Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Character Training Tools---Help for Developing Character in Our Children

Today's topic is "How does my family teach 
character in our homeschool?"
(with a bunch of freebies you will love at the end)

I want to start off with two disclaimers. 

First, I truly do believe that the best and most important teaching tool we ALL have for instruction in character is the Bible. Here is mine.

It's worn out, falling apart, and currently being held together by the only Vera Bradley thing I own, a bookcover. I probably should get a new Bible, but then I'd have to do all my underlining and note-taking over. That is just purely intimidating to me.

Pathetic as its appearance is, it is the go-to resource when there is a question or a conflict that needs resolving. It is a source of wisdom and strength. If you don't have a worn out Bible at your house, maybe you need to work on that a bit more (*smile*), or else you are one of those folks who likes to get a new one every few years and doesn't write in them...and that's okay, too, but I couldn't do it...then again, I started writing in mine before sticky tabs came out, so maybe now I could...nope, forget that.

Anyway, in spite of what will follow, I want you to understand that disclaimer number one really is true. However, I am wholly and unashamedly (well, maybe a little) a curriculum junkie. I have A LOT of resources I've collected over our thirteen years of homeschooling and we've used them a little bit here, a little bit there. The only consistency is that after our first two years, we never went straight and all the way through any one curricula. We like to make up our own plan as we go.

Each of the following items I am sharing with you is not free (the free stuff is later in the post), but each of them has also proven to be useful and helpful at one point or another, and has been worth the investment. I will start out by telling you what we are doing this year, and then I will share some perennial favorites, and THEN I will move on to the freebies.

These are the flowers Bubba gave me for Mother's Day. They are sitting next to the Character Sketches books my parents gave to us when we first began homeschooling. They are filled with lovely character-building stories centered around nature. For example, a deer is attentive because it must not only pay attention to its mother when it is young to avoid danger, but also to its surroundings. Not being attentive can endanger its life.

Character First and Institute in Basic Life Principles

As you may have gathered, I am not a hard-core follower of any particular method (other than the Bible), but I do find things that work for our family during various seasons in many diverse methods. This is our first year to use the IBLP online courses at the Embassy Institute

Mostly I have been the one to benefit from it, and I have passed time while folding laundry or doing some other repetitive and stationary task hearing various speakers on a multitude of topics. For a mere $9 a month, I have access to all of the videos from the Basic course, the Advanced course, the Anger Resolution seminar, and the Financial Freedom seminar. I also have access to many of their online character resources, and have appreciated the way you can easily find seminars (and many printables to go with them) to fit different topics, such as attentiveness and prayer, or speakers, such as Jim Sammons or Gil Bates. 

I do believe that continuing to develop and learn as an adult is as important as instructing your own children. We need to model an enthusiasm for learning and a desire for spiritual growth, so that our children will follow our lead and be enthusiastic growers, too. Other places I frequently find excellent and challenging sermons are at (Andy Stanley), (Mark Driscoll), (Charles Stanley), and sermonaudio...but guess what? These sources won't cost you a penny...they are FREE!

To go along with our character studies, we purchased the set of coloring books that go along with our Character Sketch books, and the very inexpensive set of 49 character trait cards. We use the coloring books to supplement our other resources and reading, and when each trait has been covered for one month, we add the card to a laminate card holder that is displayed on our fridge as a reward and reminder.

We have also added the online subscription to the Character First online materials this year. The kids have loved this collection of songs, audio stories, printables, and audio files that help them learn their memory work. It makes it easy for me, and for just $20 for the first set of traits for this year, it is a good value for us.

It may seem like overkill, but my kids really like the idea of earning cards, so we got this set of cards for $3.99 to go with our subscription and they are enjoying it a lot.

Using the various materials already mentioned, as well as some free Character First lessons we saved from many years ago when a church we attended gave them away in the library, we prepare our marker board for each month with our character trait defined at the top (along with its negative trait), listing the ways we demonstrate the trait (with little pictures to the side to help the non-readers), and the corresponding family rule listed at the bottom.

Every few days (I will be honest and tell you that I do not remember to do this every day) we review the trait and its actions, then go over any of the memory work from the Character First website. On various occasions, for Bible time or during reading time, I will read from the Character Sketches book, the Bible, or a story book that has a story which coordinates well with the trait.

At various times, I will ask the kids to write the definition and rules for the trait, as well as to illustrate it in different ways, and/or to complete coloring sheets available from the CF website or the Character Sketches coloring books.

Erika Shupe at Large Families on Purpose blogged about using the CF curriculum recently, and takes you through a sample lesson on orderliness. It is worth reading if you are interested in checking out this curriculum.

Here are some pictures of our Character Notebooks to give you an idea of what we do using a notebooking approach.

