Learning to Give: A Hands-On Way to Teach Generosity

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

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Don’t you just love this time of year? Cider brewing on the stove’s back burner, pies bubbling in the oven, stores festooned with twinkle lights, the Salvation Army volunteer merrily ringing at the store’s front door…it’s all just so cheery. And it’s also the perfect time of year–as we all know–to teach children about the blessing of giving to others. Here is a hands-on way to do just that, as gleaned from Primrose Schools, whose award-winning character education curriculum is all about encouraging little ones to help others.

Beyond the Canned Food Drive

Stashing some cans in the bin at the gym is all well and good. It meets a need. It fills a soup kitchen. It’s a good thing to do. But–what if you took a different approach and got your children (and yourself) more directly involved in giving?

To really drive home the impact of giving to others, Primrose Schools nationwide encourage their private pre-k and kindergarten students to earn money through doing chores at home throughout the month of November, during their Caring and Giving event. The money is brought in to school each day, counted, charted and saved for a class-wide field trip to a local grocery store. There, the children use their own hard-earned stash of cash to select nonperishables off the shelves themselves, which are then loaded into the schools’ buses and taken to local community food banks.

What an ingenious way to make giving relevant to children! And, how easy to adapt with children at home, as well. Here’s how:

Set it up. 

First, designate a special spot in your home to save the money that’s just for giving. A mason jar labeled “Giving” and decorated with a cute ribbon (or decorated by your child) will do nicely. Put the jar in an important place, like on the kitchen counter or your child’s bedside table. Here’s a cute pre-made jar set from Lil Light O’ Mine, pictured right, that could be used year-round: www.lillightomine.com/shop.

Earn it.

Then, brainstorm ideas with your child on how he or she could earn money to fill their jar. Explain that the money won’t be for them this time; it will be used to help families and children who don’t have as much food or as many nice toys as your child has.

Ideas might include unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming, picking up toys, clearing the table after dinner, setting the table for dinner, helping cook, raking leaves, taking out the trash, dusting their room, feeding the pets, making your bed or a sibling’s bed as a good deed…and whatever other helpful ideas your child mentions. List the ideas, and then post the list so your child can refer to it if they get “stuck” and need a prod or two.

Set parameters. 

Designate an amount of time (like two weeks), and an amount of money a chore will earn (like $0.25 or $1). You may also want to point out to your child that they won’t get paid for doing the things they’re already expected to do, like brushing their teeth or being nice to their siblings. Together, set parameters for earning that make sense for your family.

Then, sit down together and count the money your child has earned regularly. Not only will this reinforce math skills, but it will also build excitement and a positive sense of pride in your child at the good they’re going to do.

Spend It.

At the end of the set time period, take your child to the store and help them select nonperishable food items with their money. Talk about what they’d like to eat at Christmas or Thanksgiving, and help them make their choices. But, don’t control their choices. As an adult, you may want specific items to be purchased, but let your child do a little leading, as well. Teach them the joy of giving by making the process fun! When I did this with my 4-year-old son, for example, he insisted on adding in a couple cans of Sponge Bob chicken noodle soup. More power to him!

Donate It.

Then, either have your child put the goods in a collection box at the front of the store (if there is one), or find a shelter or food bank in your community and donate the goods there, with your child in tow. If you’re not sure where one is, do a quick Internet search. Key words to try: “food bank + (your city)” or “canned food drive + (your city).”

Some nonprofit resources for the Atlanta area: 

Hope for Christmas: collects new gifts, toys and nonperishable food. Volunteers also needed.

Atlanta Community Food Bank

MUST Ministries

It’s important for children to see the whole process– from earning, to saving, to spending, to giving. Thanks for the inspiration, Primrose Schools! We agree that thankfulness is best learned through giving, and giving is most enjoyed when experienced hands-on, from the heart. 

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.

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2 Comments

Filed under Activities, Classroom Community, Extracurricular, Field Trips, Holidays, Service Learning

2 responses to “Learning to Give: A Hands-On Way to Teach Generosity

  1. Melanie Mailman

    I love this idea! What a great way for children to have a hands-on experience while learning about giving to others. My family does a similar thing with buying items for the activity rooms at the children’s hospital.

  2. Jeanne J.

    These are wonderful ideas. At my grandson’s private school, Eastminster School in Conyers, Georgia are many giving opportunities throughout the year. Last school year the students filled school bags with supplies to give to the tornado victims in Alabama. The students have also donated snack items for the parents room in a hospital NICU. Many ways to involve your children in a charity project are available.