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Character Education in PreK & Kindergarten

Character Education in PreK and KindergartenWhat children learn about character in the early childhood classroom can shape their character for the rest of their lives. So how do you teach it?






Build Your Character Good Character Kids

Teach Your Students to Be . . .


Miss Bindergarten, Good Citizen


Go out in the community. If you can, take your students on Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip With Kindergartenwalks or field trips. Talk about community helpers and other things you notice on your outings. If there is litter on the ground, pick it up and throw it away.

Be a community. Make a city out of large cardboard boxes. Have the children pretend to live and work together in the play community.

Helpers are heroes. As a class, talk about how sometimes we help and sometimes we need help. People who help are not only good citizens, but also heroes. Set out a box in which kids can put drawings of things they need help with. Sometime during the day allow them to talk about their pictures and ask for volunteers to help.

Get personal. Use morning meetings to socialize with each other and foster a sense of community.

The Warm Fuzzy Jar

Make each other feel needed. Have your class work together to be good citizens by obeying rules, showing respect, and taking care of the classroom and the school. Kimberly Nelson from Mrs. Nelson's Class has good ideas for this, such as having your class work on a Goal of the Day, earn cotton balls for a "warm fuzzy" jar, and add to a compliment chain when they get a compliment from another teacher.




Miss Bindergarten is Fair


Name Sticks for Taking TurnsDemonstrate fairness while you teach. Follow the rules, listen to children by  getting down on their level, don't place blame, and demonstrate the importance of taking turns. Use name tags or sticks, for example, to give everyone a chance to participate in group activities or to take turns doing things that nobody wants to do, like picking up coats and backpacks.

Hooper Humperdink . . . ? Not Him! Address stereotypes and exclusion. Ask the class questions such as "Would it be fair if only the girls could play today?" or "Would it be fair if only the kids with blonde hair could have a snack?"

Play board games to practice fairness Practice taking turns in board games Play board games. They're an easy way for children to learn about and practice fairness on their own.     

Have Show and Tell time. The kids can learn to listen and share by passing the items around so everyone has a turn to see them.

The Berenstain Bears and the Blame Game
Talk about blaming. Read The Berenstain Bears and the Blame Game. Introduce the concept of "I messages," which state how you feel, versus "blaming messages."



Miss Bindergarten is Caring

Care Bears Caring MeterMake a Care Bears Caring Meter. When the class is being more caring, turn the pointer toward the sun and the bigger hearts. When the class is being less caring, turn the pointer toward the cloud and the smaller hearts.

Show and recognize acts of caring. Provide a box of paper happy faces for students to give to people who are having a bad day, and paper hearts for saying thank you or for noticing acts of kindness.

Set up a flower shop. Include artificial flowers, plastic vases, and paper for greeting cards. Students can send each other flowers and cards to say "Congratulations," "I'm Sorry," "Get Well," or simply "I like you."

Set up a doctor's office and/or a vet clinic. Use a wagon as an ambulance. Hint: fill empty pill bottles with Good & Plenty candies (for general aches and pains), Tic Tacs (for tics), and Smarties (for headaches). Make sure the kids understand that real pills are not candy, and that they must never take any pills unless they're given to them by an adult.

Playing Doctor & Vet  Pretend Pills for Playing Doctor

Teach the Golden Rule. Make a sign with a golden glitter ruler. 

The Golden Rule for Character Education 01 The Golden Rule for Character Education 02


Miss Bindergarten is Responsible


Talk about obeying traffic rules. Set up a road and crosswalk with lights and signs. Have the children take turns being pedestrians, drivers, and police officers. When someone doesn't obey a rule, a police officer can ask for their license and give them a ticket.

Obeying Traffic Laws 03


Give class jobs. Jobs are a great way to foster responsibility, especially if you have a class pet to take care of. If you don't have a pet, let students fill bird feeders and birdbaths outside. Have a garden, too, or give each child some marigold seeds to water. 

Teach students how to clean. Use brooms, dustpansCleaning DishesCleaning Doll Clothes, sponges, and cleaners. You could also have them wash play dishes and doll clothes with real dish and laundry soap.

Please Keep This Place Clean Please Put Things Back

Book and Toy Hospital Set up a book and toy hospital. Show your students the proper way to handle books and toys, how to check for damage, and how to repair them in the "hospital." Outside, let them be playground safety inspectors and look for dangerous or broken things.   

Encourage fitness and health. Do aerobics or set up a classroom gym with Redmon children's exercise equipment. To encourage dental health, ask a dentist for a class set of toothbrushes, and supply toothpaste, mirrors, and timers so students can practice brushing their teeth.

Exercise Equipment Images courtesy of the W. C. Redmon Company.


Miss Bindergarten is Respectful


Goldilocks and the Three Bears Teach respectful behavior using well-known storybooks. It's easy for small children to understand the concept of respect when talking about characters such as the big bad wolf, the evil stepmother, the wicked queen, the nasty troll, and even Goldilocks — who just walks into someone's house and uses their things.

