Values need to be lived out loud

I said at the start of this series on values in early childhood education:

“Children pick up on an awful lot without us saying it – they learn to talk, walk and jump without specific lessons, and they’ll pick up on lots of ‘the way we do things at our centre/in our family’ unconsciously.

But for some things, especially in the area of values, virtues, and character development, it’s necessary for us to live them out loud.

Children benefit from discussing and practising things like generosity, kindness and care for the environment, if they’re going to grow into the people we hope they will be.”

So today we’re continuing a series brainstorming different ways an early childhood education centre could live their values out loud, make a big noise about these wonderful things we want our children to pick up on, and in doing so, also strengthen connections with religious families – and, indeed, all families.

Today we’re looking at wisdom, and we’d love to hear your ideas and tips in the comments below, and on our Facebook page, to share around.

Talking about Wisdom

What is wisdom, and how can you explain it to young children?

My favourite definition is ‘knowing what to do, and then doing it.’ It’s about knowledge plus action.

We can also use phrases like:

  • Solving problems with wise solutions
  • Making wise decisions about things like food, clothing choice and toileting
  • Stopping and thinking about what to do next, instead of just reacting quickly
  • Thinking about the consequences of our actions
  • Making wise choices that help our friends be happy
  • Doing the right thing
  • Making a sensible choice
  • Using our brains well.

Sources of Wisdom: Questions for Children to Ponder

Here are two more things you could chat about together at mat time, on different days.

Who do you know who is a wise person? Who makes good choices? This could tie in with an art activity about these people, perhaps.

The second question is: How do we learn to be wise? Some sources of wisdom to consider, and perhaps build on in your planning:

  • Wise people we know, like parents, teachers, aunties, big brothers, wise friends
  • Religious and cultural sources (this is worth exploring with your children’s families)
  • Traditional sayings, like ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ (this is a great area to ask for your families’ input on – see more below)
  • Stories (see below for some book ideas)
  • Experimentation: this could tie in with your science curriculum on forming and testing hypotheses
  • What else?

Dress-up Wisdom Activity

Do you have a dress-up clothes collection?

At mat time, or any time you are gathering a few children together, here’s an idea for exploring wisdom in a fun way.

  1. Bring out some pictures, dolls or books to represent different jobs or different weather, for example: gardening tools to represent gardening, when you’d need clothes that can get dirty.
  2. Ask the children: ‘What would be wise clothes to wear in this weather, or doing this job?’
  3. Let the children choose dress-up clothes that would be suitable for that situation. Children could take turns being the model, dressed up for the job of gardening, or fire-fighting, or for rainy or sunny weather.

Letting Children Practise Being Wise

Following the rules is not quite the same thing as learning to be wise, is it?

The more choices children have, the more chance they have to practise being wise. If we tell them what clothes to wear, when to go to the toilet, and what food to eat, they have little chance to learn to be wise for themselves in those areas.

If your centre doesn’t generally have room for children to make their own choices in all these areas, perhaps you could experiment with having a special ‘Month of Wisdom’, where a group of children, with parental agreement, is coached to learn to make their own wise choices in specific areas.

In your Month of Wisdom, you could have a special training session for your children on what wise choices look like when it comes to outdoor clothing, for instance. Then the children get the chance to practise being responsible – with teacher support – for their own clothing choices throughout that month.

Sometimes they might make unwise choices. That’s okay! You can do a daily debrief on the consequences of their choices and you can always step in to stop them getting in real trouble (like gently insisting on the usual hat rule after ten minutes of bare-headed experimentation).

If you’re interested in this topic, a couple of longer articles you might find useful are Lucy AitkenRead’s work on allowing children body autonomy as much as possible, and one by me on the power of letting children decide what to eat for themselves.

Everyday Wisdom

Once wisdom is a thing you regularly talk about, you can point out examples of it in your everyday activities.

‘What a wise choice, to put on a hat when you came outside. That will help keep you warm/keep your skin safe from the sun.’

‘Let’s be wise about where to put the paint down so it doesn’t make too much mess.’

‘Who can think of a wise solution to this problem?’

‘That was so wise!’

