Building Character for Kids: Engaging (non-boring) Activities that Foster Responsibility
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Responsibility and building character. What a boring theme to teach.
When I was new to the field (many years ago), I was like: "Dang, I wanna teach stranger danger, puberty, drugs (pre-vaping), alcohol, etc." The topics that make their eyes bulge, the ones they're gonna remember. I envisioned bursting into a classroom and hearing them say "Oh crap!" but knowing they're really thinking:
YESSAHHH! It's the teacher that lets us talk about the stuff we're not allowed to talk about in school!
Then I actually walk in and say:
Hello children. Today we are going to learn about RESPONSIBLITY.
I know it's an important topic. Believe me. When my children were young, responsibility was a core character trait I wanted them to embrace. Why? I had way too many run-ins with irresponsible adults. I believe that I attracted irresponsible people, only because it was my pet peeve.
Ever work in a restaurant? I know for a fact that many of my co-workers had parents who did NOT teach responsibility as a core character trait. I only knew this because I would wander into the kitchen to scoop some blue cheese onto a salad, only to discover the blue cheese container was empty. Or to put whipped cream on some very bland tasting grapenut custard but to get runny cream instead due to waitstaff feeling the need to suck the nitrous oxide out of the can to get the 10 second buzz. Dude, seriously. Responsibility. Heard of it?
I soon discovered that without learning how to make responsible choices, then the stranger danger, puberty, drugs and alcohol lessons they get down the road are pointless You can know all the facts, but if you don't know how to make a responsible decision or take responsibility for your own actions, the facts are pretty useless.
So let's dive into my miracle question, which is probably becoming quite repetitive but it has been quite useful for me...
If I believed it were possible to teach my students to value responsibility as much as I do, what would have to be true?
I've said this with honesty and the same rings true for responsibility...
1. They would have to believe it was important...so they would need to truly understand what "responsibility" means.
Okay, so what does it mean? There are different ways that we can look at responsibility.
According to PBS (and who doesn't love PBS):
"Responsibility means being dependable, making good choices, and taking accountability for your actions." (https://www.pbs.org/parents/learn-grow/age-5/character/responsibility)
Why don't we apply this definition to the irresponsible wait staff who used to irritate me because I'm a control freak.
When you replace the items you empty, that makes you dependable. It also means you're accountable because you were the one who emptied it in the first place. Not to mention, you'll be well-liked by your fellow wait staff. When you learn to make good choices by weighing the consequences of your potential decisions, you will most likely NOT suck the nitrous oxide out of the whipping cream can.
Okay I probably won't share that particular story with students, so with that being said...what can we do with the little guys to help THEM understand? It just so happens that I have a lesson on this one! This Google Slides lesson "Character Traits: Responsibility" gives kids the opportunity to define responsibility first and then takes them through the definition with clear examples from our little character, Tommy.
Oh and of course this brings us to number 2...
2. They would need to have FUN while learning about it!
You probably know that memories are created and stored when there are strong emotions involved.
A fun & funny time = a great memory! Make sure there are games, movement, and praise! In my Google Slides lesson "Character Traits: Responsibility", there are two games included that students LOVE! One includes dice in which students can either pair up, work in groups or as a class. They roll the dice to determine the discussion question. BIG foam dice are fun to use and the kids love to toss them!
The other game we play is called "Make a Choice!" The kids love this one because they get to go to the front of the class with a partner, choose an image and then the teacher reads the scenario. There are two doors to choose from, one with a positive consequence, one with a negative. It's a great way for the students to learn about responsibility, choices and consequences!
I also have a Google Slides lesson,
All About Choices: Lessons on taking responsibility for students in grades 3-6. Certainly use your judgment with this one as it's important that students have had some drug prevention education first.
Students LOVE this lesson! It's very engaging and the students ask LOTS of questions! This lesson clearly connects behaviors with consequences and is based on one activity called "Whose Fault Is It?". In this game, students hear a scenario and then have to make a decision about who's to blame. It's a bit tricky at first, but most students pick it up right away (others need a little time). Peer pressure is also a big theme in this lesson.
3. They would need to make connections to their own lives
We already know this...learning is all about connections! When teachers, situations and activities are relatable, kids are more likely to remember and grasp the concepts.
They will inevitably make connections the more it's pointed out to them. If you notice a student being responsible or taking responsibility in the classroom, big or small, make sure to say something very specific about it. For example:
Wow, I noticed you put the books away when you were finished, that was very responsible, thank you!
There's nothing like drilling a character trait into their heads to make sure it sticks, right? Others will follow suit because in case you haven't noticed, most students in these grade levels LOVE to be noticed for doing something good : )
In both the Character Traits: Responsibility and the All About Choices, there are scenarios that students will relate to. For example, what student hasn't wanted to watch their favorite show before cleaning their room? Okay...what adult hasn't wanted to do that? That's besides the point.
The scenarios in All About Choices contain some drama and shock value, but pertain to real situations that can and are happening with students in these grade levels. Some examples include kids being pressured by peers to shoplift candy, try a pill from the medicine cabinet, vape and gossip about peers. These scenarios are serious and keep students engaged.
What it all comes down to is making students aware of these character traits, helping them understand what they truly mean and how they affect others, and then deciding which ones are the most important to them.
I can't lie, I love looking back on my waitressing days...now that they're behind me. Isn't it interesting that I remembered those co-workers who were irresponsible? The fact that these co-workers (and I'm sure other people in my life) left such an imprint in my memory is only one of the reasons I'm so passionate about teaching character traits today!
Let's create responsible community members! I'd love to hear about which character traits are important to you and why!