Ladybug, age 8

Cowboy, age 6

Firefly, age 4

Mom, age (not going to say, but my birthday is soon!)

I found these two books very inexpensively on Amazon and they provide me with a comprehensive and inspiring overview of the traits and give me ideas to help reinforce them, along with our scripture studies, of course.

Here is an example of the sheet I use to keep track of the kids' work, just in case you are interested. This is the sheet for the Amigos. Tex maintains his own records (at least, he is supposed to).

Here are some character training tools we have used in the past, or may refer to occasionally, but are not currently using full-time. These are the ones we liked and trust enough to want to share.

The Pearables and The Learning Parent both have quality character curricula you might like to check out. The Boyers from The Learning Parent have audios, flashcards, storybooks, workbooks, and leveled curricula available for preschool age up through high school. They have added many new items recently and if you go over there quickly, you might find a coupon you can use. It is very tempting to want to check out some of those new items (or at least, new to us), as what we have already used by them has been excellent, but we are very happy with using CF and IBLP right now. Here is a link to their blog (the Boyers) where they post about character training.

We purchased Character for Life at a discount on a whim and have truly been thankful we did. It contains stories of men and women of great character who helped to shape our Western culture. Last year, Tex used it in conjunction with For You They Signed as part of his American History and character studies. It was an excellent example of how learning about good character should fit into every facet/subject of our homeschooling. I highly recommend both books.

Doorposts provides excellent child-training and character-developing tools. Plants Grown Up, a resource for teaching your boys, takes different character traits to be developed and ties Bible verses and activities with each one of them. You will get a full package of memory work,Biblical learning,  evaluative tools, and worksheets. It lasts for a boy's entire education and is definitely something you can use in conjunction with other training tools. They have a similar book for girls called Polished Cornerstones, and a reference tool called For Instruction in Righteousness which are both equally useful and comprehensive.

Notgrass Company is an excellent source of many Biblically-based curricular options. We really like the "Draw to Learn" series and incorporate the pages into devotions as study of a particular Psalm or Proverb comes up. My kids love to draw and these pages are easy to use for a variety of ages. The act of illustrating a particular proverb really brings it to life, and we all know that the book of Proverbs is just bursting with character-building teaching.

We have mostly used Character Building for Families which I got inexpensively at a used curriculum sale as a reference or discussion starter, but it can be used as a complete Bible curriculum and it looks like it would do so very thoroughly. It is meant for the entire family to do together, which is a huge plus in my book.

Almost done with the not-free stuff...hang in there!!

We've been using the Impress Kids website in conjunction with our church's Awana program to work on Bible memory verses. I have set up our account so that we have sections for family verses, various levels of Awana verses, the songs we are learning as a family (hymns and praise songs), their character trait memory work, and the books of the Bible. The kids enjoy practicing their memory work as a "reward" for finishing their other school work on time. 

One last not-free product that deserves a mention, but is not specifically a character curriculum tool are the Keepers of the Faith clubs. They offer both Contenders of the Faith for boys and Keepers at Home for girls. It is kind of like Christian Boy or Girl Scouts. All of the activities will point you back to good character and the books incorporates plenty of Bible learning. Each club book is filled with activities needed to complete various badges and they are actually quite fun and challenging. 

The books are arranged just like the Boy Scout requirement manuals. There are activities like whittling and orienteering for boys, and crocheting and cooking for girls. If you object to this traditional breakdown of activities, this won't be for you, but I like it and so do my kids. There is even a series for the younger kids in the family. We don't use the books all the time, but sometimes when we are looking for a way to organize a project, or give us some engaging (but not overly heavy) focus during a break, this is just what we need. You can purchase badges after all requirements are met. 

Now for the FREEBIES! Hooray!!

There are lots of them, so go refill your cup and settle in. 

Here we go...I am going to share with you some FREE! resources for what I consider to be the most important subject that we teach in our homeschools...character.

I just love this quote from Charlotte Mason. 
I pulled this picture from the Simply Charlotte Mason site.
If you are working on character at your house, you 
might try starting with some of Charlotte's ideas in the book
Smooth and Easy Days by Sonya Schaeffer which is available 
as a FREE! download courtesy of SCM.

They are offering a new title, The Way of the Will
for FREE! as well, which looks very promising. 
Head to their main page to view their other freebies 
on the right sidebar. You will really benefit from them. I did.

If you are willing to spend a little bit of money, Laying Down the Rails by Sonya Schaeffer is a excellent resource for habit training (which equates to character training, when approached Biblically). You can also purchase a dvd of her talk on the topic. Here is a free handout to go with the lecture.

The Character Journal from Homelife Ministries is collection of comprehensive character studies for you to use with your family. Each one is an extensive collection of Bible verses, hymns, definitions, suggested Bible stories and activities related to the quality, a list of "I will" actions, quotes and testimonies related to the trait, and resources. This would make an excellent family Bible study. I highly recommend this site.

