Among the many skills we want to teach our children early in life, character is often taken for granted. Many parents hope character will come naturally as their child grows and gains more life experience. Unfortunately, the research says otherwise. Character must be taught and modeled early on, just like other skills.
For years people have taken character at face-value; generosity, cooperation and respectfulness are undoubtedly wonderful traits for anyone to have. But today we’re seeing an unfortunate trend: many young adults are lacking some of the character traits necessary to be successful in life and their career. Several recent studies indicate a lack of character, or “soft skills,” is a critical reason why young adults are having a difficult time entering the workforce. Soft skills is the term used by business leaders to refer to the traits and skills that allow people to interact harmoniously with others, such as collaboration, patience and communication. In the education world, we call these skills social-emotional skills, and they are critical to the development of character in young children.
A 2014 study by Bentley University surveyed 1,000 managers across various companies and industries and found that 61 percent believe soft skills are the most important skills for young employees to have; yet, 63 percent gave recent college graduates a “C” grade or lower on soft skills. Clearly, educators and parents must make a concerted effort to ensure our children develop social-emotional skills early on. As the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child states, “The early years lay the foundation for a wide range of later developmental outcomes that really matter – self-confidence and sound mental health, motivation to learn and achievement in school and later in life.”
Primrose has always recognized the importance of teaching children character. It is an important component of our Balanced Learning® curriculum, which balances character development, play and academics to give children a strong, well-rounded foundation for learning and life. But, as parents (and grandparents) know, teaching a young child things like patience and cooperation can sometimes be much easier said than done.
Research shows that during the first five years of life, the brain develops more rapidly than at any other time in life. Nurturing the development of compassion, independence and resilience during these years is just as crucial as setting the stage for reading and math proficiency. So, while we know young children are naturally focused on themselves, that just makes it all the more important to instill a strong sense of character in them early on. At Primrose, we do this through three key programs that fall under the character development umbrella of our curriculum: Happy Hearts Character Development Program, Primrose Promise Giving Events and Life Skills.
Happy Hearts Character Development Program
In the Happy Hearts Character Development Program, children build their understanding of important character traits, such as generosity, respect and gratitude, through discussions, art projects, puppet play, games and role playing. The program also incorporates our Primrose Friends puppets, which help children apply traits like responsibility, fairness, honesty, caring and cooperation to authentic situations. For example, Libby the Lamb represents fairness. Libby reminds children through class discussions, literature and role playing to listen carefully to others, take turns, share with others, and give everyone a chance to speak.
Primrose Promise Giving Events
Experiential learning, or hands-on learning, is an important part of character development. Through Primrose Promise Giving Events, children learn first-hand the joy of giving back and helping others through simple projects. Activities include collecting books for local hospitals and children in need, doing chores at home to raise money to purchase canned goods for local food banks, and collecting items for local animal shelters. It’s heart-warming to see the children get so excited about helping those in need in their community.
Children learn essential life skills such as self-help skills, safety and caring for the environment through monthly discussions and activities. Themes explored in the Life Skills program include “manners matter,” “I’m ready in case of an emergency” and “making good choices.” Every week the children also perform fun, simple tasks to help take care of their classroom environment. They work as a team to achieve a common goal, all the while learning the importance of taking care of the world around them.
At Primrose, we believe the foundation children develop in the first five years of life sets the stage for who they become as adults. That’s why fostering the development of character in children early on is so important. When teaching your little one something as intangible as character, it’s important to provide hands-on learning opportunities and to reinforce those lessons in a variety of ways. Remember, young children learn through repetition and observation. One of the best ways for you to teach your children about character is to lead by example and demonstrate those important soft skills which they will learn to imitate over time.