Talk about how people are alike and different. Using a box of crayons, draw a picture to demonstrate how all colors contribute something to the picture, and how more colors make it look better. Discuss how this is like people who are different.

Practice using the magic word. Have students practice manners at snack time or with the game Mother, may I? Teach them to respect each other's privacy and personal space.

Show respect for animals and nature. Have some well-mannered pets come for a visit. Learn about trees from the Treetures, a community of tiny tree friends.

Chester the Raccoon Put on a performance. Have students put on a puppet show after reading Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully. To teach self-respect, have students act out the books Giraffes Can't Dance, about a giraffe who thinks he can't dance because his neck is too long, and The Saggy Baggy Elephant, who thinks he can't dance because his skin doesn't fit.





Miss Bindergarten is Trustworthy

The Grumpus Under the Rug If you feel you can trust students, do so. Show trust first.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf Teach that lying can hurt you. Have them act out the story The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Make a Lost & Found box. Teach your students how, when they find items belonging to others, they should place the items in Lost and Found.

Talk about tattling. Tell students that tattling makes them less trustworthy to their friends because tattling is telling a secret. Talk about the difference between tattling to get someone into trouble and tattling to get someone out of trouble. 

Practice positivity. Read the books The Little Engine That Could and Little Toot. Talk about how action and a positive attitude can help us accomplish anything — even if we are little — and help us show others what kind of person we are.

The Little Engine that Could  Little Toot

Stick to It

Additional Resources

Carrie the Caring Cat For more on character education, visit, Teaching Tolerance, and Search Institute. Discover the Character Critters and find character education songs for your classroom. Also, see my my character education booklist, and look out for my future post "Character Education and the Green Classroom."

What do you do to teach character education?

Have an ethical weekend!



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  • #1 Allie Magnuson

    Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    Hi, Hifi,

    Do you know what a child is? Children are not born grown-up. They have parents and teachers for a reason. Five-year-olds don't even know how to look both ways before they cross the street. They don't have an "inherent instinct" to cooperate, or to be respectful, reliable, or responsible. They are not automatically well-behaved, mature people of character. Otherwise they would be called ADULTS, and even then, if you think any "normal" adult is like this, I want you to take a reality check by looking at the people all around you.

    If you think kids don't need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, and that they'll just figure it out on their own, think again. Children need to be told and shown the qualities of character we expect from them.

    I'm not sure what a sociopath has to do with kindergarten.


  • #2 Allie Magnuson

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Hi Danielle - thank you so much for the kind words. You have great character! Our students are our future and whatever we can do to help them be good citizens is what we need to do. Thank you so much for reading.

  • #3 Danielle Mahoney

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 01:04 PM

    Allie, I think your ideas are fantastic. Yes, children need to be given opportunities to give back, be kind, and help others.


  • #4 Hifi

    Monday, February 21, 2011 at 09:19 PM

    I'm trying to understand, why is everyone assuming kids can be taught character? Then there is the even more basic assumption, do kids need to be taught character or is the instinct/the foundation to cooperate, reciprocate and empathize with others inherent in every normal human being.

    (In fact, I'll wager you can't change a sociopath with any intervention at school.)

    Wikipedia has a great entry that really gets into the subject.

  • #5 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 01:43 PM

    Hi Kratik - Teachers sure give a lot of themselves to their children and I have always been grateful to my teachers. If you help just one child in this world then you made a difference. Thanks for the positive comment and thank you for reading.

  • #6 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 01:39 PM

    Hi Mary - I agree - character education should continue to be taught all through out the student's lives so they can grow up to be proud, caring, responsible citizens. Thanks for sharing what you do and I will be sure to check out the site.

  • #7 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 01:35 PM

    Hi Cami - thanks for your positive support. I agree, we need to start teaching the values of character education early so they can be proud to call themselves responsible citizens when they grow up. Thanks for reading.

  • #8 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 01:32 PM

    Hi Colleen - I agree - starting character education early in their lives sets their foundation for life. Thanks for reading.

  • #9 Kratik Malhotra

    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 01:27 PM

    Very well written.
    Have you ever felt grateful to your teachers. Well, if you haven't, I sure have.
    Read this...

  • #10 Mary Blow

    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 08:50 PM

    Hi, Allie,
    Thanks for sharing. I teach character ed using Jackie Robinson's Nine values. However, I have seen many other school using the bucket filling philosophy, which creates intrinsic value of being a community member:

  • #11 Cami

    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 07:04 PM

    Wow, Allie! You have some great ideas. I think this is really important to teach. We want our children and students to grow up to be good citizens, but how will they know what that means if we never teach them about it. It is one thing to be an example, but sometimes kids need more than just an example.
    Great job!

  • #12 Colleen Hamer

    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 03:30 PM

    What fabulous ideas, Allie! I think that character education is one of the most important things we can teach our pre-k/kinder students. We want them to grow up to be wonderful citizens of our world.

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Allie Magnuson
Allie Magnuson
Las Vegas, NV
Grades PreK-K
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