The Complete
Core Virtues
Program and Resource Guide

TheCore Virtues program is a practical, non-sectarian approach to character education on the Kindergarten to sixth grade level.

Core Virtues

This literature-based program has as its goal the cultivation of character through the promotion of basic moral, civic, and intellectual virtues.  It emphasizes such “core virtues” as:  respect, responsibility, diligence, honesty, generosity, perseverance, courage, faithfulness, compassion, openness to inquiry, and humility in the face of facts. 

The program employs quality children’s literature to help children fall in love with the good, and to cultivate a vocabulary of virtue.



Welcome to the official Core Virtues support website! 

This site provides support and enhancement for Core Virtues™, a literature-based character education program. You may purchase the print volume on this site (at right) and browse our most recent recommendations for outstanding children’s books to support the program’s three year cycle of virtues.   Core Virtues is a K-6 program in character education that was first published in 1996 and is now used in hundreds of English-speaking schools worldwide.  

What is The Core Virtues Program?

Core Virtues is a practical, non-sectarian approach to character education on the kindergarten to sixth grade level.  Each month teachers highlight a key intellectual, moral, or civic virtue – virtues such as respect, responsibility, diligence, honesty, generosity, or perseverance.  They read quality children’s literature at a “Morning Gathering” to provide inspirational or insightful examples of virtue in action.  The reading of these well written and often beautifully illustrated stories helps children fall in love with the good, and cultivate a vocabulary of virtue. 
Virtues highlighted each month in the Core Virtues program are common ground, consensus virtues - not controversial social or political agendas.  A partial list includes:  respect, responsibility, diligence, gratitude, honesty, generosity, perseverance, courage, faithfulness, compassion, openness to inquiry, and humility in the face of facts.  The program objective is to ignite the imagination of the young, inspiring them to do and be their best.  The program is a catalyst for academic success because it encourages the habits of the heart and mind that are necessary for quality scholarship.

Why a story-based approach to character education?

All children aspire to greatness. Some want to be the fastest runners or most skilled athletes; others, the finest ballerinas. Still others long to be the best students, or most skillful painters, musicians, or poets. Boys and girls do not aspire to Olympian athletic prowess because their parents have drilled into them the health benefits of exercise.  Nor do they seek to become fabulous dancers because they have studied the importance of rhythm and agility. A child’s dreams of greatness spring from the epic dramas playing out in the theaters of their imaginations

Stories inspire them.  Grand narratives draw them forward, encouraging them to fall in love with either good or evil. William Kilpatrick has pointed out that a child facing cancer or illness or any great test of self may find inspiration and strength for the journey reading and re-reading the Twelve Labors of Hercules.  In like manner, one who thrills to Horatio at the Gate or The Story of Ruby Bridges is quicker to model civic courage and in the latter case, forgiveness as well.  Our job as parents and educators is to ensure that the dramas in our children’s imaginations are quality scripts, stories that inspire them to fall in love with virtue, with moral excellence. 

The Core Virtues program, with its strong story base, showcases quality children’s literature to nurture a robust and healthy moral imagination. The Core Virtues book contains an overview essay on the relationship of literature and character.  (The best book length explanation is in William Kilpatrick’s classic volume, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, Chapters 7 and 11.)

How do you implement Core Virtues?

Core Virtues is surprisingly easy for schools, teachers, and parents to implement.  It does not require elaborate teacher training or contrived pedagogical techniques.  It requires instead the introduction of an age-appropriate definition for each virtue (see Cycle of Virtues tab on this site) and the reading of quality children’s literature at a “Morning Gathering” for approximately 15 minutes per day three times a week. 

The Core Virtues program (print volume) includes: an overview of the program’s philosophical and historical underpinnings, a strategy for implementation, a month-by-month sequence for teaching consensus virtues on a three year cycle; grade specific goals for kindergarten to sixth grade; reproducible definition of the virtues keyed to various grade levels; and, most importantly, an extensive resource guide (bibliography) to quality children’s literature organized by virtue.

What’s the relationship between Core Virtues™ and Core Knowledge™ ?

Core Virtues was developed independently by former School Head, Mary Beth Klee.  The program was originally designed to be used in conjunction with the Core Knowledge Sequence, a content-rich academic curriculum developed by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and the Core Knowledge Foundation. Core Virtues remains an outstanding supplement to Core Knowledge and is used in many Core Knowledge schools nationwide and overseas. 

Of Core Virtues, Professor Hirsch has written:  “Mary Beth Klee doesn’t just make the case for character education, she delivers a first-class program.… It is a pleasure to see in Core Virtues a program that so capably fulfills the possibilities of the Core Knowledge Sequence.” The print volume of Core Virtues has a chapter devoted to Core Knowledge curricular connections.  Dr. Klee remains an enthusiast for the work of the Core Knowledge Foundation.

The Core Virtues program can be used with any academic curriculum. 

*The Geographer by Jan Vermeer (1668-69)The Geographer

A model of intellectual virtue, Jan Vermeer’s “Geographer” is lost in thought. Draped in a scholar’s robe, he seems to ponder the meaning of new geographic discoveries (many made by the Dutch) in this Age of Exploration.  The Geographer leans forward, as if pressing to an answer.  His open countenance, intellectual intensity, and commitment to the tools of his field embody a spirit of inquiry and accuracy.  The intellectual virtues of open-mindedness, wonder, diligence, precision, humility in the face of facts, and truth-seeking through objective means are front and center here.

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