Download the Character Trait Checklist from Heart of Wisdom (link is at the beginning of the blog post) and also read how to implement the study of these traits into your homeschool using a four-step method of study. This extensive list of traits also includes definitions and related Bible verses. This is a good addition to a family notebook or child's Bible study notebook.

Homeschool Helper Online has a similar list of character traits, each linking to a brief study, suitable for children of all ages (you can vary the expectations based on age and ability). You are asked to look up the definition for each trait, read a related Bible story, memorize a related verse, then answer some thought-provoking questions. This could be done independently by older children, or orally as a family for younger ones.

Bible Class Books offers eleven character trait booklets that also detail examples and definitions of qualities such as contentment and kindness. These would be good with older students.

This is probably my favorite freebie, as simple as it is...

The Operational Definitions of Character Qualities  is available for FREE! at S.M. Davis' site, Solve Family ProblemsThis chart lists character traits, their definitions, their opposite trait, and a Bible verse to support why this quality is important.  I find this chart to be an invaluable resource. We laminated our copy and put it on our fridge. Ours is a bit smudged because we take dry erase markers and discuss which quality best describes each person is displaying the best at a particular time, then we circle that quality and write the person's name above it. It's sort of a "reward" for good behavior...just knowing you have been recognized for doing right is a great motivator to keep doing it. Cowboy is our "encourager" since he loves to pass out hugs and compliments in a very sincere way. We all need one of those in our family!!

The chart also helps us remember to encourage each other specifically about certain qualities. Instead of just saying, "You are such a good girl," I try to remember to say, "You were so responsible this morning, Ladybug, when you made your bed and put away your PJs without being asked. Thank you very much." 

 Another thing we like to do with this chart is to have a "family meeting" and decide what things we are all pretty good at doing, and which 3-5 areas we need to work on more diligently (we circle them with red). This helps us to not only identify family strengths, but also areas to improve upon, like patience and attentiveness this month. 

Sarah's Sweeties offers a wonderful printable collection of character quality posters with a Bible verse, picture, and definition on each. I printed these on card stock and we hang up each one on the fridge as we study the quality. We are making a wall display in the library with all of our previously studied traits, so we can review them regularly.

I also try to tie the different character qualities we are learning back to the family rules we came up with using the resources of Our 24 Family Ways by Clay Clarkson and The 21 Rules of This House by  Gregg Harris. I am listing this in the freebies section since we did combine the two on our own and did not really implement either book. You could borrow the books from a friend, or just come up with your own rules, keeping them as simple or as detailed as works for you, but just the act of coming up with rules you can refer to when situations arise helps clarify parental reactions a lot. 

We have, over time, found Bible verses to support each of the rules, as well as character traits. I feel much more confident telling my child that he is being disciplined for pushing roughly past his sister because God tells us to consider others as more important that ourselves and to remind him that his actions broke one of our family rules, so he must suffer the consequences than if I was just saying, "Don't do that." (which leads to "Why?" and "Because I said so." Not so convincing, huh?)

I also printed up a set of the Character Trait Songs from Hubbard's Cupboard to use with each study. These are catchy tunes that my Amigos enjoy singing which remind them of a better way to act. It is wonderful to hear them singing the tunes together, or to have one of the little ones ask me to sing the song to go with a particular trait at night before bedtime. What a sweet thought to go to sleep on!

The rest of Hubbard's Cupbard's Character Study resources are excellent for 3-5 year olds (there is room to make it work for more diverse age group with a bit of tweaking on your part). 38 weeks of complete lesson plans with coloring pages, letter activities, character studies, and morewill get you started in your homeschooling, or enrich your current program.

Here's an idea: Have a problem area? Make up your own rules on how to follow it (or what defines it according to you), choose a supporting Bible verse and find a picture online, then make a poster for your fridge. Refer back to it when necessary. The THINK poster was great for self-control, honesty, and kindness, and is an enlargement of a badge is saw on Facebook. I'll bet there are some great ideas over on Pinterest, if you have time to go treasure hunting there.

Homeschoolshare offers an excellent round up of resources to help you supplement your character training. You can print them up individually to use as needed during your character study, or you can save them and assemble them into a keepsake lapbook when your study of each trait is finished. Either way is win-win!

WOW!! Have you ever read your kids stories from The Book of Virtues? That book is a favorite at our house. We have a copy of it on tape that we listen to in the car, too. Did you know that there is an entirely FREE! complete book study curriculum online for you to use with your family? Check out The Book of Virtues project at Shiver Academy (links to each chapter are on the right sidebar). Be prepared to be impressed andto run out of printer ink!

I just noticed that Adventures in the Book of Virtues animated episodes are FREE! on Netflix Instant Download (okay, maybe that isn't exactly free, but if you subscribe anyway, it sort of is.)

