Nurturing values in our children: How to develop courage
By: William Green
This Week Ahead will be the first in a series of articles that focus on how to promote key Wellington Values at home and around the setting. Values based education is an essential part of the Wellington experience. Throughout the setting, the values of courage, respect, integrity, kindness and responsibility are prominently displayed through our words, work and actions. These values define, in essence, what it means to be a Wellingtonian. These values help us to make the best decisions in the present whilst reflecting on our past. Ultimately, they are the keys to success in the future as they prepare us to become role models and decent citizens who positively contribute to society. A key question that we often hear from parents is how they can create the conditions at home that will help their children truly embrace the setting’s identity.
Chris Haley, a Year 2 teacher at Wellington College Bilingual provides us with some insight into this very question. Just last week, he organised an activity where students could do some pretend fishing in the classroom. He knew this would be a popular activity with the children and so he asked the question of how could everybody participate fairly in the activity. One child responded what if everyone sat down and waited their turn. The other children agreed and went to get chairs which they lined up in order next to the table where the activity would take place. This example speaks volumes in terms of the values displayed: courage to speak one’s opinion, responsibility through getting and lining up chairs, as well as kindness and respect through waiting one’s turn to participate. All of these values were displayed because the teacher asked a key question that enabled the children to show courage through reflection and take initiative. As this example shows, empowerment and courage often go hand in hand.
What is courage?
Courage is a very important value that needs to be developed and nurtured in young learners. Courage in Early Years means being able to try new things, explore the immediate environment and the ability to openly and honestly say one’s thoughts and feelings politely but without fear. Trying new things might mean eating new foods such as vegetables, which may taste a little ‘unusual’ but actually necessary for our physical and mental development. It might also mean using materials in new and exciting ways such as moving toy animals through sandy foam. Exploring the immediate environment could mean searching for fallen leaves and rocks and not being afraid to touch or dig them out of the dirt. Finally, saying one’s opinion could be as simple as having the courage to raise one’s hand and say, “I like the soup. May I have more please?” A child can also show courage by saying which song he or she would like to sing. All of the aforementioned require the ability to get out of one’s comfort zone. For young children, it also requires the encouragement and support from their adult caretakers.
Developing courage at the setting
Teachers utilise a plethora of activities that naturally create the conditions where courage can develop. Teachers, by their very nature, like to make good use of encouragement through their daily interactions with children and, in general, within their practice. The word “encourage” in English means to motivate, inspire and give confidence to another person. As the word “encourage” contains the word “courage,” the literal meaning of this word is to make someone courageous. Chris Haley, in the example mentioned earlier, used questioning which inspired children to share their opinions and find a proactive solution. Some teachers have children volunteer to sit on a big chair and lead in singing songs in the morning. Other teachers take children on an adventure in the sensory room where they can experience a range of different environments through large projected panoramic images such as the jungle, zoo, underwater sea environment or the Sydney harbour. All teachers encourage children to try different foods at lunch knowing that eating a balanced meal will create strong bodies and minds. Encouragement involves providing opportunities for children to be proactive, share in the decision making process, make mistakes and try and try again in activities that they pursue. Encouraging young learners also means making effective use of praise and acknowledging children for their efforts to be courageous and experience new things.
Communication about values is essential
Talking with your child’s teacher about the value of courage is good start toward promoting this value at home. Working together, you will be able to pinpoint key areas that your child has shown courage in as well as areas for further development. The benefit of using the values as the point of reference in the conversation is that you will find that in order to promote one value, your child will need to possess multiple skills. For example, being able to make a suggestion or opinion at the setting in front of a group of people requires: confidence, the ability to raise one’s hand at the right time so as not to interrupt, the ability to engage and make eye contact, the ability to make a polite request as well as the ability to be resilient and control one’s emotions if others disagree. Teachers spend much of their time assessing children’s abilities to engage in these skills. These skills are gradually developed over time at the setting and home and are a culmination of all of your child’s acquired competencies. Thus, courage is not developed overnight but the result of making progress in a variety of differing environments (e.g. on the playground, in the living room at home, in the lunchroom or multimedia room). It is for this reason that communication is important and by working together we can be aware of what we need to do to further develop our children. Furthermore, it is from this communication that we truly come to understand the enormous task that teachers and parents share in helping children learn to embrace Wellington values. It certainly is not simply a matter of saying “please” and “thank you.”
