Elementary School is more than 1,2,3 – The Importance of Character Development in Early Years

Can you remember an experience in your elementary or high school years that truly shaped your character?

For me, playing field hockey was a key opportunity to build my character. I was not the most skilled of athletes – far from it, in fact. As is relatively common in the Netherlands, I played field hockey. Starting at age 9, the first years of hockey offered little competition. As I grew older, kids were started to be separated into different teams. From that moment onwards, there was a (very) strong incentive to perform. I remember that often when I started the training, I committed to put in twice as much effort as the other players, just to compensate for my skill.

It was a perfect opportunity to build my character at an early age. Most of us can think of several experiences in early adulthood that taught us certain values, but very few have had the opportunity to have such experiences at an earlier age – right when they are fundamentally important.

I strongly believe that elementary schools and high schools should go beyond teaching cognitive skills – reading, writing, mathematics – and start building character. Why? Because research shows that what distinguishes “successful” students later in life is not a difference in cognitive skill at an early age, but a difference in character.

Besides sports, starting and running Projects is a perfect opportunity for learning. That is why I think every child aged 11-12 (the final two years of high-school in most European countries) should have a compulsory project as part of his or her education. The success of such project education heavily depends on the skill of the teacher and the support of parents, other kids and partners. Inherently, project education seems unscalable, because it depends on the quality of people.

My question to you: How can a “project education” module be designed for scalability?

KIPP School in the Bronx

Knowledge is Power Program

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4 thoughts on “Elementary School is more than 1,2,3 – The Importance of Character Development in Early Years

  1. I definitely agree with you about elementary school shaping and moulding our character. It is where we have our first social interactions… And if there isn’t a lot of attention paid to children, they have the capacity to bring in the ugliness into society as ignorant adults.

  2. Does it need to be designed for scalability? Y-Combinator is a great example of a very successful project module (both lucrative and also of significant educational value) that is not necessarily scalable. However, its success in itself scales the module, though not to the benefit of the initial program. That is, after Y-Combinator, many others followed: TechStars, Betaspring, Seedcamp, etc.. So even though Y-Combinator itself didn’t scale, the concept itself scaled quickly and is now brought to participants/entrepeneurs worldwide.

  3. Interesting article, Titiaan! I think you’ve got a valid point here and I think on this point there is a lot that European schools can learn from schools in the United States. I believe that US schools and universities, in general, are more liberal than those in Europe, nurturing critical thinking (also see Martha Nussbaum’s Cultivating Humanity).
    The integration of sports and community projects in US elementary school is in my view a good start for project-based education. It offers all children, from every social background, to participate in these project.

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