Thursday, March 28, 2013

We Choose Virtues Review

A review for Mosaic Reviews

We Choose Virtues

We Choose Virtues is a multi-faceted curriculum designed to help children learn and grow in making those decisions that enable them to “reach their true potential” and succeed in life. The product site is The curriculum features 12 virtues or positive traits with memorable characters and catch phrases to help a child learn, memorize, and put into practice each of the virtues. Each virtue has its own child character who exemplifies the virtue being taught.It also appears each virtue is a unique color.

The curriculum was born out of the sincere concern that children overcome behavior patterns that hamper their ability to cope with others, function effectively, and be productive. Creator Heather McMillan designed materials that seek to make it fun to learn virtues and easy to put that learning into practice.
I received for review a subset of the Virtue Kit products that included student cards, a sample of a parent card, and assessment and Bible verse forms. PDF documentation includes a teacher resource and coloring materials. The product web site illustrates tools for kids, families, homeschools, churches, and schools. The products include posters, progress charts, awards, coloring media, iron-ons, and materials for parents and teachers to track and chart progress. Materials are available in King James version and New International Reader's Version as well as a secular version, without Bible references on them.

Three basic tenets are obedience, kindness, and helpfulness. The twelve virtues recall both the Boy Scout Law and the Beatitudes, as well as other biblical and traditional moral precepts. The curricula are designed with different learning styles in mind and are also designed to scale to different age groups.

The curriculum tries to be fairly comprehensive and offers elements for different age groups, early childhood through elementary. The “Three Rules” are geared more for the young, while the older children have the full twelve points. The former are more concrete while the latter are more advanced and abstract, requiring some self-reflection and thought.

Some of that information is available on the blog. Also as part of the blog Heather engages her customers and their questions in a manner that is helpful in finding ways to best apply the curriculum for various needs.

Visit the We Choose Virtues Website to see pictures and contents of other kits available as well as pricing information.

Heather has generously provided several coupon codes for saving on purchases.
HOME20 is for 20% off the Homeschool kit during the months of March and April
VIRTUE15 is for 15% off purchases. There is no expiration date for this code.

My Thoughts

I received the Virtue flashcards ($14.99) and pdf copies of the teacher handbook($5.00), coloring book($3.00), memory work list (free) and family character assessment (free) to review.

The picture to the side is the front and back of two different cards. I wanted to give you an idea of what they look like. Each card is about 3 x 5 inches and made of card stock. To me they feel slightly slick, which I like as they are easy to handle.

It seems like the curriculum tries to span the cognitive abilities of both younger and older children. In the coloring materials, for example, one will find both simpler and more complex coloring pages, as well as simpler and more complex activities. My eight year old would be frustrated with the activity pages as there wasn't a word list for the word search puzzle and the directions on another page where written is a script similar to cursive. Similarly, the suggested activities contain both simpler and more advanced suggestions. There is a concern to keep the activities fun while not taking away from the seriousness of the material. It is  also emphasized that teachers should model virtue.

Some aspects of the curriculum seemed a bit vague, and even the web site  appeared to be the same way. In some ways, reading various blog entries helped give far greater insight into the thinking behind the curriculum than the actual materials. But at times one seemed caught between secular or psychological expressions, while seeing more “spiritual” or Bible-based expressions elsewhere. The issues of scalability and market certainly have a part in that; it is hard to be all things to all markets.

I found some virtues to be well-designed for children. Kindness as the Golden Rule, what it means to be gentle, and attentiveness are all portrayed in a way that is straightforward and attainable. Yet patience, perseverance, and diligence seem to be more abstract. Obedience is fine in theory, but it also is very dependent on the family and social systems of the children. Contentment is almost exclusively negative in portrayal. In short, it was hard to find a consistent target age for the curriculum because, with Piaget, one might discern differences in concrete and abstract concepts that cut across certain concepts.

In trying to use these cards, I found myself thinking that “this is good in theory, but...” I kept coming back to Romans 8. Virtue, at its root, means sharing in the inheritance and the nature of the one in whose image you have been made. The Latin word “vir” mean man, and he passes his “virtus,” his defining qualities, to those of his kind. Thus, virtue is not fundamentally a choice, but a reflection of either freedom in Christ through the Spirit or slavery to Satan via sin.

I understand that this plays out in the daily decisions that we make, and that it is hard to make a curriculum that reaches a broad consensus on the basis of virtue and the motivation for being virtuous. For example, one can show that the Japanese have a culture that is very conscious of virtue, family, respect, hard work, and social order. Yet their society has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world. If love has a central importance to the curriculum, why should the teacher be the one having to write that into the materials and their use?

In other words, if I am going to use materials on virtue, I want to see something that features the story of love, where God first loved His creation by making it very good. Where He modeled love to His fallen creation by dying to save it. Where His Spirit calls people to a new life, a new freedom, in which they have been set free from the total depravity of sin in order to live lives of freedom to choose the virtuous, yet realizing that we fall short and need forgiveness. I think that the curriculum can go in this direction, but its wording falls short of that in order to appeal to the widest possible market. The result is something that doesn't know whether it is psychological or spiritual. One could get the idea that one can simply choose to be free, choose to be good, choose to be virtuous, without the fundamental narrative of forgiveness and new life in Christ.

I found a number of virtues simply to be the expression of “don't do bad things.” I found that the opportunities for compassion, for working with possible child frustration, and for dealing with different situations that might color a child's experience to be something that I had to provide. As a result, I found that I could use my own denomination's materials on how to talk about virtues to be more effective, less work for me, and at a better price point.

Also, Zondervan's position on gender neutral language and its 2013 mandate that its clients are required to adhere to the new versions that use such language have eliminated Bible versions produced by Zondervan (NIRV) from use in my denomination due to their failure to be faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Yet King James is a bit outdated for kids to use.

Although I believe that this curriculum was born out of genuine love and spiritual concern for children, I also believe that the broad market focus of the curriculum dilutes that driving force. Moreover, the price point makes it prohibitive, given the amount of work that I need to do in order to “baptize” for my purposes some otherwise helpful ideas about virtue. I can find other materials that have a stronger focus on Christ, deal with similar issues, and have a better price point.

A small issue is that the McMillans have changed Internet domains, while a number of their print and electronic materials still point to the old domain. The old domain produces an error when accessed. In addition, some elements on their site, especially in the blog area, are still under construction or did not survive their transition well. Hopefully that will be fixed.

 Having said all that I do believe the materials are very kid friendly, engaging and colorful. Their bright colors make all the products inviting and engaging for young children. Children will want to learn more.

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