Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Character Training

This summer, my friend Angela and I decided we needed to take a step back and seriously focus on character training with our kids. Right now, we are about 5 weeks in and having a blast! I thought it would be fun to document what we're doing, should we ever need to look back, and so we can have all of our resources / ideas in one place.


After some research, we decided to use "A Child's Book of Character Building" as our spine, and each ordered used copies from Amazon. It was important to have our base material be open-and-go, from a Biblical perspective, and to cover a wide variety of ages. We have eight kids between us, ages 9 1/2, almost 9, 8, 6, 5, almost 4, 2, and almost 2.

We got together for a playdate at her house to decide which character traits we would study - there were 12 covered in the book and we only had 6 weeks together, so we picked the top priorities for our families and narrowed it down in this order:
- Attentive
- Obedience / Creativity
- Tenderhearted
- Diligence
- Patience
- Contentment

Some traits were easy to eliminate because they felt like duplicates of others, and some traits seemed totally missing. (Angela bought the 2nd book in this series - I wonder if they're in there!)

We decided to cover one character trait each week (with the exception of the Obedience / Creativity week), and we both separately felt breakfast each day would be the best time to discuss - little kids' minds are ready to listen, and their mouths are full! Each chapter is broken down into five parts: definition, in the Bible, at home, at school, and at play. Ideally, we would cover one each day, but realistically, at least for me, I found myself covering either nothing at breakfast time (because...summer) or cramming two or three days-worth into any one meal. Fortunately, the readings are super short and the kids were always asking for more anyway. The readings sparked some really great discussions to get our days going, and then we had all day to notice each other doing (or not doing!) what we've been discussing. One week, I even make a checklist, and the kid with the most checks at the end of the week earned a special sleepover!

Angela and I decided to take turns hosting and planning the weekly get-togethers. At least 1/2 of the weeks, we've had to change the time or date around (...summer), so we're getting plenty of practical life experience in a trait missing from the book - flexibility!

Character Training in Action:

