March 2, 2013

the Virtues Project

Our dear friend Jack's wife sent him to our house with a book that she was no longer using because her kids (and grand kids) are all grown up now.  I had no idea what a gem she was giving us, but this book has been so, so very amazing!  It's called the Virtues Guide, and it has a virtue to focus on for each week of the year with verses from all different religions, kids friendly discussions about why the virtue matters, a description of how you know when you've mastered the virtue and how to know that you still need to work on it.


But before all the virtues talk starts, it has a very frank discussion with parents about order in the house, what a healthy sphere of authority in your home looks like, how to follow through with consequences, and why discipline and authority matter.  I love this part because I often feel that when I authoritatively dictate to my children what behavior is expected of them, other parents who are near enough to witness it look uncomfortable.  I feel like my generation is trying to over-correct what they feel  was overly authoritative parenting with an overly permissive style of parenting, which I see as a true disservice to our children.  It's almost a fear that if we impose any standards on our kids, they will grow up to hate us and not be our friends.  It's bugged me forever, but I've never found the right words to express what my heart feels on this topic.  But this book found the words I've been looking for.  It talked about a parent's obligation to use their authority over their child not as a means of control or self-satisfaction, but in service of the moral development of the child.  In a way, that idea raises the child up on a pedestal- which we seem very eager to do in our culture-  but not one of over indulgence.  A pedestal on which the adults in their lives are living in service of the higher nature of the child, which is yet undeveloped.

I can't say enough good things about this book, and I feel a little guilty about sharing it because it no longer exists in the fantastic format that has been gifted to us.  But I found that it has been revamped for modern times and can be purchased here.  It's by the same people, but having not read the new version for myself, I cannot say how well it matches up.


 But I wanted to share with you a cool activity that we have added to our week as a result of this book.  We call it our virtues tree.  I used acrylic paint to make a sort of naked tree on each child's window.  *Acrylic paint can be easily removed from glass with a razor blade.  It's what they use on store windows during the holidays.*  Each morning, before we start school work, we sit in a circle and I read a page about the day's virtue.  In the evening, we discuss whether or not we were successful in embodying that particular virtue during the day.  The kids share events in which they had the chance to exercise that virtue.  This has been excellent.  Particularly because sometimes they look down at their lap and say, "I'm sad because I don't think I used that virtue today."  Then a different member of the family has a chance to say, "Yeah you did!  I saw you use assertiveness when that friend was trying to boss you around and you stood up for yourself without being mean back.  It was awesome!"  So it's given us a chance to self-evaluate as well as a chance to look for the good in each other.  Hopefully that will slowly begin to bleed out into the rest of our lives.

But back to the tree, on Friday, if we feel like we've successfully exercised that virtue all week long, the kids use water colors to pain a coffee filter and cut it out in the shape of a leaf or a flower.  Then we write the name of the virtue on it and use sticky tack to put it on the tree.  

I will admit that we have had 2 week in which we decided we couldn't add that virtue to our tree, and thus we decided to give the virtue a repeat week and see if we could do better.  The first was the very first virtue in the book, assertiveness.  I realize that not only did I not ever consider assertiveness a virtue until I read this book (and then I really got it!), but I realize that I have never mastered that and therefore, have not passed that trait on to my kids.  Oops!  And it was a hard one for us.  I'm a serious people pleaser and I often let people demand too much of me without standing up for myself.  My kids, in turn, struggle with the same thing.  So we worked and worked, and checked in with each other, and decided that this was going to be a hard one for us and that we needed to give it another week.  The other one was cleanliness.  Cleanliness happened to fall on an unusually busy week that also involved a family illness, so we gave it a second try as well.  I think it's important to be honest and not add the leaf just because we finished the week.  The kids accepted that well and want the challenge.  

So it's been great!  I've enjoyed the discussion.  I have learned a TON from this book.  Not just about parenting, but about the virtues.  It's so well designed with examples of why the different virtues matter, that I feel like my own understanding has been broadened and my kids are really going to benefit from this daily practice.  We're about 4 virtues and 6 weeks in, so I think that the habit is full formed and we're in it for the long haul!


  1. Thanks for sharing...this sounds like just what we need for our family. Also I am loving the book you wrote. We've been struggling in our homeschool adjusting after a move and it's just what I needed to refoucus and light that fire again. Thanks!!

  2. I love, love, love your virtue tree! We do a different character trait each month and I've been looking for something to tie it all together. This is just perfect. Thank you!


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