Character Education, Dr Seuss and Te Whariki: A Likely Combination

By Singer, Miriam J. | Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Character Education, Dr Seuss and Te Whariki: A Likely Combination


Singer, Miriam J., Australasian Journal of Early Childhood


   Can we teach them wrong from right?
   Can we help them see the light?
   Using books I'm glad to say,
   May teach the moral of the day.

   We should teach them in the home,
   We should teach them where they roam.
   We can teach them in the school,
   Where they'll learn the golden rule.

Introduction

ONCE UPON A TIME, long before Dr Seuss, early childhood education came from the home. During the first few years of a child's life, it was the parents, extended family, community and religious leaders who were responsible for teaching values--so that the child entered school with a solid moral background. While home values are still critical, it seems that increased responsibility is being placed upon the schools to instil in students appropriate values--collectively referred to as 'character education' (Ryan, 1993).

In New Zealand, Te Whariki has consciously and judiciously designed the early childhood curriculum to address issues of character education, both overtly and covertly. Principles of holistic development, family and community, and relationships (Ministry of Education, 1996) are immediately brought to the forefront, along with the importance of building a child's moral compass from infancy onwards. Moreover, Te Whariki is specifically concerned with promoting and developing the values of the child in light of their cultural heritage:

To address bicultural issues, adults working in early childhood education should have an understanding of Maori views on child development and on the role of the family, as well as understanding the views of other cultures in the community. (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 41)

Values that are introduced in the home need to be respected, supported and reinforced in the school setting. Furthermore, since students come from different cultural backgrounds, the teacher needs to be familiar with the various cultures in his or her classroom, and facilitate mutual understanding and respect within the classroom community (Cowhey, 2006).

Dr Seuss has become a household name. His books are perennial favourites and are considered by many to be classics. Why is it that these books hold such power over young and old alike? Is it the outrageous characters that he created? The unconventional style of the art? Perhaps, it is the unique names of the characters, such as the 'Lorax', 'Zax' and the 'Sneetches', which have become part of our everyday vocabulary? Perhaps it is the rhyme and rhythm that holds the attention of readers and listeners. Whatever the case, there may be more than meets the eye (or ear).

This paper seeks to show an intimate connection between character education and Dr Seuss. Moreover, the author suggests that by using Dr Seuss' stories in the early childhood classroom in an appropriate manner, a teacher can fulfil many of the goals of Te Whariki. First, the author discusses character education in early childhood, including culturally mediated learning. Second, there is a discussion of Te Whariki and its foundation for well-rounded child development. Third is a discussion of the use of literature as a vehicle for teaching and learning across content areas. Fourth, the author examines Dr Seuss and selected Seuss books, and gives suggestions for specific lessons. Finally, the article concludes with the connection between the selected Seuss books and the strands, goals and objectives of Te Whariki, visualised in a table.

Character education in early childhood: Train a child in his way'

There has been widespread controversy over what should and should not be included in character education in the classroom. Perhaps the most common term applied to character education is 'values'. In 1993, Ryan wrote a paper entitled Mining the values in the curriculum. In it, he discusses both formal curriculum and hidden curriculum. Lickona also traces the history of character education, stating that 'the Bible was the public school's sourcebook for both moral and religious instruction' (1993, p. …

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