various ways teachers can incorporate this training into the classroom. Smart teachers will look for ways that encourage good behavior in their students rather than obeying rules to avoid punishment. According to Dr. Marvin Berkowitz, Co-Director of the Center for Character and Citizenship, University of Missouri, “Effective character education is not adding a program or set of programs to a school. Rather it is a transformation of the culture and life of the school.”
Kids need to have conviction for living the values they are taught. Teachers who believe in character education and live these values themselves will be more successful in their efforts to pass them onto their students.
Here are a few options for incorporating CE into the classroom:
Through the holistic approach, schools make a commitment to incorporate CE into all aspects of school life to include relationships between teachers, staff and students, relationships between students and their peers, social and academic learning, sports events, etc.
The goal is to develop a school environment that’s caring, cooperative, value-oriented and respectful of everyone’s physical, mental and emotional needs. Teachers give students opportunities to practice their values through class discussions, united projects, volunteer programs, etc.
Teaching Character Education Lessons within Academic Curriculum
Teachers can also incorporate value training into their students’ academic curriculum. When studying English literature, for example, teachers can discuss a character’s moral strengths and weaknesses that prompted them to make certain choices. In history, teachers can encourage students to evaluate the role that ethics played in the choices made by famous historical figures such as Einstein, Hitler, Winston Churchill, Julius Caesar and others.
By looking for ways to incorporate absolutes into every subject, teachers can show their students the importance of values in their lives. In science, students can explore the ethics of such topics as genetic testing or talk about scientists who opposed scientific studies that could be harmful to man due to their strong ethical beliefs.
Character education activities, discussions and reports give children the opportunity to express their feelings, opinions and beliefs about past, present and future events that have or will have an effect on their lives. In so doing, students learn to see the relevance of moral values in their academic training.
The values children and teens learn through character development will also help them perform better in their academic studies. Such values as diligence, responsibility and honesty will encourage students to place priority on their studies, do their best and resist the temptation of cutting corners or cheating on exams.
Schools who have adopted CE into their curriculum experience fewer problems with discipline, truancy and suspension. CE also brings a more positive atmosphere into the school environment.
Character Education Curriculum
A more direct approach to CE is to follow a written curriculum. Teachers can create their own character education lesson plans with character education worksheets, activities, discussion questions, etc. to teach such virtues as respect, honesty, integrity, responsibility, etc. Another option would be to incorporate an already established CE program into their curriculum. There are a variety of CE programs to choose from to include:
- 8 Keys of Excellence, US
- Framework for Character Education in Schools, UK
- HEROES® series for home and classroom, Canada
As these character education lessons come fully prepared, it makes it easier for teachers to incorporate them into their classroom.
Character Education Partnership (CEP)
The Character Education Partnership is an American based non-profit organization committed to the teaching of moral education to youth. The organization partners with schools across the country to promote character development programs that help foster more respectful, caring learning environments.
CEP offers a number of character building programs to include the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education to help parents and schools incorporate these values into their kids education.