The Character Construction Site:


America was established and built by enterprising pioneers, people who faced challenges with a “can do” attitude.  That “pioneer spirit” lies dormant within each of us and needs a vibrant reawakening.  Genuine learning and character development will be inspired in a family or school system where students will believe that their best efforts will be respected. 

If we value effort, success and failure, we promote life-long learning.  Too often talent and perfect grades get the recognition when a child’s honest struggle goes unnoticed.  Achievement culture says that money and success are all that count.  Character culture says that each person should work to fulfill their unique potential and take risks, that might end up in failure and tremendous learning, to encourage their growth.  The character trait of effort promotes attitude over aptitude.

Definition of effort = the use of physical or mental energy to do something, exertion. Source:  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth edition, 2000.


  • Demonstrate that nothing can stop the person with the right attitude. 
  • Demonstrate the development of character and self worth that might occur as a result of struggling through a challenge.
  • Give specific praise for effort shown this month.  Distinguish between effort and outcome. 
  • Be very clear and concrete when you teach by example.  Talk about what you did and why, and make sure that the children know that you just demonstrated effort.  

Family Activities


  • “I think I can!” from The Little Engine That Could.
  • Attitude over aptitude.
  • Effort makes ability. 
  • Great efforts make great results.
  • Nothing can stop the person with the right attitude; nothing can help the person with the wrong one.
  • The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Building Blocks
This is a simple tool for building effort.  All of us—parents, children, teachers, and students—travel through these phases within a myriad of activities.  We might be at all three levels in different endeavors at any given time.  Progress may not occur overnight, but it can happen in a steady fashion so long as we stay on course.  The one variable that we cannot control is the timetable of our children’s or our students’ growth. 

  • Motions - The individual follows the motions of responsible behavior.
  • Effort - The individual begins to take pride in meeting his or her given challenges.
  • Excellence - The individual begins to pursue his or her best.

A child or student operating below motions is considered “off track.”

Building Blocks:  A chain reaction; An evolutionary process
Excellence Giver ·Concept of one’s BEST.

  • Student is majority shareholder.
  • Prime the pump: givers assume responsibility for the growth of the takers.
  • Parents and teachers let go.EFFORT Doer ·Beginnings of a positive attitude.
  • If I have to do this, I might as well do it well.
  • Expectations are shared.  A parent - child or student - teacher partnership begins to evolve.
  • Creativity begins.     

Foundation Motions: Taker

  • The motions of responsible behavior
  • Move the body and the mind will follow.
  • Expectations are set by the  parents.
  • Sometimes an unpleasant phase.  


Chair Exercise

Materials:  Chair, paper, pen and 30 minutes.
Explanation:  One parent should take the lead.  Hold the chair over your shoulder.  (You can do this by locking your arms through the rungs on the back of the chair.)  Walk around the space in front of the family and ask them, “What do you think about me? (Most of them will laugh and say they think you may be a little crazy.)  Then ask the family to think about attitudes they carry just like you are carrying the chair.  Ask them to write down an attitude they may be carrying that is unproductive.  Some questions to ask that may be helpful are:

  • “Do you think you need to carry this chair (attitude)?”
  • “What would happen if you put the chair (attitude) down?”
  • “What chairs (attitudes) do we carry as a family?”

Effort/Attitude Chart
Materials:  Large piece of paper for each chart, marker, tape, 15 minutes
Explanation:  Have each family member come up with one to three areas of aptitude they would like to improve upon.  Create a chart for each person and decide on a time frame to chart (week, month, etc.).  Then set up the chart so that one axis is the aptitude and the other represents the attitude/effort.  Each week, make an entry about how each family member is addressing that skill or area of improvement.  At the end of the time frame, sit down as a family and talk about the results. 

Some questions to ask:

  • “Did you find improving you’re attitude helped improve you’re aptitude?”
  • “How did you improve your attitude?”
  • “Ca\n you carry this into other areas?”

The Effort Savings Bank
Any effort I expend toward my best or toward helping others toward their best goes into an imaginary savings bank where it accrues interest and will be returned to me in the future, perhaps even when I least expect it.  The Effort Savings Bank can release us from undue worry about the outcome of our efforts.  We simply try to concentrate on the input a\and trust that good things will eventually result.  We aim high and let go.  If we try to do something and fail, we try to imagine that our efforts will materialize on some future endeavor. 

Materials:  Shoebox with lid taped down and slit in the top, white slips of paper, pencil, and 30-60 seconds to make a deposit.  Box may stay out for weeks, months, etc.

Explanation:  Write the family name on the shoebox and place it in a heavy traffic family area (kitchen or family room).  Ask family members to make out a deposit slip every time they extend a\n extra effort.  Examples include:

  • Trying out for an athletic team
  • Learning a new skill (computer, left-hand dribble)
  • Reaching out to someone who is difficult
  • Speaking up in a large group
  • Singing
  • Learning to dance
  • Working out

After the box has taken deposits for a period of time, open the box and sit as a family and talk about the efforts that were made.  Some questions to think about:

  • What has happened as a result of that effort?
  • How did you feel at the time?
  • How do you feel about it now?
  • What does it take to try new things?

“Family Risk Tree”
Materials: Paper and supplies to make a large tree trunk and a box of plain “leaves” to put by the tree. 30 minutes will be needed to put up the tree and then daily/weekly input.

Explanation: This exercise helps encourage risk-taking as a key factor in developing attitude and aptitude.  It may be helpful to first talk about risks and define the term: “What are dangerous risks to take as opposed to risks taken to encourage growth?”

Brainstorm some important risks:

  • Speaking up in class or at work
  • Meeting a new friend
  • Learning a new move in sports
  • Saying no to something that may cause rejection
  • Singing a song
  • Getting in shape
  • Looking for a job
  • Asking for more responsibility

Leave the box of leaves by the “tree.”  As family members take risks, they are to label their act and tape it to the tree.  At the end of a week or month, the family can get together and review the tree.

Some questions to ask:

  • “What did I learn from taking that risk?”
  • “What has been difficult?”
  • “Has my aptitude improved as a result?”
  • “Has my attitude improved as a result?”
  • “Has my family seen any change in me?”

These exercises and comments were excerpted and adapted from The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have: Find the Right Balance Between Character and Achievement for Your Child by Laura and Malcolm Gauld, Introduction by Marc Brown, author of the Arthur series, Scribner 2002. For more information visit,  This is an excellent book that describes the Hyde School Program for Character-Based Education and Parenting.  Reading it will light a fire under your character education at home!

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