Developing courage through encouragement and engagement
Reading stories can help children understand the concept of courage through example. The stories “Jack in the Beanstalk” and “The Little Engine That Could” are stories where the main characters must display courage in order to succeed or triumph under difficult circumstances. Usually you can find examples of key values in most stories written for children in Early Years. My favourite story of courage is “The Little Red Hen.” In the version of this story that I like, the hen goes through the process of planting wheat, harvesting it, and preparing muffins in the oven. While she is doing all of these activities, her requests for the other animals to assist her in her endeavors are repeatedly denied. She didn’t let that stop her however. It was her resilience and determination that led her to bake the cake and enjoy it by herself. The story highlights the amount of courage that it took for the hen to persist in her endeavours.
With that said, it is important to encourage children to finish what they start. For example, if a child is racing outside on the playground or at the park, we should encourage them to finish the race regardless of whether he or she will win or not. We should encourage children to try to finish the food on their plate if they can. I think that there is something motivating and courageous about finishing what we start even when we are nervous about the result. This is possibly because every time a child tries to complete something and does so successfully, he or she is building confidence, self-esteem and resilience. With each attempt, a child gains more competencies and a better understanding of him or herself, others and the world around him or her. This then forms a positive feedback loop resulting in greater displays of courage as well as other values such as responsibility and honesty. The more opportunities that we give children to explore and experiment, the more likely they are to embody values such as courage.
Here are some guidelines for teaching courage that are exciting, wholesome, and worthwhile. At home, try to:
- Use verbal praise: When a child does something well, praise him or her for the accomplishment. For example, if a child comes into the setting without crying for the first time, acknowledge this action by saying “Good job for doing……..!” or “Well done for………..!” Use praise even when they give it their best and are initially not successful, “Well done for trying your very best!”.
- Try alternating your daily routines: Get your child used to change by doing things differently from time to time. If you usually sit on the carpet to read, try sitting at the table from time to time. Part of developing resilience is getting a child ready to embrace change calmly. Change is a natural phenomenon but we need courage to prepare ourselves for it.
- Encourage your child to try new things: Perhaps, your child doesn’t like to eat tofu or has never tried it. What would happen if you mixed tofu with his or her favourite meat or vegetables? What if you showed your child that you liked to eat tofu and that it is tasty? Is your child afraid of dogs? Has he or she ever seen you playing with man’s best friend? Sometimes to get a favorable response, it is really important to model the value that you would like to see.
- Promote independence: Let your child have a go sometimes by him or herself. They may spill some soup or waste some rice on the floor but that is understandable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Eventually they will get it right. It just takes time.
We must be cautious when that we do not ignore the importance of a healthy fear in light of developing courage. Safety should always be our first priority and children should never engage in activities that could jeopardise their health or well-being. When thinking about activities to teach courage, ensure that they are age appropriate, will have an adequate amount of adult supervision and will allow a child to work at their current level or ability. If in doubt, try doing a yahoo search for developing children’s courage. There are many websites with detailed, picture descriptions of age appropriate activities that explain how to develop courage in children.
In summary, courage is an important Wellington value which is a cornerstone of healthy childhood development. When children display courage, they often utilise multiple skills such as giving their opinion confidently or controlling their emotions. Open communication between parents and teachers is critical in creating a culture that promotes and emphasises values development. Values such as courage do not arise overnight but are encouraged, reinforced and nurtured over time. Promoting values at home involves praise, alternating routines as well as allowing one’s child to be curious and independent within a safe environment.