Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Youth Virtue Journal {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

As members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, sometimes we have the privilege of reviewing general parenting and character education resources - not JUST for homeschoolers! Most recently, we got to look at and review the Youth Virtue Journal Volume 1 which is the newest product from We Choose Virtues.
We Choose Virtues Review
We Choose Virtues is a company that provides parents and teachers with tools to help build positive character traits in children. Heather McMillan developed materials with the goal of helping students make lasting attitude changes, inspiring them using simple, positive, and consistent instructions. These virtues and the catchphrases that go along with them are used by parents, teachers, and counselors to help kids learn to make positive choices. Personally, I recognize the We Choose Virtues materials from having seen their products geared for homeschoolers at curriculum fairs.

Recently We Choose Virtues introduced a new product aimed at helping teens to develop virtues, and this is what we were able to review. The Youth Virtue Journal and the accompanying downloadable tools (a Youth Mentor's Handbook, Mentor Meeting report forms, a Youth Character Assessment, and a list of Memory Verses and Bible Heroes) was originally designed for use in the Idaho Court system, but promises to be helpful for youth leaders, mentors, and parents or grandparents in guiding pre-teens and teens to make positive decisions and live out these virtues.
We Choose Virtues Review
The Youth Virtue Journal lists nine positive traits for a young person to learn about and put into practice with the help of a mentor. 
  1. I am Attentive - I watch and listen carefully.
  2. I am Content - I have my 'WANTER' under control.
  3. I am Forgiving - I choose to love when others hurt me.
  4. I am Gentle - I speak quietly and touch softly.
  5. I am Helpful - I find things that need to be done and I do them.
  6. I am Honest - I think the truth, I speak the truth, and I live the truth.
  7. I am Obedient - I am prompt, willing, cheerful and complete.
  8. I am Perseverant - I can do it even when it's tough.
  9. I am Respectful - I use words and actions that honor others and myself.
The Mentor Handbook provides encouragement and instruction on how to use the journal and how the mentor should interact with the student. Much of the instruction is specific to mentors - in other words, not parents! At each "meeting", the student is invited to go to the Dream Journal section of their book and write down a goal or hope that they have, big or small, and reflect a little on what obstacles they will need to overcome and which of the virtues they've discussed will help them achieve that dream. Then they will go back to the chapter specific to the virtue for that session and examine how well they understand what the virtue is, how well they live it out, and how they can improve. The Journal guides them to look at the people they know that exemplify each virtue and how they are affected by it. There are some inspiring quotes, a place for the mentor to write down their advice to the student, space for the student to journal their own thoughts about the virtue, and a place for them to commit to making the changes.
The downloadable Character Assessment is for the student and mentor to fill out together, evaluating how well the student does in each of the virtues. It's suggested to fill it out before starting the program, and then do it again - using a different color pen - at the end, as a measure of how they've improved.
A list of appropriate Bible verses and Bible Heroes and stories is provided separately as a Scriptural basis for the virtues. The Scripture is not part of the Journal itself because it was designed to used in a secular youth court system. Some of the inspiring quotes within the Journal are from Scripture, but they are attributed to their writer (for example, St. Paul) rather than the chapter and verse reference.

How did we use it? Because the Mentor Handbook is directed to youth mentors and not to parents, I skimmed through most of it, but printed out some sections with information specifically about using the Journal. Once I'd figured out how to tweak it a little so it was appropriate for use with my own kid, we sat down to do the initial Character Assessments. (We haven't done the Character Assessment at the end yet.) This took more thought than I'd anticipated, but provided us a clearer picture of where Kennady and Landon could improve their attitudes and behavior. Kennady was willing to work through the Journal with me, but I printed out a copy of the Memory Verses and Bible Heroes page for both kids.

