Thanksgiving is almost here. This holiday always brings to mind family time, delicious foods, and decorating our homes with festive cheer. It’s also a great reminder to be thankful for what we have and to share our blessings with those around us.
Teaching our children to have a thankful heart and be generous with their time and resources can seem like a daunting task, especially because little minds and hearts may not quite grasp why it is so important.
As a mom and a child educator, I am a huge advocate for demonstrating by example, and communicating often in multiple ways the concepts I’m trying to instill in my children. Teaching gratitude and generosity is approached the same way in our home and here are a few ways we do that.
1. Create a “Thank You” Tree
The first step in teaching our children to be generous with their time and resources is to help them first realize how much they already have. To teach generosity, we need to start with Thanksgiving. A fun way you can do this for children of all ages is by creating a “Thank You” tree. This is something my mom did for us every November and I can’t wait to pass the tradition on to my kids.
You start by making a tree with the just the trunk and bare branches. You can make this out of large poster board and hang it in the kitchen or family room where it will be seen often. This also doubles as a fun art project for younger children.
Then cut out lots and lots of tree leaves from construction paper. Make them big enough to write on. Each day every person in the family writes down one thing they are thankful for on one of the leaves and attaches it to the thanksgiving tree.
As the month goes on you’ll notice that as your tree grows more and more leaves, your children are growing more in gratitude.
2. Read Books About Being Generous
I am amazed time and time again at how much information our children absorb just from listening to us read to them. To help young children grasp the concept of giving, head to the library and pick out a few books about generosity.
My children are really young, but they both love picture books and reading time. There are some really great books out there such as, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and What is Given by the Heart by Patricia McKissack, as well as others.
Pick out several books and discuss it with your children in a way they can understand. Start planting seeds of philanthropy early on in their hearts and minds.
3. Make a Meal Together for Someone in Need
Growing up as a kid, my family didn’t always have a lot of financial resources but my parents didn’t let that stop them from helping others. I remember many times my mom cooked dinner for a family in need. Maybe it was a brand new mom, a person just out of surgery, a family who lost a loved one, or a homeless man who was hungry. Whatever the case may be, my mom was right there with a warm meal.
She would often invite us to help her cook and package food. This taught me that no mater what my resources or schedule looks likes, I can always make time to prepare and share a meal with someone in need. And helping my mom cook created wonderful memories I will forever cherish. Now I get to do the same with my babies.
If you don’t know anyone that is in need of a meal, call one of your local homeless shelters or soup kitchens and get a list of needed items. Take your children shopping and get them excited about picking out food items, socks, and toiletries and of course with approval from the shelter, bring your children along to drop off items.
4. Visit the Elderly and Shut-In
Time and attention are our most valuable resources and as a child my parents taught me that giving of my time and attention was just as import as giving material or financial resources.
Throughout the years growing up, my family would take us to a nursing home to spend time with the attendants. We would read to them, play our newly learned songs from piano lessons, recite scriptures and poems, bring baked goods, and simply talk and spend time with them.
This practice opened my eyes to the fact that many people don’t need money or things. Sometimes people just need attention. They need to be cared for and treated well and made to feel important. Regardless of our age, young or old, we can give our time and attention to those who are lacking.
5. Research a Charity/Cause and Volunteer Time and Money
There are a lot of charities, local and otherwise, we can contribute to. To make this a teaching moment, pick a local charity that your family can give to together.
Research the charity and find something that inspires your family. If your child loves animals, gather resources to a local animal shelter. If you have a preteen/teen, perhaps pick a local women’s shelter and gather needed toiletries and clothes. Perhaps you’re a military family. Donate to a local veterans charity.
Whatever the cause, research with your family, discus your charity and its needs, and see if there is a way you can volunteer time hands on. Always call first to make sure your child is old enough to volunteer and to learn the guidelines, as well as what each organization really needs.
In addition to being up close and hands on, challenge your child to donate financially as well. Provide an incentive by matching their contribution. Maybe your child can earn extra money by doing a few more chores around the house, or picking up some extra babysitting time. Remind them that whatever they bring to the table, you will match and double the amount. This will challenge them to find creative ways to help out and really care for their charity.
Remember, every child is different and will have their own way of giving back. But as parents we want to show our children that there are many different ways to be generous and it doesn’t matter how old they are or how much money they have, they can always help.
Making generosity a natural family rhythm will teach them that gratefulness and giving back to our community isn’t just reserved for the holiday season. Generosity is an any day, anytime, any person kind of thing.