The International Electronic Journal of Health Education

[Reprint (PDF) Official Layout of this Article]

IEJHE, Vol. 3(1), 1-5, January 1, 2000, Copyright 2000

Planting Seeds of Self-Esteem

Jennifer M. Turley, PhD; 1; Patricia A. Cost, PhD, CHES2  
1 Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Department of Health Promotion and Human Performance, Weber State University; 2Assistant Professor of Health Education, University of Northern Colorado.

Corresponding author: Patricia A. Cost, PhD, CHES; University of Northern Colorado; Department of Community Health and Nutrition; Gunter Hall, Room #2410 (mail #2280); Greeley, Colorado; phone: 970.351.1518; e-mail: PCOST@WORLDNET.ATT.NET. This manuscript was received May 14, 1999; it was revised and accepted on October 31, 1999.

Abstract Background Methods Discussion Summary References

Teaching self-esteem is a valuable component of any mental health curriculum. In this paper, a story called "The Planters Lesson" is presented to demonstrate how teachers can build self-esteem in children. Additionally, an activity called "Planting Seeds of Self-Esteem" is provided. In this activity, students physically plant a seed of self-esteem and learn how to build positive self-esteem. Discussion questions are included along with a learning assessment tool and additional supporting self-esteem teaching ideas.

Key Words: self-esteem, pedogogy, children

Abstract Background Methods Discussion Summary References

Self-esteem can be defined as how worthy and valuable a person considers themself to be (Anspaugh 1998). It relates to feeling good or bad about oneself. Self-worth is closely tied to self-esteem. It includes the judgements made about the worthiness of oneself and the feelings associated with those judgements (Baron 1999 and McNab 1999). Individuals can judge themselves differently in different contexts. For example: a person may have high self-esteem at school and low self-esteem at home. Or, a girl may have high self-esteem when with other girls and low self-esteem when with boys. Generally, however, individuals also arrive at an overall self-evaluation or sense of self-worth (Baron 1999 and Harter 1998). This overall self-evaluation comes from a synthesis of the feelings of self-worth from different contexts and can affect a persons health and wellbeing. People with high self-esteem have been shown to have stronger immunity and greater resistance to disease than people with low self-esteem (Baron 1999 and McNab 1999). Self-esteem also affects behavior. People with high self-esteem have fewer negative thoughts, display more confidence, and perform better on tasks than people with low self-esteem (Baron 1999).

Development of self-esteem is shaped in early childhood. Individuals, in order to feel good about themselves, must be immersed in an open and non-threatening environment that nurtures and supports feelings of security and self-worth. When a person has feelings of self-worth, they can express themself appropriately and become independent and confident citizens. Most importantly, the person is better equipped to show concern for others (Anspaugh 1998 and Berk 1999).

Although the measurement of self-esteem in young children is not clearly defined, the factors affecting the lives and wellbeing of young children eventually are associated with the development of high or low self-esteem (Berk 1999). Factors such as: ability grouping in schools, child maltreatment, child-rearing practices, maternal employment, ethnicity, gender, age, physical activity, the media, peer acceptance, and friendships have been shown to affect self-esteem (Axinn 1998, Berk 1999, Brown 1998, McNab 1999, and Sonstroem 1998).

The establishment of self-esteem is a lifelong process and needs to be nurtured by not only family members but by teachers and care-givers. According to Anspaugh and Ezell (1998), self-esteem is the result of three factors: 1) how children perceive themselves, 2) how children want to be perceived, and 3) what children perceive to be expectations that others have for them. Although many people and situations can affect a child's self-esteem, the focus of this paper is to promote the role of the teacher and education in the development of positive self-esteem in children. Teachers can empower children to look at themselves realistically and as being unique and valuable.

"The Planters Lesson" story (table 1) was written to remind teachers of their important and influential role in students' lives. This story is explained in table 2. Following the story is an activity called "Planting Seeds of Self Esteem." This activity will allow students to gain a better understanding of what self-esteem is and how to identify characteristics of positive self-esteem. Since self-esteem has to be nurtured, students will plant a flower seed that will represent self-esteem. The teacher and students will be responsible for supporting, nurturing, loving, and caring for the planted seeds.

