Social – Emotional Curriculum Focuses on Building Strong Character, One Step at a Time

A social and emotional character building curriculum is buzzing throughout Oak Knoll’s Lower School PK-6 classrooms, in efforts to teach students how to build important character traits — like empathy, kindness and respect — at an early age.

The Lower School’s Character Strong curriculum reinforces many of the Holy Child School Goals, which call for compassion in every facet of life and to show reverence for the dignity and uniqueness of each person.

Melissa Nelson, Lower School Guidance Counselor, introduces one of the 10 core traits from the Character Strong curriculum – (honesty, perseverance, gratitude, cooperation, creativity, empathy, courage, kindness, respect, and responsibility) – to the students up to three times per month through various activities for each age group.

During one month, for example, students participated in lessons and activities surrounding the trait of gratitude.

“We created an ‘Attitude of Gratitude Tree’ where every student wrote what they were grateful for on a leaf and added it to our tree in the hallway,” said Nelson.

Also, the Lower School participated in a weeklong Gratitude Challenge where all Lower School community members were asked to participate in a different activity each day to build gratitude.

“Some of these activities included creating a class gratitude jar, a gratitude nature walk/gratitude through literature, gratitude meditation, growing our pleases and thanks yous, and telling someone why we are grateful for them,” said Nelson, who throughout the curriculum has seen many positive outcomes.

“Building resiliency, empathy and inclusion are strong undercurrents to all of my teaching,” said Nelson. “The Character Strong program also includes materials such as quotes, images and stories from authors of color and provides opportunities for age-appropriate conversations surrounding diversity, equity and race,” she said.

Nelson hopes to continue to increase the number and variety of school-wide programs associated with each monthly trait while reinforcing positive messages throughout the entire OKS community.

In Nelson’s monthly newsletter to parents, her goal is to offer at-home projects, discussion topics and books to read surrounding each monthly theme to help continue the conversations and grow them beyond the school walls.

“You never know what struggles people are facing,” said Nelson, who learned from a parent that her information about gratitude was helpful since they were feeling isolated during the pandemic. “In a time of such turmoil, I have the privilege of teaching young people how to be kinder to themselves and to others, how to develop intrinsic motivation in the face of challenge and how to self-regulate their moods in order to remain calm in the face of adversity.”

Nelson said that her work in the Lower School counseling department is an honor and a gift.

“If I can help young people grow to be more mindful, compassionate, and self-aware, then we have hope that the future will be happier and kinder than it is now,” she said.