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The Gift of Teaching Our Children to Give

The Gift of Teaching Our Children to Give
Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Carol Lavoie Schuster, ECCF's assistant manager of grants and services, writes about how a special book helped inspire her five year old daughter to give where she lives. Now Carol is on a mission to help other parents teach their kids about giving!

Most parents know that raising a child is a mirror of our greatest successes and most humbling failures. Our kids often teach us how to be better humans. And in my house, while it’s crazy most of the time, I trust it is a gift.

So the gift I try to give back to my children is a constant quest to be my best self while also trying to teach them to be the best humans they can be. For my husband and me, that means trying to nurture qualities like authenticity, compassion, and curiosity, and skills like how to listen and speak up for themselves and others, or how to lead lives of gratitude and contribution. Though these are not often taught in school, they can dramatically influence a child’s life and the lives of those around her. So we’re doing our best to teach these values at home.

But it’s not easy. In fact, as we thought about how to start teaching my then three-year old daughter about the value of saving as well as charity and contribution, I was stuck. The great irony of this is that much of my work is helping to direct funds to charitable causes through a variety of grant-making programs at ECCF!

So I asked around and my search led me, Three Cups by Mark St. Germain, a lovely little book about a boy who receives three cups and an allowance from his parents on his fifth birthday. The three cups hold his equally divided allowance: one cup for saving, another for spending and the third for charity. At first the boy is disappointed, but as the story unfolds, he has many adventures and grows to appreciate the gift.

I included the book in my daughter’s nightly reading, gently talking through the topics, like saving for a toy or helping others in need. And for her fifth birthday, we promised Emily an allowance and three cups.

She could hardly wait! We talked about ways she could save, spend and be charitable, and she began saving toward an American Girl doll. In addition to the fun of saving toward this goal, we suggested she make her charity cup a “gift” of her choice just like in the book. Alongside fun games to pique her interest in saving, we asked how she thought she could help others.

After her experience in a local theatre production of Annie Jr. last year in the North Shore Children's Theatre, Emily was newly aware of kids with less opportunity than she. So when the time came to think about how, where and why she could help – she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to give to local kids who are without parents or caregivers. She knew she wanted to help kids in her hometown.

That’s when we contacted the Plummer Home in Salem, a residential home for boys. Executive Director James Lister invited Emily to the Plummer Home to learn about their work and see how she could help. Because we have placed the decision of how to give in her hands, she feels empowered and excited to give. It’s the first gift we hope will grow into a lifestyle of giving to others. And it started with a book.

This time of year we are all inundated with shopping lists, parties, toys to buy or gadgets to get. But reading Three Cups together has done much for our family in teaching the meaning of this season. It’s helped instill in our children a sense of giving all year long. I know friends, too, have bought the book as gifts to help others teach their children about saving and giving. It’s a small but practical way to pass on the legacy of giving.

Now, I’m looking for other ways to reinforce these values and hoping to start a blog to help parents raise GivingKids. How have you engaged your kids in saving and charity? Send me your stories! c.lavoieschuster@eccf.org

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