Kennady sometimes struggled to come up with a "dream" for her Dream Journal section, so I didn't insist on something "new" to correspond with each virtue we discussed. Here's one of her dreams - owning a good camera and becoming a photographer. She identified a couple of general things she needed to do to make that happen, and some virtues she would need to develop to help her. There really isn't a space to "Describe the Dream", just a line for the date, so she squeezed it in as best she could.
One virtue that we decided she needed to work on was being Helpful. We liked that the Journal gave specific questions to help us understand what kinds of things are included in this virtue - seeing needs and taking care them without being told, following instructions, learning new skills, demonstrating good attitude when asked to do things, being generous, and not expecting repayment. We discovered there was a lot more to being helpful than we'd originally thought!  Kennady marked her list to show which aspects of Helpfulness she was pretty good at, and which ones she struggled with.

We had some very good discussion times, and looked at the Bible passages suggested. We used the assessments in the Journal to come up with action steps Kennady could take to do better with each virtue. Whether it was a good thing or not, I found myself reminding her in my "mom voice" when there was an opportunity to practice a virtue or when she was leaning towards the negative attitude. 

Although I understand why the Biblical viewpoints and Christian teaching on the virtues could not be prominently featured in a resource for secular use, I was also struck by the thought that the motivation to behave virtuously is rather thin when not prompted by a desire to live a godly life. It's unfortunate, then, that much of the focus for WHY to develop the virtues appears to be for personal gain and advancement. 
What we liked best:
  • I loved that it spelled out specifics of what it means to be Gentle, Respectful, or Obedient. These concepts are often vague even for adults, so to ask ourselves some hard questions about whether we are careless, or mocking, or quick to argue can be very instructive. And humbling. 
  • Those specifics make it easier to know what exactly to work on. To develop the virtue of being Helpful, we had to remember to take initiative and do what needed to be done, and to not roll our eyes or grouch about it even if we were doing it.
  • I felt that the Journal stressed the positives - the things we should DO, and building on success - rather than negatives - the DON'Ts and the failures.
What I need to mention:
  • We didn't like that the Dream Journal section was at the back of the Journal instead of at the beginning of each chapter. It made for a lot of extra flipping around and confusion. 
  • I think that this resource would be best used as it was originally intended - for a youth leader or caring adult other than the parent to encourage youth to develop these virtues. I felt sometimes that I was too tempted to use what Kennady was working on as an opportunity to nag her about her attitude, rather than being able to notice a pleasant improvement because someone else she respected was encouraging her in that area. 
  • Although the suggested age range is 12-18, I think it's more suited to the younger teens, perhaps 11-14. My 15yo son thought it looked a bit "young" for him.
We Choose Virtues Review
Our bottom line: Of course we all want our kids to develop godly traits and high moral standards for behavior, and the materials from We Choose Virtues provide helpful resources to do that. The Youth Virtue Journal is another excellent resource that I would recommend especially for use in a mentor relationship with young teens - youth pastors and volunteer youth leaders would find this program useful, although parents can certainly find ways to make valuable use of these materials with their own kids by making a few adjustments in how they are used.

We Choose Virtues Review
Would you like to encourage a young person to choose virtues? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:

Pricing: The individual Youth Virtue Journal is a 100-page softcover book, available for $17.00. Included in the purchase of the Youth Virtue Journal are the following downloadable PDF tools - Youth Mentor's Handbook, Youth Character Assessment for measurable outcomes, List of Scriptures appropriate for the virtues in the program. See the Tools for Youth page for more information and for related products.

We Choose Virtues has SUMMER SALES running right now, with some discounts available to Schoolhouse Review Crew readers:
1.      MAY-JUNE: *Promo Code BIG50 for 50% off our amazing set of 12 11x17 Kids of VirtueVille Posters! This is the first time we have ever offered these posters at this price. They are great for school classrooms, Kids Church, or your homeschool room. Kids love them for their bedrooms, bathrooms and kids’ hallways.
2.      JUNE-AUGUST: *Promo Code BTS20 for 20% off anything in our WCV Store. This includes any product  for kids or youth. Let’s start School with Virtues this year!  

*Only one promo code per order
Recommended Ages: 12-18 years old.

You can follow We Choose Virtues on Facebook, on Pinterest, and on their blog.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Some Crew members reviewed other products from We Choose Virtues so be sure to check those out as well!
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