Courage is Not Optional


My first group of 5 year olds are nearing the climbing wall for their initial lesson and I can already hear the mixture of sounds from wild excitement to great fear. They are anxious to touch the rocks and have a climb.


As they sit listening to the initial instructions, I introduce some new vocabulary, courage and fear. I ask if anyone has ever heard of the word courage before. No one answers, but they all know that fear is the same as being scared. I give them a simple definition. Courage is when you feel fearful, but you go ahead and do the activity anyway. I know it means nothing at this point because they just don’t have enough life experience to hang a great deal of meaning on such a sophisticated concept as courage. As quickly as I can I get all 15 students climbing, at least 7 at anyone time because I know that the more they climb the courageous they will become.

I have come to realize, after doing this curriculum for two years now, that while other virtues like determination, working hard, respect, and honesty are expectations in school, courage is rarely named. We have what we call ESLRs in our school. (Expected Schoolwide Learning Outcomes) which include values like cooperation and caring. We work all year on these virtues as does every other teacher and parent in the school, and you can watch the young ones grow by leaps and bounds in these areas from the beginning of the school year to the end. climb3.jpg climb4.jpg

Courage is not yet part of the ESLR program, but climbing is, so it gives me the opportunity to work on the virtue that has yet received its due by worldwide curriculum planners.

Courage is the virtue that is most needed at the beginning of every new endeavor, the one that children use when standing up in front of the class to make a presentation, when turning in paper to be marked, and when taking an examination to see how much they have learned in a given time period. When my 5 year olds are on the wall, they all have fear at some point. I never let them go away, if I can help it, without facing a little more fear so that they can become a little more courageous. It may be to just look up rather than looking down or to reach for one more hold or to get them thinking about the next time that they are on the wall.


We emphasize safety in our school, a lot, and we do have safety mats for the climb, but what we are working on is being able to take risks. Taking risks is not optional for a successful life so it isn’t optional for kindergarten students on the climbing wall. They see what the goal is and then take one step after another to conquer their fears. It is a perfect metaphor for life and so exciting to have as curriculum.


One Response to “Courage is Not Optional”

  1. Juliet Says:

    great post dad! great camera work too! Wow, this really made me see courage in a new light, thank you!

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