teen and elderly woman on bench

Catholic Homeschooling: Teaching Virtues

For most Catholic homeschoolers, the decision to home educate is not merely academic; it is also about character formation. We homeschool, in part, because we believe that home education will better enable us to instill in our children the virtues that are necessary for a happy, successful life. Education is not merely of the intellect—it is of the whole person! We want to educate the mind even as we nurture the spirit and shape the heart.

In this article we will review the basics on the virtues and talk about introducing them into your homeschool.

What is Virtue?

In traditional Catholic morality, virtue is a habitual disposition to do the good. Virtues are habits of actionA habit is an action that becomes ingrained into our lifestyle by force of repetition. When we do something by habit, it is said to be “second nature.” So virtue is not merely holding sound moral values (e.g., “A man should be just”). It is actually acting in accord with those moral values (e.g., actually behaving with justice) and doing so in a habitual way. The habitual part of this is important. Performing one good deed does not make one virtuous. It is when we have trained ourselves so that we always tend towards the good that we become virtuous.

Catholic tradition recognizes seven virtues, which are subdivided into two groups, the theological virtues (faith, hope, charity) and the cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude). The theological virtues are supernatural and order us towards God; the cardinal virtues are natural and order us towards harmonious living with our fellow men through the formation of our character. In the Christian life, both the theological and cardinal virtues are necessary; saints are individuals who exercise these virtues to a heroic degree.

The Four Cardinal Virtues

A well-formed spiritual life generally relates to the cultivation of the theological virtues. When we are talking about character formation, however, typically we are talking about the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude). Let’s look at each one individually:

Prudence: The ability to govern oneself by the use of reason, recognizing the good and choosing it in any given situation. Prudence is called the “charioteer of the virtues” because the other virtues all depend upon it in some degree.

Temperance: The moderation of our use of created goods. The temperate person finds the mean between extremes, acting in balance between excess (too much) and defect (too little). The temperate person is disciplined.

Justice: The virtue by which we give others their due. It governs our relations with others. Aristotle defined it as a kind of equality among persons, by which we give to others not too much nor too little; it is a mean between selfishness and self-abnegation.

Fortitude: This virtue is sometimes called “courage” or “bravery.” Fortitude consists in persevering in pursuit of the good even though it is difficult. A person with fortitude does not shirk from difficult tasks.

These are not the only virtues. They are called cardinal because other virtues relate to or depend upon them (cardinal comes from the Latin cardo, “hinge”). There are other virtues that exist under the cardinal virtues. For example, the virtue of religion is a type of justice whereby we give to God what is due; or the virtue of patience is part of fortitude because it involves perseverance.

Teaching Virtue: Word and Example

Part of educating children about the virtues is helping them understand what virtues are and learning to identify and recognize them. But since virtue is habitual action, it is not something that can merely be taught academically; virtue has to be exercised. It has to be practiced! An instruction in virtue must come by word and example.

So how can we exemplify the virtues in our homeschool?

Practice Them Yourself! This is the number one thing. You are the biggest influence on your child’s formation as a person. If you want them to grow up virtuous, offer the, a virtuous role model. The home is a school of virtue, and you are the primary educator! So work on your own habits first and foremost.

Corporal Works of Mercy. All Catholics should be practicing the corporal works of mercy anyway, but doing so deliberately as an exercise of virtue is a fantastic way to introduce your children to practicing virtue. Your parish, local food pantry, or senior citizens care home are great places to start looking for volunteer work.

Virtue Themed Units. I used to teach at a co-op where each semester had a designated virtue. At the beginning of the semester, the students and instructors would have a special session about a particular virtue. Then the headmaster would explain that the semester was going to be dedicated to that virtue and tasked the students with looking out for ways to practice that virtue in their daily routines, especially interacting with their peers. This idea can be incorporated into your homeschool as well—a semester or unit can be dedicated to a specific virtue. Kids can be encouraged to find opportunities to practice that virtue.


If you need more help, there are a ton of great books out there to help explain the virtues! For high schoolers, Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue is a fantastic place to start, Peter Kreeft has an engaging and witty style that is accessible to adults and teen readers alike. Kreeft’s book offers concise explanations of the virtues and situates them within a Christian context.

For younger kids, you might want to take an approach of read-alouds that tell stories exemplifying the virtues. The classic text here is William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues, a collection of hundreds of short stories taken from sources as diverse as American history, the Bible, Greek mythology, and English poetry. Each story exemplifies a particular virtue, creating an invaluable moral anthology. Stories from The Book of Virtues can be assigned as reading, or they are great for reading aloud and discussing afterward.

Homeschool Connections also offers classes on the virtues. In the two-part Virtues of Man, instructor Inshal Chenet guides students through the moral teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. Bill Donaghy also has a super cool class called From Boys to Men: Discovering Life Lessons and Virtues from the Lord of the Rings. This classes adopts the method discussed above of using literary tales (in this case, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) to highlight examples of virtue. There is also a middle school version of the course as well.


Catholic home education is more than academics. It is forming the heart and soul as well as the mind. Homeschool Connections is here to help you in that endeavor, not only with our online classes but also with our virtual Catholic Homeschool Conferences, the Homeschooling Saints Podcast, and the Homeschool Connections Community. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you ever have any questions about Catholic homeschooling.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get updated every month on all the latest Homeschooling Saints podcast episodes and new blog posts

Ready to Get Started?

Homeschooling can seem daunting at first, but take it from us: The joy and freedom you gain from homeschooling far outweighs the challenges.

With flexible online classes, passionate instructors, and a supportive community at your back and cheering you on, there’s no limits to where your homeschooling journey can take your family! 

Sign up today!

Pin It on Pinterest