I keep a small stone on my desk with the word ‘breathe’ painted on it. It’s a reminder to slow down, find my center, and focus on what matters. When work gets hectic or life throws me a curveball, it’s a visual reminder of what is important and the kind of person I want to be.
Educational psychologist Michele Borba notes that children need similar kinds of prompts to help them thrive. In her book, Thrivers, she suggests inviting kids to paint ‘character rocks’ that identify personal strengths that they already have and want to develop. These might include traits such as confidence, optimism, integrity, perseverance, empathy, curiosity, bravery, kindness, and creativity.
Making Character Rocks
Character rocks can be made in many shapes and sizes. If you want to collect them in a bowl or on a tray, use small stones just 1-2 inches in diameter. If you have a larger space, like a garden area or porch basket, use 3-5 inch diameter rocks. You could also use bricks to create a walkway or wall.
Use acrylic paint to decorate the rocks. Paint brushes work well for covering a large surface with color. Paint pens allow for finer decorations and details. You might invite children to brush paint all over their rocks first, and then, once the base coat has dried, use paint pens to embellish their design.
Add character words to the rocks. Use a paint pen or permanent marker to write one character trait on each rock. You might invite children to name the traits or suggest traits that you see in them. You can also involve other adults in your community by asking them to suggest possibilities. The more rocks you have, the more people you might include in the process.
Using Character Rocks
Place the rocks where children can see and touch them. A basket of small rocks might sit on a family table or near a classroom window. Larger stones can be part of a rock garden or march down a set of steps. Wherever you place the rocks, provide some way for children to sit, pick them up, and explore them.
Encourage rock games and conversations. Some character traits are big words for small children. Invite kids to pick a rock with a word they can’t pronounce or aren’t sure what it means (e.g. perseverance, integrity) and talk about that trait. Ask them to select a rock that names a trait and share how they are expressing that trait today. Play hide-and-seek with the rocks and encourage them to ‘adopt’ the trait they find as a focus for a day or a week. Group rocks with similar traits together and ponder how traits reinforce one another.
Photograph children with the rocks. Ask children to select a rock that ‘speaks’ to them as a description of a trait they have and snap a photo of them holding that rock. Then suggest they select another rock that expresses a trait they want to develop. Take another photo and place the two images side-by-side on a digital or physical board accessible to the child. Encourage them to view the images as a reminder of their current and developing character strengths.