I have mentioned to a few people that we are teaching character qualities this year as part of our homeschooling curriculum. It has generated a number of questions and so I thought I would share a little more here. Before I tell you how we are teaching them, let me explain the five reasons why we are teaching them.
1. Character is important.
Character is defined as "The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual." Character is the essence of who we are. It isn't who we want to be, it isn't what we someday want to display. Character IS who we are. It is what other people see. It is the words that people use to describe us. Character defines our reputation, it gives evidence of what we are sowing in our hearts, and it affects those around us. Character is important.
2. If something is important, we need to take the time to teach it.
How many hours a day do we spend keeping our children safe and healthy? A lot. All day long we are telling our kids "be careful, don't touch hot stuff, look for cars before crossing the road, wear a helmet, chew your food, wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, eat your veggies, and don't play with matches!" We do this because we (rightly) believe that health and safety are important. Kids are too young and immature to just "know" how to keep themselves safe. It is our job as parents to teach and protect them.
And so it is with character. We need to dedicate time to intentionally teach our children about the qualities we desire to see in them and the qualities that God desires to see in us.
3. When we use words that describe character, I want our entire family to know exactly what they mean.
"You need to be obedient." "You should be grateful for what you have." "That doesn't seem very sincere!" "You need to be patient."
As parents, we are guilty of throwing around a lot of big words. We remind our kids to be sensitive, to be responsible, and to be cautious. These are great qualities that we are hope to see, but let's be honest. Our kids have no idea what they mean. We barely know what they mean. Go ahead, try to give a quick definition of words we just used:
See? Giving a definition is hard. That is because we know what the words mean at a head and heart level, but we don't know how to actually define them. Life experience and context have taught us the deeper meanings. However, our kids are KIDS. They don't have life experience or context. We might as well be the adults in Charlie Brown's world since all our kids hear is, "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah." How can we expect them to be something that they don't even understand the meaning of?
sensitive obedient cautious
By teaching our kids character qualities I am giving them (and myself) a solid understanding of what the words represent. When I use words such as obedient, patient, or creative, I want to be sure that each of us knows exactly what is being communicated.
4. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice.
As the old adage says, "Practice makes perfect." This is true whether you have oodles of natural talent or if you are driven by zeal alone. If you want to be good at something, you must practice. Sports, arts, writing, driving, communicating, running, studying, reading....they all take practice. Intentional practice. Contrived and controlled practice.
If I want my children to display good character qualities, I have to teach them and offer them the opportunity to practice. No sportsman is expected to show up on game day without having conditioned. No actor is expected to get on stage without having rehearsed. No musician is expected to give a recital without knowing how to play the instrument. Likewise, no child should be expected to demonstrate a character quality they haven't had a chance to practice.
5. I want my kids to be able to recognize character -- both good and bad -- in themselves and in others.
"You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?" (Matthew 7:16). "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33). "For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush" (Luke 6:44). "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character'" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
If people are known by their fruits, if character qualities give evidence to sowing to the Spirit, and if bad company corrupts good character, then it is imperative that children be able to recognize character in themselves and in other people. They need to be able to look at themselves and their own behavior and see that God is indeed working in them, as evidenced by the fruit of their lives. They need to be able to see good character so that they know who to spend time with and they need to be able to recognize bad character so that they know who to avoid.
If children don't know what character is or what it looks like, they cannot see it in themselves or in others.
So there you have it. Five reasons we are teaching character qualities to our children. And now that you know the why behind our teaching it, tomorrow I will begin to show you the what and how. But please remember, what I will share with you is descriptive, not prescriptive. You don't have to teach character qualities the way we are doing it, but you would be wise to develop a plan for how you are going to teach them.