Here is a printable prayer chart that you can laminate and post on your fridge (can you tell my fridge is covered with stuff?) helps you focus and pray for your children about a specific character trait each day of the month.

Another free idea: Find character-building poems and type them up, using your own photos and a related Bible verse. Keep them on the fridge while you are memorizing them, then add them to your school portfolio or notebooks. 

Download a free sample of Character First's character trait cards. You might get inspired to make your own as you study each character trait using index cards...It would be very easy to do using their list of character traits, which is actually an online character library you can subscribe to (check out "alertness" and "availability" for samples). You can print up a free one page poster version of the character qualities and laminate it for your fridge.  

You can also use the Operational Definition of Character Qualities chart  or this list of character qualities defined to make your own cards, then add a few "I Will's" from The Character Journal  to the cards and then take a photo of one of your children demonstrating the character trait (or find appropriate clip art online). Put that all into a Word document (or use Open Office, which is also FREE!), print on card stock, and voila!, you have your own Character Trait cards, useful for review and reminders. You could also make double copies, perhaps with the definition on one and the word and photo on the other, and have younger children play a matching game. Or you could play memory. Or....the possibilities are endless! Also, download samples of their elementary and advanced character study guides. We used to get these at church and loved them.

A last-minute find is this collection of dictionary-linked character traits, both positive and negative. This would be an excellent way to have an older student do a study of different traits, figure out which ones go together, which negatives are the opposite of which positives, and then to find Bible verses on their own to support the Biblical need for the positive ones. Since we are talking about seeing the opposite of good character traits, I just had to add this list of 25 Characteristics of a Fool from A Wise Woman Builds Her Home. I think it is great.

Here is a family favorite read-aloud, A Hive of Busy Bees by Effie Mae Hency Williams. It is a timeless classic that tells stories involving character traits. Chapters include: Be Polite, Be Kind, Be Gentle, Be Helpful, and Be Gentle. This freebie is worth downloading and taking the time to read as a family.

For a useful list of some available FREE! online character-building classics (and a few links to audio versions of the books), check back tomorrow...

Also, you can check out Your Story Hour and Adventures in Odyssey (alternate link) for some character-building FREE! online audio radio dramas. My kids have LOVE, love, love, loved these over the years. If you are going to take the time to have them listen to something, why not have it be something that will do them good? This is a great way to give Mom a break when she needs some quiet time...

My final and favorite FREE! character training resource is YOU. As the sign says, children will think of themselves what you say to them regularly. If you are constantly pointing out what faults they have, they will likely see those faults as the definition  of who they are. Conversely, if, in spite of their mistakes, you are regularly pointing out their strengths, and praising them for their genuine successes, they are more likely to believe that those things make up who they really are and will become.

Even further, always remember that your children are HOMESCHOOLED. This means that you are your child's teacher and one of his or her most important influences. Children will live what they see YOU do. The starting point when working on character needs to be you (and me!).

If, in spite of the minor (and sometimes major) problems you run into throughout your days and weeks, you strive to keep a positive outlook  and stress to your children the importance of living in a way that is pleasing to God, they will learn to behave in the same way.

It might happen almost imperceptibly at first, but eventually, with patience (a virtue!), you will see the fruit of your labors as the seeds of character you have planted grow into beautiful expressions of God's love. In turn, they will plant seeds of kindness and consideration and helpfulness into the lives of others...

How wonderful is it to imagine that??

I think that is why I believe that teaching character is the most important thing you can do for your kids this year. And every year. Start there, and the rest will follow.

I pray you will be blessed by the resources I have shared.

Schedule for the week:
Monday--What is good character and Who needs it??
Tuesday--Why must we deliberately train for develop good character?
Wednesday--How can we develop good character in our children? (with links to character-building freebies and our favorite not free character training resources.
Thursday--How reading aloud to your family will help strengthen character and your family. (With many links to online/downloadable free quality literature and audio books)
Friday--When do we train for character and who benefits...Developing character in your children through serving others.

Join the members of the TOS Review Crew all week for the 
"5 Days of..." Blog Hop


By the way, you can check out a previous post called:
for an exhaustive (or exhausting!) list of ways to cut home education costs. You might want to print it and read it off is chock full of good ideas (and very long)!!

You can also check out my website, homeschool-for-free, for links to FREE! resources in other curriculum areas (but as it has been a while since we ran link-checks, you may find a few that no longer work, but there are plenty more to make up for that...especially on the science links page.)


Carrie said...

What a blessing to find your site! I read through this post and saved a lot of the freebies - thank you for sharing! I appreciate the support from an experienced home schooling mother so I'll be back often!

Unknown said...

This is the new link for the Operational Definitions of Character Qualities. They have changed their website.

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