Table 1. The Planters Lesson

Planting a rose or a violet, the process is the same. The planter holds the seed. They are separate, one mature and the other barely seen. The planter bends down to the earth and gently pushes the seed into the ground. Just lying there, the seed would never change and grow. The planter would fail in growing flowers. There are other necessary elements. The planter knows that the seed not only needs to be planted but it also needs to be watered. So the planter generously covers the soil in water. Soil and water doesn't seem to be enough for the seed to grow. The planter realizes that sunlight is needed, so the seed is brought from the dark into the light. Still, the seed fails to grow. Now the planter is perplexed thinking I have given this seed soil, water, and sunlight what more could it need? A quite voice speaks to the planter and says "air." So the planter breathes on the seed and slowly, over time, it begins to form roots and a stalk, then leaves, and finally a beautiful flower. What was needed to achieve this: a planter, seed, soil, sunlight, air, and time. The flower cannot mature without continuous progression and devotion to the seed by the planter.

Table 2. The Planters Lesson Explained

The lesson starts by indicating that the same strategies can be used to nurture and build self-esteem in any student. This is implied by planting roses or violets, the process is the same. The planter (who is the teacher) holds the seed (who is the student). They are separate beings. One is mature (the teacher) while the other is barely seen (the student). The planter (teacher) puts the seed (student) into the soil. This indicates that the teacher establishes a nurturing classroom environment. However, there is more required for effective teaching to take place. The planter (teacher) then covers the seed (student) with water. This is the knowledge, all of the fluid information that pours out of the teacher. This also is not enough for the seed to grow or for learning to take place. The planter (teacher) then gives the seed (student) sunlight. This is the vital energy necessary to bring the information alive. It could be a vision, enthusiasm, or compassion. Still the seed (student) cannot grow. It is only when the planter (teacher) breathes air on the seed (student) that the seed finally grows. The air or breath symbolizes life and suggests that teachers need to nurture their students. This is an essential ingredient that is provided when the teacher is personable and connected in some way to the students. The final element in the process is time. This is usually the course of a school year but could represent a season. It is important to recognize that teaching and learning does not occur overnight. There is a process involved just like the one for a flower to form. In the end, the planter, seed, soil, sunlight, air, and time are all required to grow flowers. The flowers are the result of the teachers love and commitment to the students and the students hard work and effort to mature under the care of the teacher.

Abstract Background Methods Discussion Summary References

The teacher administers the pre/post learning assessment questionnaire (table 3) to the students and instructs them to circle what they believe to be the correct answer (yes or no). Then, the students are taught a brief lesson on self-esteem and the difference between positive and negative qualities and/or thoughts. Following the lesson, the teacher brainstorms with the students and starts a list of positive and negative human qualities on the board (table 4). The list should include thoughts and qualities that contribute to or take away from positive self-esteem.

Table 3. Pre/post learning assessment questionnaire

  1. Being different is good.

  2. Self-esteem is when people like you.

  3. Being nice to other people will improve your self-esteem.

  4. Thinking good things about yourself will help keep you healthy.

  5. It is good to have low self-esteem.











Answers: 1 (yes), 2 (no), 3 (yes), 4 (yes), 5

Each student is given a prepared pot with their name on it. They are instructed to "weed out" the negative qualities and/or thoughts in their pot. The students then share the qualities/thoughts that they choose to leave in their pots. The teacher asks the students to then place a small hole in the center of their soil. The teacher places a flower seed in each hole and the students cover their seed with soil. The teacher then waters the soil. Now, each student takes their pot to the window sill. Here the seed will be nurtured daily and its growth will be observed over time. This is an analogy of nurturing self-esteem by supporting, loving, and caring for each flower seed.

Activity: Planting Seeds of Self Esteem.

Application: This activity should be done after students have gained an understanding of what self-esteem is.

Age Group: Grade 4.

Time Required: 45 minutes.


Preparation: This must be done before the lesson is presented.

