Learning for Life: Foundations of Character

Foundations of Character explored the developing dispositions, attitudes and values of 24 focus children between the ages of three and six years in their homes and in early years settings in rural Kent and inner city London. The children were first observed when they were between three and four years of age and then tracked over a 19 month period, during which time some children made the transition to their first year of school. A total of 86 day-long visits provided rich observation evidence.

The study also included discussion groups with parents (early years), practitioners and teachers. Parents, carers and practitioners completed questionnaires. Interviews with parents, practitioners and teachers were held. Finally, the homes of five children were visited in order to gather more observational evidence. The children's complex interactions demonstrated that they:

  • were kind and considerate
  • showed an understanding of what it meant to be involved with others
  • were capable of taking control, or even trying to dominate when co-operating
  • usually displayed honesty and fairness in the way they treated others
  • showed subtlety and flexibility when dealing with others, facing up to issues and finding ways round them
  • frequently used humour in ways which transformed situations
  • took opportunities to encourage others in a positive way.

The parents' and professionals' views about developing character and values included:

  • agreeing that a good person is respectful, kind, honest and caring
  • commenting on their child's characteristics, parents most commonly said that their children were happy, caring, curious, kind, funny, helpful, and polite.

It was noted, also, that:

  • practitioners agreed with parents' comments on children's characteristics but were more likely, also, to say the children were responsible
  • parents were less confident about their child's sharing behaviour, though few said they were selfish.

The study confirmed a close connection between the emergence of moral awareness and social and emotional development. A key relationship for understanding the emerging moral sensitivity of children turned out to be 'sharing', which was theorised as a multi-dimensional concept using the observation data. Ownership was found to be a powerful facet of a child's experience and linked to behaviour and language.

The early years research was designed and managed by Dr Sacha Powell who worked with Dr Hsing-Chiung Lin and Dr Ray Godfrey (both formerly of Canterbury Christ Church University). This study was one part of a large-scale exploration of character and values (Learning for Life) and its findings were combined with those of five other studies all of which were overseen by Professor James Arthur (University of Birmingham).

Further information:

For the latest news from 'Learning for Life' link to: http://www.learningforlife.org.uk/)

For the 'Foundations of Character' - summary report link to: http://www.learningforlife.org.uk/wplife/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Foundations-of-Character_SUMMARY.pdf |)

For the 'Foundations of Character' - full report link to: (http://www.learningforlife.org.uk/wplife/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Foundations-of-Character_FULL.pdf |)

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