‘It’s wise to tidy up, so our things don’t get damaged.’

‘What would be a wise thing to do right now?’

‘Let’s try and be wise about when to go to the toilet.’

‘It’s wise to eat a variety of foods, isn’t it, to help our bodies get everything they need.’

‘I know you can make a wise choice.’

I’m sure you already do this kind of thing, whether it’s with wisdom or with ‘kind hands’ or ‘using our words’. Don’t you find it makes a real difference to point these things out, to identify them as they happen?

Stories showing Wisdom in Action

What picture books can you think of that show generosity in action?

Lillibut is a pig on a mission. In Lillibut’s Te Araroa Adventure, by Maris O’Rourke, a finalist for the New Zealand Children’s Book Awards, she wants to walk all the way from Cape Reinga to Auckland Zoo to see her cousins. Along the way she has lots of adventures, and she keeps being tempted to stay and play longer with the new friends she makes along the way, but she knows she wants to get to her destination, so she makes the wise choice to carry on at the end of the playtime. (Available in both English and te reo Māori.)

The Lorax is a classic Dr Seuss story warning against polluting the environment. It’s on the long side, but for children who are up for it, it’s got a lot to say about making wise choices about how we look after the world around us.

In The Little Yellow Digger at the Zoo, by Betty Gilderdale, the hippos have run out of room in their pool. This problem, and all the others that crop up along the way, are solved by a wise little girl who uses her brain.

If you have a good modern retelling, and if your children won’t be too scared by them, there are plenty of fairy tales that are about wise and foolish people, for example:

If your centre has older children who enjoy listening to audiobooks or to a teacher reading longer stories, you might want to check out Joy Cowley’s absolutely wonderful Snake and Lizard series, available as an audio download from Radio New Zealand, or from your local bookshop. Snake and Lizard are two friends who are very different, and have to practise all sorts of kind and wise behaviour to make their relationship work. They’re whimsical, funny stories, with a big heart.

Please let us know your favourites that other centres could hunt down.

Making the Most of Finding Common Ground

In this recent article on spirituality and religious life in early childhood education, I talked about finding common ground and making the most of it. Families from all religious – and secular – backgrounds will appreciate a centre focusing on values and virtues.

It’s worth remembering that every time you focus on positive character development, you will be further endearing your centre to parents. Make the most of this! Make sure families know that you care about helping their children practise wisdom, and celebrate wise choices in your learning stories.

If you have families with a particular religious affiliation, don’t be afraid of mentioning the connection to both adults and children. Most religious families will be delighted to find that their strongly-held values are being supported by your centre.

Similarly, the cultural background of all your families will be rich with sources of wisdom they could tell you about if you ask. What are their traditional stories of being wise or foolish? What wise sayings are passed around in their community?

Here’s an example of the kind of note you could pop in your next newsletter:

‘This month we are focusing on how we learn to be wise. We will be doing X, Y and Z, and we would also like to include stories and sayings from all our children’s cultures and religions. Please let us know anything we can share and work into our planning.’

What other ideas do you have that you could share with other readers? How are your children learning wisdom at your centre and at home? Let us know in a comment below, or on our Facebook page.

Thalia Kehoe Rowden was a Playcentre kid before attending St John’s Hill Kindergarten in Whanganui, New Zealand. Some time later, she became a Baptist church minister, then a mother and a writer. She now lives with her husband and two small children in Wellington, New Zealand, and knows more about dinosaurs and astronomy than ever before. You can follow her on TwitterFacebook, and her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.

Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya was born in Lower Hutt and went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone Kindergarten. A qualified ECE, she studied at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked with home-based educators, in community-based childcare and in kindergarten. With childhood memories of reading books and writing stories, combined with her passion for all things social media, Sonya segued into her role with us at Storypark as social media manager.

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One Comment

  1. Hi Sonya. By visiting here I got a wonderful writing to read about wisdom. Being a father of 2 children I can easily understand how important is to make our kids a wise person. And the stories that are full of wisdom and deliver a good moral lesson can be so helpful. In this regard, I like my children to read Aesop’s Fables as it is a big collection of such a tales.


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