Good Behavior Is Learned Behaviour

It has been said that 'what we wish to appear in children, we must put into our schools. Setting up a character development theme is more than a one day, one week, or one month event. To be beneficial, it's best to focus on one character trait at a time. Themes can be based on the "Six Pillars of Character": trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. With each theme, explain the trait to the children as it relates to their their realm of experiences. You might begin each day talking to the children about a real event in the world in which the trait was displayed.

As an example, you could ask: What does it mean to be respectful? How do we show respect? Listening to the teacher or to your parents, saying "please" and "thank you", might be some of the areas you'd want to focus on. Mention that if we expect the other children to respect us, we have to respect them. Even very young children can give you their ideas on how they can show respect in the daycare.

Telling children what a character trait is, however, only provides half the learning process. You have to show them the behavior, let them see you practice it. Give the children opportunities to role play the trait with each other. It’s a simple way to show them exactly what the trait looks and sounds like.

You might consider setting up a "Catching Kids Being Good" program. Try to catch the children doing the trait right. Praise them for it. Let the other children know what you saw Katie doing for Michael. When you reinforce good character, children are more likely to repeat the behavior. Set up rewards like"happy face" stickers or for obeying the rules and be consistent with consequences for disobeying them.

Before beginning your character development program, you might want to host a parent/teacher meeting to discuss the "Six Pillars of Character" and what is being done in the daycare to teach these values. Encourage parents to reinforce these lessons and to discuss their importance at home. Hand out information for them to read, and give them a list of resources such as the ones listed below, the books included in our Book Review section, and the Web sites listed in our Web Stuff section. A great printable poster of the characters is available from the Web site.

Social Skills

During the toddler and preschool years, parents and caregivers spend a lot of time talking about not hitting, grabbing, kicking, or pushing. Because youngsters do not have the language skills necessary to solve their problems, they quite often resolve issues by hurting others. Such instances provide teachable moments to let the children know what behavior you'd like to see instead of the hitting and pushing. Give them alternatives such as a gentle touch on the arm to get another child's attention is better than bites or hits.

Circle time provides the perfect opportunity for the children to do activities together that help build caring within the group and individual caring between students. Going around the circle and asking each child "How are you today?" emphasizes the fact that it is respectful to listen when someone talks. It also gives opportunities for bonding and empathic growth. In another circle time activity children can pay complements to one another, with the receiver being taught how to accept a compliment gracefully and to say thank you.

Introduce a "put-up", "put-down" game to the children. On slips of paper write ways in which some of the ideas for children to encourage each other, called ‘put-ups’, such as “Tina, you made a nice drawing today!” Next, write out ways children talk badly to each other, or 'put-downs’ such as “You're stupid for building a sand castle.” On a daily basis, have the children taking turns drawing a "put down" and "put-up" from the sheets of paper. Talk about how the children would feel after reading each statement. Ask for their input on other ways they might use "put-ups" instead of "put-downs."

Playground and recess activities provide plenty of opportunities for teaching kids not to shove each other, to wait their turn to ride on the tricycle, and how they should act to show more respect to each other and the caregiver."

Language Skills

Feature short discussions of the trait word of the month. Talk to your local librarian about books that have activities to go with the trait theme. Notify parents of the theme for the month and ask them to spend time at home reinforcing the same. Perhaps you could suggest some bedtime stories that promote the month's value.

Using a large flip chart or poster board, write out the "Trait of the Month". With the children' help, make up a few simple "Codes and Rules of Conduct" that should go along with the trait and that they should practice this month.

Using a large letter stencil, help the children trace and cut out each letter for the trait. They can then make a long banner clueing on the letters and then discussing other words that might go along with the trait word and writing these on the banner as well. Once the words on done, the children can draw in the rest of the banner.

Make up some ribbons with the phrase "I am a person of character because...", and give one to each student to complete. This is also a great circle time activity as well allowing the children to share their character story with the rest of the children.

Arts & Crafts

Character Vision
Using 12-inch pipe cleaners (one for each child), 6-inch pipe cleaners (two for each child),
twist ends of 12-inch pipe cleaner together to form circle. Twist the circle to make a figure 8. Give the figure 8 an added twist to make the nose bridge. Attach two 6-inch pipe cleaners to each side. Have the children test them out by putting on their glasses and seeing how well they can spot respect, or whatever the theme trait is. 1

Create placemats with the trait of the month.

Have students build six "pillars" from corrugated cardboard or construction paper and colour them in. Write one of the six characters on each pillar. Place the pillars in a highly visible place in your facility and refer to them often.


Using a guitar, talk to the children about how each string plays its part in making wonderful music. Explain how one string out of tune will ruin the sound, and that it's the same when we don't cooperate or meet our responsibility to be kind and considerate. The music isn't so lovely as it could be.

Form a band with each child playing a different instrument. Talk about how each member of the band, like the Back Street Boys, has to get along with all the other members if they are going to be successful. Explain how the members of the band respect each other's talents and how hard they work together to make just one song sound so good.


Have the children put together a fruit basket, gently placing the pieces of fruit inside the basket to demonstrate cooperation, caring, kindness, respect, etc., and how hurting a piece of fruit can bruise it, much like we bruise people when we say bad things to them or hit them. When the basket is done, the children can deliver it to a seniors home, the fire hall, or other place they can care about.

At the lunch or snack table, talk to the children about the food they are eating. Ask them, "what if" questions to demonstrate the importance of doing our part and working together. For instance, "What if the farmer didn't grow the vegetables? What would we eat to get our vitamins?" Or, "What if the truck driver didn't go to work because he wanted to go to the show instead? How would our food get to the grocery store?"

Lunch and snack times can be used to reinforce good table manners.


Cut out leaves from green construction paper or use real leaves the children have gathered on a walk or from the yard. Have them give each leaf a good character trait. On a large piece of Bristol board, help the children draw and colour in a tree trunk. The children can glue their good character leafs to make the tree nice and green. Talk about how all parts of the tree have to cooperate with each other in order for the tree to grow. The roots have to gather the water to feed the tree. The trunk has to transport the water to the branches, and the branches have to feed the leaves, etc.

Play a "What if" game with the children during science centre. For example, have them answer questions like, "What if the bees refused to leave the hive and buzz around the flowers?" Explain how the bees pollinate the flowers that grow the fruit and how they work together to make honey.

You can reinforce the respect trait by discussing respect for our environment, and reading books such as Johnny Appleseed.