It’s Up To Me

childThe hit musical, Child of the World, by John Higgins and John Jacobson has many inspirational songs, one of which effectively addresses being responsible. With its swinging beat and catchy lyrics, “It’s Up To Me” shares a great message for young and old alike about taking responsibility. If you’re looking for a musical that brings character to life, whether for a school-wide performance or just in the classroom, this six-song program is for you. Check it out.

Mistake or Opportunity

As kids pursue excellence, it’s critical that they know that mistakes are going to happen. A kid with character will turn those mistakes into learning opportunities. Try this simple activity. Take a box of instant pudding mix and, using only half of the milk that it calls for, shake vigorously per instructions. Let it set for the allotted time, then check to see if it’s pudding yet. The fact that it isn’t pudding will likely spark an interesting discussion about being responsible and following directions carefully. What can you do with the liquid pudding mix? Why not use it to finger paint!

Learning How NOT to Erupt

volcanobookAccording to the description under the responsibility pillar, responsible students use self control and are self-disciplined. Allow me to introduce Louis, the main character in My Mouth Is A Volcano by Julia Cook. A former elementary-school counselor, this author is undoubtedly quite familiar with children like Louis. He’s got some very important things to say. So important, he insists, that he can’t help but erupting, I mean interrupting, everyone toget them out. Not only is it annoying, but this behavior has become a social obstacle and is getting in the way of Louis’ school success.

Your students will want to chant along with you during the repetitious phrases as Louis describes just how it feels before he erupts. In an interesting twist, someone interrupts Louis and he gets a taste of his own medicine. See how Louis feels when what goes around comes around. Pay close attention to the strategy that this clever counselor contrives to help Louis learn to stay in control and learn to stop interrupting. It creates a great visual that you’ll want to teach to your students. Follow up with questions about Louis, his problems, if and how they were solved, and how his life lessons might transfer off the pages into the lives of your students. I’ve read this book aloud in small-group counseling classes before giving each student a bottle of bubbles and teaching them some deep breathing techniques that require patience; the deeper the breath (in through the nose), the slower the exhale (out through the mouth), the bigger the bubble they’ll blow. Want an explosive responsibility lesson? Then check out this book!

Back In Control

c-cr2Who among us hasn’t felt or been out of control at one time or another? Sometimes the more we try to control, the more out of control we become. In addition to choices and consequences, the responsibility pillar encompasses self-discipline and self-control. Since our little learners are always watching as we lead by example, it becomes increasingly important to stay in control ourselves. So what happens when we’re in conflict or at odds with one another? The Peace Education Foundation has set out Five Rules for Fighting Fair (click graphic at left), which, with their permission, we post here so that you can download for your student(s) to discuss, color, and hang in a prominent place in the classroom or your home. Imagine endless possibilities for a peaceful world if we could all just follow these five simple guidelines and avoid the “fouls” that ultimately keep us from maintaining control. As an extension or enrichment activity, brainstorm with your child(ren) other rules for this list and other fouls that they might encounter. For more ideas about making our world a peaceful place, visit the Peace Kids website.

A Character Report Card

A few years back, an article entitled Kids With Character by Tamsen Boyd appeared in Teaching K-8 magazine. It gave quite a few excellent character-building ideas for elementary-aged students. I really liked the potential for measuring growth in students using a Self-Assessment Chart. It’s basically students giving themselves a character report card. This chart can be used to goal-set with your child(ren) both at school and at home with a few slight changes, like “I raised my hand” could become “I waited my turn to talk.” Here’s how you might use this assessment:

At the end of each week, hold a meeting during which students can talk about the successes and difficulties they experience with each character trait they’re working on. Use the Self-Assessment Chart to count negative interactions and have students score themselves. Zero to two negative interactions earn an “Almost Always,” three to seven negative interactions receive the score “Sometimes” and eight or more means “Needs Work.” The children can discuss change, can take pride in improvements, and reflect on backslides. Make sure to always find a positive and focus on the progress children are making, even if the steps they’re taking seem like baby steps. If five areas seem overwhelming, break the chart down into smaller pieces and maybe take it one trait at a time, week by week.

Planting Seeds

A garden is rich place in which to plant seeds of responsibility and cultivate good character. Each Spring, we till our soil, pick out weeds and unwanted dirt clumps, and plant the seeds of the vegetables that we want for our summer salads. It takes daily tending to water and weed, that’s where the responsibility piece comes in. If you’d like to harvest responsibility in your little learners but you don’t have access to a garden plot, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has just what you need. They recently introduced these cool new bookmarks that will enrich a plant unit in Science class or simply create an awareness of how character grows. Each bookmark has a “seed-embedded pot” which students can put into some soil. Then they water, wait, and watch as wildflowers burst through the ground into full bloom.



