Cultivating Generosity in Children

A Gift Enjoyed We spent the day yesterday working on part one of a two-part project.  Part one involved painting egg carton cups.  Part two (scheduled for today) needed straws.  When I went looking for the straws this morning, I discovered that I put them in one of those “extra secret & special places” that even I couldn’t find.

So we bundled up for a walk to our local grocery store for some emergency straws.  We arrived at the same time as a big semi-truck, backing in to drop off the food.  The crew is immensely fascinated at the process of food delivery, and I try to always draw their attention to the processes behind the items on the shelves.  These carrots grew in the ground, someone picked them, someone packaged them, someone shipped them, someone unloaded them, and someone placed them on a shelf!  Isn’t it amazing how many people are involved in that process? Thank you, carrot people, for getting us our carrots.

Once inside the store, we stumbled on a supplier stocking the shelves with granola bars and snack cakes, and I pointed him out to the crew.  Look, everyone, see how he is taking food boxes out of those big brown boxes?  I wonder if he drove here in a big semi truck and unloaded the trailer through the back of the store?  As I spoke, he turned around and began to share the ins and outs with the six pairs of wide-eyes who were watching.  He told us how he didn’t drive a big semi truck, but a smaller truck that was parked around back.  He used a dolly to roll in large boxes of food to stock the shelves.

As we left the grocery store, he was driving off in his truck.  When he spotted us, he pulled over so he could open the hatch and show us all the stacked boxes.  Then, came the most amazing part: he opened up the boxes within the boxes, and sent all of the kids home with brownies and fruit snacks.  You would not believe the wide eyes of the kids as he shared the goodies with us.

You might consider this the pinnacle of amazing-ness today: watching a semi truck unload, talking with a real-life food delivery person, getting to see the inside of the truck that the food comes in, and taking a snack home to enjoy!  But, you would be wrong.  You see, generosity begets generosity.  The more we verbalize and comment on the daily gifts from others, the more we nurture the generous spirits of the children in our lives.

Generosity: Our GiftsOn our way home, the children could not contain their generous spirits.  Everyone shared with everyone else.  The fact that each child enjoyed the same items was inconsequential, the need to give was so pressing.  Tekoa bit each of her fruit snacks in half, eating part, and feeding part to her brother.  Christian shared half of her brownie with Addie, whose own snack remained unopened.  Simone spotted some stray fruit snacks rolling down the sidewalk out of Hayden’s package, promptly chased them down, and returned them to their rightful owner.

My heart was overflowing as we walked home.  I listened to a virtual call-and-response of gratitude and generosity, bubbling over as each child recounted the events of the morning.  What a generous man. Can you believe he gave us food from his truck?  That was so kind.  I didn’t like chocolate, and he looked for some fruit snacks for me!  I didn’t plan on sharing all of my snack, but I just decided to anyway.  

On the way home, I suggested a thank you note.  Not that I have any practical way of delivering it (except to take it to the grocery store…I’m sure someone can figure out where it should go!) – but the practice of writing our gratitude helps extend the experience and provides a tangible outlet for their emotions.

Me: “I know!  What if we send him a thank you note to tell him how much we appreciated his generosity?”
Child: “Yes!  And I know an even better idea.  Let’s put a snack in our note for him!!”

Oh, the magnanimous generosity of young children.  We looked through the cupboards and selected some apple crushers (appropriately non-spoiling individually packaged to prevent ruining our letters).  The children dictated letters and drew pictures.  We packaged the letters up with two apple crushers, and a light-up ball, which the children also felt compelled to share.

As I think about how this generous spirit appears, I am mindful of several practices that are part of our daily rituals.

Siblings SharingNaming our Daily Gifts:  We make a practice of noticing the gifts of the natural world, naming them, and honoring them as a gift.
Did you notice what a beautiful day it is today? Thank you, sun, for shining so brightly.  It feels good to stand in the warm sun.
Rain!  Thank you for coming.  You’re nourishing our plants.
Your body made poop!  Thank you, body, for keeping me healthy.

Sharing Generously:  When I am asked to share something with anyone else, I try to always answer with a yes.

Can I have some of your cookie?   Yes, certainly.
Can I use your scissors?  I’m using them now, but I will give them to you after I make two more snips.

Noticing Generosity:  Make a point of verbalizing each generous act you observe.

Christian helped you take your coat off. That was generous of her to help you.
Tekoa gave you some of her play dough. That was generous.
The bakery shared cookies with us. How generous!
Mama made us a delicious dinner tonight. That was so generous.
Daddy helped you change your clothes.  That was so generous!

Practicing Gratitude:  When we thank people for their efforts we communicate that their efforts were noticed and appreciated.  Gratitude is the yin to generosity’s yang.  Encouraging one paves the way for the other.

Your friend stopped to see if you were okay when you fell.  Thank you for being considerate.
Your grandma packed you a thoughtful lunch today.  Thank you, grandma.
You appreciate your new shoes.  They keep your feet warm. Thank you, mommy, for buying them.

I’m not sure if our thank you letters will make it back to the source, but that detail is somehow less important than the experience of relishing in daily unexpected gifts, and stepping in that circle of giving and receiving.  Cultivating a child’s generous spirit happens as we model gratitude and generosity in every tiny endeavor each day.

May you give and receive generously.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like:
It’s the Journey, not the Destination
Mind the NO!
Open-Ended Literature

Categories: Community Support, Emergent Curriculum, Emotional Development, Multi-age Setting | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Cultivating Generosity in Children

  1. Pingback: No More “Magic Words” | Abundant Life Children

  2. Sherry

    I, too, appreciate this post…this reminder to verbalize gratitude and to be moved by the joy and wonder of children…and the grown-ups who thoughtfully nourish them. Thank you.

  3. Jess

    Lovely. Lovely. Lovely. Such a beautiful story of how generosity begets generosity, especially in our little ones. I feel like I’m always learning/noticing more opportunities to demonstrate/verbalize gratitude at the hands of our two year old. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Wow – what a powerful and moving post! Thank you for sharing ways in which you model and cultivate gratitude and generosity. These both seem like such central, foundational elements to a worldview which notices others, values others, and is willing to share with others. This seems especially true in a society when so much work goes on “behind the scenes” (like those who bring the food to the stores!) – what a gift to be mindful of them and the ways they make our full lives possible!

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