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The I Care Club: A Character Development Program for Preschoolers
By Judith Mitchell

The renowned educator Grayson Kirk once said, “The most important function of education at any level is to develop the personality of the individual and the significance of his life to himself and to others” (Simpson, 1988). Today, more and more educators agree with Kirk, finding that character development is fundamental in the learning process. Recognizing this fact, there has been an influx of character development programs at the elementary and middle school level, though unfortunately, these interventions may come too late for some children.

Most researchers agree that the development of one’s character begins prior to elementary school, and by the time children enter preschool they have already developed a strong sense of right from wrong. These beliefs should be directed through character building experiences at a young age, when children are receptive to this guidance.

The “I Care Club” adopts the same philosophy used in elementary and middle school programs, but is adapted for the preschool age child. In this program, basic principles of character are introduced, rewarded, and molded through observation and participation. As a teacher, you can initiate the “I Care Club” by inviting your students to join a club whose members work together to show everyone how much they care.  Children are introduced to four units on caring through symbols, colors, mottos and classroom exercises. These units are:

  • “I care about myself” – Developing positive self-esteem through good habits related to diet, exercise and cleanliness
  • “I care about others” – Exhibiting respect for others through kindness and responsibility
  • “I care about nature” – Showing a reverence for nature through appreciation and conservation
  • “I care about safety” – Learning how to be careful and to make wise choices in potentially hazardous situations

Each unit can be reviewed for four to six weeks. You can introduce the unit in the first week and then follow-up with weekly sub-topics. Information, lesson plans and activities can be found through the resources listed at the end of each unit.

The materials needed for the units projects are colored paper, scissors, crayons, glue, stickers and magazines to cut up. Symbols for each unit can be cut out of colored paper or you can use die-cut shapes. On the symbols, write the child’s name and the corresponding motto. These can be put on a bulletin board and worn as a pin or medal.

 Unit 1 - Respect for Myself

Objective: To promote positive self-esteem and healthy habits.

 

What To Do:

 

1.      Cut out a large red heart. Ask the children to draw self-portraits in the center of the heart, then glue to a piece of paper.

2.      Have the children cut out pictures in magazines of people who have attributes and abilities they admire then glue these pictures around the heart. Post their projects.

3.      While working on the project ask the children what they like about themselves and those they admire. Encourage them to share their attributes, abilities, and aspirations.

Activity Suggestions:

You may encourage students to show that they care about themselves and reward positive behavior towards this goal with heart stickers.

Talk about how attributes and abilities must be fostered through good habits. Each week, focus on how we care for ourselves: Taking Care of Your Teeth, Food Fuel for the Body, Getting Rid of Germs, A Good Night’s Sleep, and Exercise is Fun.

 

Additional Resources:

 

Kids Health  

www.kidshealth.org/kid/index.html

Resource for articles on children’s health issues. 

 

Teachers.Net                                                     

www.teachers.net/lessons                                                                                              

A site for free lesson plans. Click on “Health” for this project.

 

USDA                                          

www.usda.gov/news/usdakids/index.html                                             

Resource for the development of health eating habits. Call 800-321-3054 for a Pre-K curriculum entitled “Food and Me”

 

Suggested Reading:

 

I Like Me by Nancy Carlson

Health Good Enough to Eat by Lizzy Rockwell

Just Me in the Tub by Gina and Mercer Mayer

Unit 2 - Respect for Others

Objective: To be considerate of others' feelings.

 

What To Do:

 

1.      Cut out a yellow circle, draw smile face on it and glue it to white paper.

2.      Around the smile face, ask children to draw how they look when they are sad, angry, lonely, and afraid. Display their projects on the bulletin board.

3.      Ask children to share what makes them feel sad, angry, or lonely. Discuss how their actions may evoke these emotions in others and ways to control and appropriately vent emotions.

Activity Suggestions:

Throughout this unit, compliment children and encourage them to model your positive behavior with their peers. Reward acts of kindness towards others with smiley face stickers. Ask children to share with the class when they are considerate of others' feelings.

Discuss the importance of being thoughtful and compassionate. Weekly sub-topics include: Sharing, Being Polite, Saying Sorry, Making Friends, and Words Can Hurt.

 

Additional Resources:

 

Acts of Kindness                              

www.actsofkindness.org/home.html                                                                                                                          

A wonderful resource for lesson plans for this unit.

 

A to Z Teachers Stuff Network    

http://atozteacherstuff.com/lessonplans/Preschool                      

Refer to lesson plans titles: “Feelings,” “Group Cooperation,” and “The Giving Chair.”