Baking Bread Together
redhenstoryAn old English folktale that is originally attributed to Joseph Jacobs, The Little Red Hen, by Carol Ottolenghi is an adorable udpated version of the timeless tale. In this fun fable, the Little Red Hen wants some help making bread, but not one of her barnyard friends is willing to pitch in. So the Little Red Hen does all of the work by herself, and her friends soon find out that they aren’t able to enjoy the fruits of her labor. The moral of the story, of course, is that hard work pays off while being lazy comes with a price. Read this little gem aloud, then ask the following questions: Why didn’t the friends want to help the Little Red Hen? What, if anything, did the friends learn? Do you think that the Hen should have shared the bread even though the friends didn’t help? How would the story be different had the friends helped? Ask students to write about a time that they felt like the Little Red Hen or that they felt like the friends who didn’t want to help the Little Red Hen.

Then, check out the many different versions of this story on the market. In one, the hen is making muffins; in another, the hen is making pizza. In fact, in that version, the LIttle Red Hen shares even though her friends did not help. What lesson is learned in that version? Find out from your students what they would change if they could write their version of the popular adventure. Finally, why not teach your students the old-fashioned skill of baking bread. Assign them each an ingredient to bring and send them to the store with their allowance money to purchase it. Show them how the yeast feeds off the sugar and grows in the warmth of the water. Talk about how all of the ingredients work together to make the recipe work. Ask what might happen if you forgot one of the ingredients. Let students lend a hand in the mixing and the kneeding of the dough. What a treat it’ll be when everyone works together and ultimately gets to enjoy the finished product.

A Sticky Situation
glueEvery choice has a consequence and every decision has stakeholders; do you need a fun dilemma that will illustrate the concept of stakeholders as you teach the responsibility pillar? Try this easy activity. It only requires one bottle of glue and two volunteers.

Hand the bottle of glue to one of the volunteers and have him or her read the front label: safe, easy to use, non-toxic, etc. Help your non-readers with the words they don’t know. Ask them if they would agree with you that it’s safe and easy to use, etc. They’ll agree because that’s what the bottle says. Then ask them to open up the bottle and squeeze glue into the other volunteer’s hair. (Caution: Have your hand ready to catch a drop in case they REALLY do it – I have had one sixth grader actually honor that outrageous request and I caught the drop before it could get into my other volunteer’s hair!).

So the dialogue begins. The volunteer will likely look at you funny, ask you to repeat your request, say something like, “seriously?” or “no, I don’t think I should do that!” Find out why not. Remind them that it’s safe, non-toxic, washable, whatever they read from the front label prior to the activity. Go wherever that leads you, urging them to explain why they are responding in that way. Responsibility, afterall, means our ability to respond. How does the student respond to that sticky scenario? Let the rest of the students weigh in, too, and see if they think it would be a good thing to do or not.

Then ask them the million dollar question: If you actually did put glue in that friend’s hair, who would care? These are your stakeholders in that decision. The student would care, both sets of guardians or parents would care, the volunteer who did it would care, the principal would care, the teacher would care, etc., etc. Have students stand as they think of someone who would care. Before you know it, everyone in your class will be standing – standing up for what’s right – to represent all of the stakeholders in that one sticky situation. The whole time I’m asking the students to explain why that person would care or how that person would even be involved. For example, someone might say the kid’s doctor would care. . . . why? Maybe she has an allergy to glue . . . . . again, let it go where it takes you because it allows students to visually see that every decision has a myriad of stakeholders.

Fiscal Responsibility

lemonsAre you looking for a way to build fiscal responsibility in your little worker bees? My boys have recently discovered the creative challenge and real responsibility of managing a virtual Lemonade Stand. This interactive online game lets its players write their own lemonade recipe, shop for ingredients, decide price per cup, and evaluate daily profits. The computer gives weather conditions and temperature so that the student can make necessary changes accordingly. As the student waits and watches, he is able to read customer comments as they pass by the stand until the lemonade sells out or until the day ends. As each day passes, students can compare profits and losses, customer satisfaction and popularity, successes and failures (watch out for melting ice!). Students then regroup and prepare for the next day. This activity lends itself to enrich math units involving estimation and prediction. It will also tap in to some higher-level thinking skills as students pursue excellence and work to come out on top. As a service-learning extension of this responsibility activity, have students bring in some lemons and sugar to make their own “real” lemonade to share at a PTO meeting or in the teacher’s lounge. Better yet, take their homemade lemonade out into the community as a way of saying “thanks” to a service-organization like the local Fire Station, the Police Department, or City Hall. Then have them reflect in their journals or in sharing circles how it felt to move from their virtual Lemonade Stand into the real world.

Hellison’s Levels of Responsibility

At Westwood, our physical education teachers use Hellison’s Model of Teaching Responsibility through Physical Activity to make students aware of their responsibility to monitor their own behavior and to help them learn to self manage. These five levels beautifully complement our character-education program and bear repeating:

Level 0- No responsibility
Blame others for your behavior
Call people names
Talk when teacher is giving directions
Push or hit others

Level 1 – Respect for self and others
Self control
Peaceful problem solving
Allowing others to listen and participate

Level 2 – Participation
Participate in new activities
A personal definition of success
Listen to teacher directions

Level 3- Self-direction
Set personal goals
Work to meet goals
Put equipment away-picking up after yourself

Level 4- Caring about and helping others
Help other students
Be willing to work with any classmate
Contribute when you can

Level 5- Outside of Physical Education
Be responsible at school, at home and everywhere you go!