This trait was first because it was at the top of both of our lists! After a quick snack where the kids got to catch up with each other - and, OK, where Angela and I got to enjoy some much-needed grown-up conversation - we headed outside to play our first game.
  • The Red Herring - Angela stood on one side of her yard, and the kids stood on the other, with big anticipatory grins on their faces. They slowly inched towards her while she - facing the other way - told a story of many red things, and the minute these ATTENTIVE children heard "red herring!" they had to dash back across the yard to their starting point before Angela could catch them. There were many shrieks of excitement and false starts ("a reeeeeed...PENCIL!"), and they each had a turn being the storyteller. It was a great way to make them pay very close attention, and they had a great time giggling and running around together. Unfortunately, it ended in a few tears - as many of these well-intentioned games do - when a few of the smaller children got unintentionally knocked over by their very eager older siblings. (Either that or because the sight of Angela chasing after them was very, very scary.) ;)
  • I Spy - Angela set many items out on a tray, and after letting the kids study the tray ATTENTIVELY, she removed the items one at a time, and brought the tray back to them. The kids had to guess which item was missing. Sometimes, Angela was sneaky and added an item or two. Their great little memories impressed me!
  • Simon Says - The kids took turns being "Simon" in Simon Says, making sure they were ATTENTIVE and only reacting when Simon Says.
The next trait I really wanted to work on was Obedience, and Angela really wanted Obedience, so we agreed to do both in one week. My family worked on Obedience at our house while hers worked on Creativity at theirs, and when we got together at my house, we combined the two. After a snack and some outside play, a rain shower brought our first activity into the garage.
  • Mother, May I...? - The kids took turns asking me if they could CREATIVELY get closer to me. Then, regardless of whether I said yes or no or amended their propositions, they had to happily OBEY. Animals seemed the main focus of their questioning - "Mother, may I take three slug steps towards you?", "Mother, may I take five kangaroo hops?", or "...Two bunny leaps?" There were also questions about ballet twirls and baby crawls. Overall, I enjoyed their creativity, but eventually, the game digressed into inappropriate potty questions and miscommunication over whose turn it was, and again, our game ended in a few shed tears. We are still a work in progress ;)
  • Coloring Page - I found a fun coloring page where you had to color exactly as you were told, in the order in which you were told. It may sound boring, but the kids realized that there is still a lot of room for individual CREATIVITY while still being OBEDIENT. On the back of their papers, they were told they could draw something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Some kids went totally out on their own, while other kids drew the exact example we gave to illustrate the uniqueness of the idea - whoops!
  • (There was one more - maybe two! Will remember once I get the photos added in!)
Back at Angela's, we had some super yummy quesadillas and prepared our little ones.
  • Bananas and Monkeys Card Game - Angela printed out a card game where the kids could either choose to give each other the matches they needed, or give each other monkeys (kind of like the Old Maid, or the Bear in Pit, but there were many monkeys). After the game was over, the kids who gave out the LEAST monkeys, and were instead tenderhearted in giving their friends the matching bananas they needed, were rewarded with very special tattoos. The goal of the game was not to get yourself the most matches, as they assumed, but to be the most TENDERHEARTED. 
  • Squishy Pillow - A variation on musical chairs, each child had to be TENDERHEARTED and share their pillow on the floor with someone else. Every time the music stopped, the kids rushed to sit on the pillows, and then one was taken away before the music started again. By the end, they were all sitting together in a heap on one giant floor pillow, in a fit of giggles. We had fun joking that the name of this game was "Squishy Cushy Tushy Pillow."
  • Fortune Tellers of Kindness - We helped each of the kids make a "fortune teller" - flash-back to when we were little! Hollah! - where the "fortunes" on the very inside flap had to be something kind. "I'm going to give you a hug", "I'll help you clean your room", etc.
While Angela's husband Adam came over to very DILIGENTLY help Ryan work on digging out the brick walk we're putting in around the side and back of the garage (yesssss, I know, we're always up to something!), Angela and I got the kids together for pizza and some play time before getting down to business.
  • Skewering Fruit - No one* was allowed to either eat the yummy fruit OR quit working until they had DILIGENTLY assembled a total of 24 skewers for everyone to share. One of my kids, who shall remain nameless JACOB, left the table after he decided he had made more than enough to contribute to the 24...when in reality, he wanted to see what his little brother - who has zero interest in anything fruit-related - was watching in the living room. We were surprised at everyone else's perseverance, and even the two 2-yr-olds excitedly got in on the action.
    * adults and children under 5 excluded from fruit-snitching - hah!
  • Making Whipped Cream - Angela put some heavy cream in two little mason jars, and the kids had to take turns DILIGENTLY shaking the jars for 5 minutes straight, until whipped cream formed. It was wonderful dipping our fruit skewers - or in the case of Ian (2), your whole hand - into the home-made whipped cream!
  • Feather-Blowing - A starting line and a finish line were taped far apart on my living room floor, and the kids had to take turns getting a little red feather from one line across to the other - without touching it. Abigail (5) was first, and quickly discovered that blowing the feather DILIGENTLY moved it quickly, but Hayden (almost 9) got extra points for scooping it up with his shirt and running it across the other line. I should have said, "Nothing can touch the feather!" haha. I was hoping someone would fan it over the line with a paper, but no one thought of that. (This was the only time I went to Pinterest for ideas, and there were virtually no activities for Diligence. The only other idea I saw was to have the kids work a puzzle that they knew was missing pieces - the goal being to work diligently until the job is done, regardless of the outcome - but we didn't have enough time.)
  • Super Detailed Dot-to-Dot - Angela's impulse-buy at the grocery check-out was a really cool dot-to-dot, where the numbers were really small and counted up into the mid-200s on each page. We picked out pictures we thought each kid would like (Angela and myself included - we loved doing this!), and thought the results of their DILIGENCE were very telling. Jacob (8), who typically has a lot of trouble finishing what he starts, was the first one done (and he did it well!), while all three girls (9 1/2, 6, and 5) worked away so patiently and seriously until they were finished - even turning over their pages to conquer the other side! They younger two little ladies needed a few pointers from their Mamas along the way, but we were very pleased with how well they did overall. Even Ian worked hard on his paper, and it was super cute.
Next up tomorrow...PATIENCE!!