“Character is higher than intellect.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I ask parents about their hopes and dreams for their child, I typically hear responses that focus on character development skills and the emotional well-being of their child. Many times, responses are similar to these:

  • I want my child to be a good person who shows concern for others.
  • I want my child to be kind, caring, and give back to their community.
  • I want my child to be able to navigate life—the highs and lows.

In the Colorado Academy Lower School, we value the academic aspect of school, but we truly believe that developing character and learning social skills are at the heart of our work with young students. Our primary goal is to provide opportunities to practice intrapersonal and interpersonal skills at every age.

The Formative Five

In January 2021, Dr. Tom Hoerr presented a SPEAK lecture at CA about the Formative Five. The Formative Five comprise empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity, and grit.

In the spring, the Lower School community engaged in a strategic planning process to review how these skills can be emphasized during a student’s experiences at CA. Through discussions with faculty, staff, and families, we developed a roadmap to support our work in diversity, equity, inclusion, and social-emotional development for students ranging in age from 4-11. We have a multi-layered approach this year, and we have rolled out the Formative Five, grade-level themes, and problem-solving conflict resolution steps.

In his book, Hoerr includes “I statements” to support students in understanding how they can apply the Formative Five in their daily words and actions. These statements, which would be easy to implement at home as well, are posted in every classroom and are a part of our recess expectations.

Empathy: I understand and share what someone else is thinking and feeling.

Self-Control: I am in charge of my emotions, thoughts, words, and actions.

Integrity:  I choose to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Grit: I step out of my comfort zone, risk failing, but I never give up.

Embracing Diversity: I appreciate myself and celebrate the differences among all people.

To support our work with the Formative Five, we have developed grade-level themes that will be emphasized throughout the year in conversations and activities.

Pre-K: I am unique and celebrate myself and others.

Kindergarten: I am part of a family and my community.

First Grade: I am kind, caring, and understand how I impact the world.

Second Grade: I recognize the similarities and differences we all have, and it helps us work together.

Third Grade: I listen to others and share my voice.

Fourth Grade: How do I lead myself and others in a fair and just way?

Fifth Grade: Who am I, and what’s my story?

Mrs. Hamman, our Lower School Counselor, has been providing problem-solving skills training for each classroom. Within the classroom lessons, she is helping students to identify feelings, use “I feel” statements, and develop strategies to resolve problem situations with others. Students are practicing how to calm down, listen, reflect, brainstorm solutions, apologize if needed, and know how to let it go.

We are excited to implement these initiatives in the Lower School this year and to support character development and the social emotional well-being of children. And…we cannot wait to see them use these skills as they grow and develop through the years.