 

Character Counts                    

www.charactercounts.org/ideas/ideatoc.htm                           

Lesson plans for character development.

 

Suggested Reading:

 

How Are You Peeling? Foods with Mood by Saxton Freymann

Barney Says Please and Thank You by Stephen White

Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods by Jamie Lee Curtis

 

Unit 3 - Respect for Nature

Objective: To develop a respect for animals and the environment.

What To Do:

1.      Cut out a blue circle, color green land and white clouds then glue it to white paper.

2.      Around the picture of Earth, ask the children to glue or draw pictures of animals and plants. Post these projects.

3.      While working on this project, talk about what plants and animals need to survive. Discuss how pollution affects nature and what humans do to help or harm plants and animals. Ask children how they can help the environment by conservation, recycling and reusing items.

Activity Suggestions:

During this unit, reward children with animal stickers when they show a respect for nature. Encourage them to model your behavior by recycling trash and conserving energy and in the classroom. Encourage children to reuse items by asking them to donate old toys or clothes. To foster an appreciation for nature, take a walk and point out animals and plants.

Talk about ways to respect nature. Sub-topics can include: Reuse and Recycle, Endangered Species, Conservation of Resources, Backyard Wildlife, and Life of a Tree.

 

Additional Resources:

 

The Environmental Protection Agency

http://www.epa.gov/kids/plants.htm                                              

Call 1-800-490-9198 to order a free “Endangered Species Poster” (reference number 735-F-94-014).

 

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

www.niehs.nih.gov/kids/home.htm                                                              

Go to “Color our World,” then to “Environment Protection” coloring book.

 

National Wildlife Federation                            

www.nwf.org/schoolyardhabitats                                                  

Offers information on school yard habitats.

 

Jane Goodall Institute                                      

www.janegoodall.org/index.html                                                 

Information about becoming a “Roots and Shoots” Global Partner.

                                                                                                        

National Arbor Day Foundation

www.arborday.org/                                      

Go to "Youth Education" for more information and projects on trees.

 

 

Suggested Reading:

It’s My Earth Too – How I Can Help the Earth Stay Alive by Kathleen Krull

Don’t Pollute (Anymore) by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Coat by Connie Korda

Unit 4 - Respect for Safety

Objective:  To avoid dangerous situations.

 What To Do:

  1. Cut out an orange diamond, write “CAUTION” across the center and glue it to white paper. Around the caution sign, ask the children to draw things that can be dangerous, such as, a fire, a stranger, poison, etc. Post these projects on the bulletin board, or wherever the children can easily see them.
  1. Discuss how to be safe by making good choices. Discuss the importance of using their five senses to be aware of their surroundings and free from danger.

Activity Suggestions:

Review ways children can play it safe on the playground, at home, and in the classroom. Encourage children to work with their parents to find potentially dangerous situations in their home. Reward safe behavior with a “buckle up sticker” Item # 1Z0408 available for free through the NHTSA web site or order by mail through the Print & Graphics Team, NTS - 21 NHTSA, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590.

Discuss safety guidelines with sub-topics including: How to call 9-1-1, Fire Safety, Helmets and Buckling-up, Stranger/Danger, and Play it Safe Outside.

Additional Resources:

National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

www.nhtsa.dot.gov/kids/                                                                    

Go to the “Teachers’ Lounge” for lesson plans on safety.

Sesame Workshop

www.sesameworkshop.org/parents/solutions/safety/                

Coloring pages and awards for safety.

National Fire Prevention Association            

www.nfpa.org/Education/index.asp                                           

Information on fire safety.

Nick Jr.com                                         

www.nickjr.com/grownups/teachers                                                 

Lesson plans under “Nick News Special Edition” on “Stranger/Danger” and “Emergencies.”

                                                                   

Suggested Reading:

Arthur’s Fire Drill by Marc Brown

Rory Stays Safe by Tim Colgan

In the Water: Activity and Coloring Book (I'm Safe Series) by Wendy Gordon

Conclusion:

The development of a child’s character is a dynamic process that is molded by parents, peers and educators. As a teacher and a role model, you can affirm children’s belief in the value of themselves, others and the world around them. Participation in the “I Care Club,” will give preschool-age children the opportunity to make these value-based decisions at a young age. You will see that they will strive to meet these challenges and will have fun in the process.

 

References:

Simpson, J. (1988). Simpson’s contemporary quotations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.