Table 4. Thoughts and Qualities

Positive Thoughts

I am special and unique

I am important

I can make a difference

I am friendly

I believe in myself and others

Positive Qualities

I try hard

I am honest and trustworthy

I am forgiving

I am a good student

I love

Negative Thoughts

I am dumb

I'll never try again

I can't do anything right

I am a failure

I don't matter

Negative Qualities

I cheat

I lie

I steal

I gossip

I hate

Abstract Background Methods Discussion Summary References

After the activity, the teacher can lead a discussion with the following questions:

What does nurturing mean? What does the seed represent? How is the seed nurtured? Why does the seed need nurturing? What happens to the seed if it is not nurtured? Are all seeds the same? Is one type of seed better than another? Why is it important to have different seeds?

Following the discussion, the teacher can administer the pre/post learning assessment questionnaire again. This will enable the teacher to see how well the students understand self-esteem.

Supporting Self-Esteem Teaching Ideas

Creative writing is believed to enhance self-esteem (Chandler 1999). If the teacher wants to do a writing activity related to the self-esteem activity, s/he could have the students write a story based on one of the following topics: what I like about me, what makes me grow, or what kind of flower am I.

To raise awareness about self-esteem, teachers can have their students keep a one day self-esteem diary. The diary should be started from when they get up in the morning to when they go to bed the same night. Students can use the one day self-esteem diary shown in table 5. In the diary, the students should write down at least 10 things during the day that they experienced and circle whether they liked or disliked the experience and whether the experience made them feel good or bad about themself. If the student disliked an experience and if made them feel bad about themself, then have the student write a comment on how they could avoid having that experience again in the future.

Abstract Background Methods Discussion Summary References

The "Planters Lesson" story demonstrates how teachers can influence the development of positive self-esteem in their students. The "Planting Seeds of Self-Esteem" activity allows students to understand and build positive self-esteem in themselves. Students can develop their own self-esteem by: expressing positive thoughts, choosing positive qualities, accepting limitations, recognizing good behaviors, and valuing individual differences. The process of nurturing individuals, in a manner similar to seeds, will encourage children to develop into special, unique, valuable, and healthy people.

Taken together, the story and the activity helps teachers enable students to: like themselves, be good to themselves and others, laugh, deal with problems, think optimistically, set realistic goals, and express emotions appropriately. Furthermore, the supporting self-esteem activities provide students with additional opportunities to learn more about their own self-esteem and gain increased self-worth.

Table 5. One Day Self-Esteem Diary
Experience The experience was: Feelings about
self were:
1. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
2. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
3. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
4. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
5. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
6. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
7. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
8. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
9. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad
10. Liked or Disliked Good or Bad

Abstract Background Methods Discussion Summary References

Anspaugh, D.J., and Ezell. W. (1998). Teaching today's health (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Axinn, W. G., Barber, J. S., and Thornton, A. (1998). The long term impact of parent's child-bearing decisions on children's self-esteem. Demography, 35 (4), 435-43.

Baron, R. A. (1999). Essentials of psychology (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Berk, L. E. (1998). Development through the lifespan. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Brown, K. M., McMahon, R. P., Biro, F. M., Crawford, P., Schreiber, G. B., Similo, S. L., Waclawiw, M., Striegel-Moore, R. (1998). Changes in self-esteem in black and white girls between the ages of 9 and 14 years. The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 23 (1), 7-19.

Chandler, G. E. (1999 ). A creative writing program to enhance self-esteem and self-efficacy in adolescents.Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 12 (2), 70.

Harter, S., Waters, P., and Whitesell, N. R. (1998). Relational self-worth: differences in perceived worth as a person across interpersonal contexts among adolescents. Child Development, 69 (3), 756-66.

McNab, W. L. (1999). Improving one's self-concept: coping with faults, flaws, and excuses. Journal of Health Education, 30 (4), 252-53.

Sonstroem, R. J. (1998). Physical self- concept: assessment and external validity. Exercise Sport Science Reviews, 26, 133-64.

[Reprint (PDF) Official Layout of this article]

Copyright 2000 by IEJHE.