Piecing Together the Character Puzzle

By Dave Levin, KIPP Co-Founder

On Saturday, Max, our three-year old son, received a new animal puzzle. Max loves puzzles and usually stays focused on any given puzzle as long as it takes to solve. This particular puzzle combined two of his favorite topics – the alphabet and animals. Yet, after just a couple of minutes, his frustration bubbled over and he moved on to playing with his toy animals.

As he abandoned his puzzle, mine began – Why wasn’t he more interested in exploring this new puzzle? What would help him finish what he started? What would encourage him to try harder even after experiencing failure? For those of you familiar with the KIPP Character Growth Card, these questions relate to some of the behaviors that are associated with grit and curiosity. Over the past twenty years as a teacher, and the past three as a parent as well, I have come to love these questions for the fascinating puzzles they are.

Our character work at KIPP is all about thinking through these questions and the impact that our character and our choices about our behavior have on our lives. Below is a quick video intro to our character work at KIPP.

In September, we’ll use this space together to explore these questions, some potential answers, and excitingly the work teachers, psychologists and social scientists are doing to develop tools and techniques to help teachers, parents, and kids further develop their character strengths.

In the meantime, visit www.kipp.org/character to download resources and watch a more in-depth video about how to incorporate the character strengths into your classroom or home. The first step is taking a step — make sure our kids start to know the names of the strengths and the behaviors that go with them. Try out some of the seven keys for developing character and, most of all, have fun with it.

For Max and me, I think our first step is going to be to make a game to increase his curiosity about the puzzle. In addition to animals and puzzles, he loves to count and can currently count to 20. Can we get 4 pieces together? 5 pieces? My guess is that if he gets enough of the pieces together, he’ll be excited about the rest. We’ll see how it goes…

Look forward to talking shop in September.

One love,


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