Friday, May 18, 2012

Homeschool Review: Program for Achieving Character Education (PACE)

Program for Achieving Character Education (PACE) by M. Monica Speach, a program for Catholic schools and homes

update 8/7/16 - PACE has a new website, and it (currently) includes a quote from this post!

I read about this program on the Mater Amabilis Yahoo group emails and was immediately intrigued. I wasn't looking for a character development program. If I had thought about it at all, I would probably have said I expected our readings of the saints, history, myths and fairy tales to guide the children to naturally develop virtues like honesty and perseverance. As I considered the idea, though, I thought "studying" a particular virtue might allow us to delve further into each one and more explicitly address behavior, particularly between the children. So I found a little extra money in last year's budget to purchase the book.

It's a spiral bound book, which makes it very easy to leave it open while planning my lessons. I also liked being able to flip the front pages all the way around so I could hold it while writing on our virtue paper, which is just a sheet of newsprint I tape to the wall for notes on our current virtue. (It lists the definition, some examples and notes on people or stories First Son and First Daughter can name that highlight the virtue. We add to it throughout our study.) I did feel like the spiral binding kept working its way off the pages and I'd have to spin it back down into place. That was a little annoying, but it didn't really hurt anything.

In the note to teachers in the beginning, Ms. Speach recommends a schedule to work completely through the book in one school year: 10 virtues in 10 months including self-discipline, work, perseverance, faith/trust, compassion, friendship, courage, loyalty, responsibility and honesty. I opted to spend six weeks on each virtue, skip Advent when we have so many other additional lessons for the liturgical season, and instead cycle through the virtues every two years.

A sample lesson with explanations is included in the front of the book to give a good starting point for the teacher.

The PACE program uses stories from The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey by William J. Bennett as well as other books to highlight each virtue. I was lucky enough to already have these on the shelf and pleased to find a way to rather easily incorporate them into our studies. The program book includes sample quotations (for memory work or copywork), a definition, recommended stories for different ages from The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, relevant Bible stories, meditations or stories of Mary and the saints that exemplify the selected virtue, picture books or other books for different ages, example discussion questions, example writing prompts for older students, enrichment activities (music, art, nature, and classroom projects) and examples of ways the children can practice the virtue in their own lives.

We would start our study with a definition and discussion of the virtue, during which I like to include ideas for the children to practice the virtue. Then, over the course of six weeks, I would read out loud two stories from The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass (or The Children's Book of Virtues or The Children's Book of Heroes which we had also received as gifts), one or two Bible stories, and one or two stories of the Saints (mainly from Once Upon a Time Saints, More Once Upon a Time Saints, or Saints for Young Readers for Every Day). I also always chose at least one picture book, usually from the lists Ms. Speach provided, but sometimes one I happened to know myself. I often included at least one activity in music, art or nature study, but I considered those optional. I always encouraged the children, especially First Son, to watch and listen for examples of the virtue in our other readings as well. They often came up in our regular saint readings.

One of the things I like best about this study is how robust it is with ideas for all ages. I can see us using this as a spine for character education for years to come, all studying the same virtue over and over again but with different readings and levels of understanding. I'm looking forward to continuing our virtue studies next year.

I did not receive anything in exchange for this honest review. I do not receive any compensation if you follow the link to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (where I purchased this book). If you follow other links to and make a purchase, I do receive a small commission.


  1. This sounds really interesting! My kids love "character development," which for us has so far been reading stories that show children making right choices. We've used (at different times) A Child's Book of Character Building, Wisdom and the Millers, and now some of the upper level Pathway readers (grade 4 and 5).

    Would this be something that would work for non-Catholics too?

  2. Hilary, I think it could work for non-Catholics. Some of the saints and Mary stories might even still work for you, particularly the Mary stories from the Bible (her patience with the Apostles waiting for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, for example) and I know many non-Catholic Christians who read stories of the saints from before the Reformation. You don't have to ask them to pray for you, just read the story as you would any of a hero or person of character. Nearly all of the recommended books are secular or appropriate for any Christian. I wish we lived closer so I could show it to you in person!

    I think, too, you really could just read through Bennett's books and discuss the stories, though I like being able to incorporate picture books and other activities and this book made it much easier to find those or figure them out.

  3. I think there is a version that is not Catholic. Originally, though Catholic, I think she wrote it for another school environment, then this edition she added Saints and other Catholic aspects. You might find it used or from another seller?

  4. This looks really interesting. I had also not really considered studying the virtues individually before. Thank you for the review and information.

    1. Melissa, now we're using the Virtue Cards from Disciples of Christ and really like them. They're a quick addition to our morning routine and give us lots of variety in our virtue.

  5. Thanks for your review! I am considering purchasing this program for my little ones!

    I poked around on your blog here and it looks awesome! I blog from my own home on the range, on the prairie plains of Colorado. We're Catholic Homeschoolers, too. I just wanted to say hi since it seems we have a lot in common.

  6. Hi Laura! I'm glad you stopped by. We've been to Colorado twice this summer and just loved it there! I just visited your blog and I totally get having to drive half an hour to get anywhere.


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