Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 1

Teaching character development is part of any good early childhood program. Children need a safe space in which to express and regulate their emotions and an early childhood classroom provides ongoing opportunity for learning. Cooperation, kindness, consideration, responsibility and trustworthiness are all part of having fun and making friends.

There are many things that set Children’s House Montessori School of Reston apart from other preschools and Montessori schools in the northern Virginia area. One of those – and one that we are quite proud of – is our character development program and our implementation of The Virtues Project™ at our school.

Two children building a puzzle demonstrates character development in early childhood classrooms.
Two friends use the Virtues cooperation and perseverance to get the job done!

This post is the first in a monthly series that will be devoted to practical tips for using the Virtues language. We’ll explain how we use this program in our classrooms, what it sounds like in conversation, and how you can use it at home in a variety of examples. We’ll be highlighting two Virtues each month, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for monthly Virtues tips that you can use at home!

Before we go any further — trust us, you’ll be lost — take a minute to download our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. It will answer your basic questions about this program and give you a solid understanding of what the Virtue are, how we use this program at our school, and how you can bring the Virtues home.

Let’s dive in!

The Virtues Project™: Patience

Patience is quiet hope and trust that things will turn out right. You wait without complaining. You are tolerant and accepting of difficulties and mistakes. You picture the end in the beginning and persevere to meet your goals. Patience is a commitment to the future.

— The Virtues Project™
A child threading beads onto a necklace demonstrates character development in early childhood classrooms.
It takes a great deal of patience and determination to make your necklace turn out just right!

It’s safe to say that patience is not what preschoolers are known for. They typically want what they want when they want it, so teaching patience takes, well, patience. Naming patience when you see it, giving an example of what it looks like, modeling it in front of your child (and naming it), and expecting it under certain circumstances are all ways that patience becomes part of life.

Acknowledgement: “You are waiting quietly and keeping your hands to yourself. Thank you for your patience.”

Guidance: “We will read the story after everyone finishes cleaning up their work. Let’s practice patience and wait calmly until we are all ready.”

Correction: “When you see me talking to someone, please practice patience and wait until I am finished before asking for what you need.”

The Virtues Project™: Gentleness

Gentleness is moving wisely, touching softly, holding carefully, speaking quietly and thinking kindly. When you feel mad or hurt, use your self-control. Instead of harming someone, talk things out peacefully. You are making the world a safer, gentler place.

— The Virtues Project™
Children watching a small frog demonstrates character development in early childhood classrooms.
Watching a little toad we found on the playground. It takes gentleness to make sure none of the animal visitors we discover get hurt by our enthusiasm.

Children learn so much through observation. They are always watching us, picking up on our habits and mannerisms, so pay attention to how you practice and model gentleness at home; your child is taking in everything you do. In our classrooms we emphasize gentleness by modeling control of our hands, bodies, and voices. We draw attention to small movements and name gentleness when we see it in action, need it to be present, or notice it’s absence.

Acknowledgement: “Thank you for using gentleness and choosing to use your inside voice.”

Guidance: “We’ll need to use gentleness when we pass this special item around the circle, so that it doesn’t break.”

Correction: “We need to remember to use gentleness next time we get upset, so that our friends don’t get hurt.”

Using Patience and Gentleness at Home

Think about the many ways that you can draw attention to patience and gentleness at home. Model them yourself and acknowledge your child’s efforts to use these Virtues as well. By naming them when we use them ourselves, we show our children what they look like, sound like, and feel like.

When you see your child using patience and gentleness, acknowledge them for it. You don’t need to use praise (“You were so patient today! Good job!”), just name the Virtue and give them a little extra information about what it means. Through practice and many, many small experiences, we can help our children shape their understanding of themselves and others.

For more information and lots more examples you can use at home, remember to download our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. Next month we’ll talk about Helpfulness and Orderliness, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

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One thought on “Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 1

  • The Virtues Project was one of my favorite things about CHMS. This gave me language to use with my girls that I knew they understood from using it at school. They STILL use Virtues to tell us how they’re feeling, what they need/want, and to solve problems. It has made a tremendous impact on our family!

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