In this article we present MelArete, a research project on ethical education carried out in six Italian kindergartens (116 children) and four primary schools (106 children) during the scholastic year 2016- 2017. Its aims are to encourage children’s ethical thinking (educational aim) and to explore the children’s ideas and experiences of good, care, virtue, justice, respect, courage and generosity (research aim). MelArete is a “service research”, i.e. a research whose methods and findings represent an answer to school’s request to be helped in improving practices but it is also a “research for children”, and not merely a research “with” children, as it is guided by the purpose to offer significant and positive experiences to children. At the base of this project is the following pedagogical question: How can we orient the person to pay attention to virtues and to reflect about them in order to realize a good quality of life? Furthermore, the research question is the following: Which is the essential meaning of children’s ethical concepts and experiences? We involved children in Socratic conversations starting from stories, in inventing narratives about virtues, in discussing vignettes on ethical dilemma and in games to explore different interpretation of virtues; furthermore, we required participants to present in a “diary of virtues” virtuous actions carried out in first person or seen carried out by others. This instrument is important to involve children in reflecting on their everyday ethical experience. We collected audio registrations of the conversations carried out in class, and children's writings and drawings. Data have been analyzed following a methodological crossbreeding (Mortari, 2007; Mortari and Silva, 2018) between some aspects of the phenomenological-eidetic method and the grounded theory. The purpose of the analysis was to labelling and categorizing the data, in order to understand the essence of the ethical concepts and experiences according to children. The results show the richness of children’s ethical thinking: their narratives demonstrate not only their ability to recognize different declinations of the same virtue in different experiences but also the ability to recognize the complexity of ethical experience. The research confirms the opportunity to involve children in activities which encourage them to examine the essential meanings of ethical concepts and experiences in order to improve their ability to cope with difficult situations that involve ethical aspects.
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