On a sunny Saturday in November, four-year-olds chose to stop playing and opted for the joy of handing baby shower gifts to their Room 2 teacher, Nari Souleiman. The bright packages often contained practical items, like baby bottles and diapers, but seeing their teacher’s delight kept the children entranced. In being the gift givers, they had the sense that they were creating Ms. Nari’s happiness. (See the photo below.)
The subject of inspiring children to want to give rather than just receive often comes up in this season, perhaps to counterbalance the over-accumulation of material things that has long typified the winter holidays for middle- and upper-class children. This is an important topic all year round, and the dynamics of this baby shower offer key lessons.
Children who have learned that sharing with others is one of the most gratifying things in life will definitely have a head start socially as they mature. Research shows that today’s children are growing up in a world where sharing abundance is already becoming a way of life.
At The Meher Schools, nurturing giving attitudes is part of our mission, but we approach instilling generosity in a developmentally compassionate way. In our preschool, children aren’t shamed for yelling “That’s mine” or not knowing how to share. In fact, the littlest children learn to set boundaries that protect the materials they are working with – “This is my work now, you can use it when I’m finished.”
Teachers praise children for showing even momentary generosity to a friend, pointing out how happy it makes the person, and for the milestone of being able to patiently wait for a turn. Classrooms also provide experiences like using an array of art materials to make a painting together that make sharing feel like fun.
As students get older, there are opportunities to work together to make a difference in others’ lives. Our annual food and clothing drives are underway. We encourage families to have even young children participate by helping to shop for food or find cold-weather clothing to donate. Last year elementary school students worked together to devise a fundraising project for Ukraine that involved lots of creativity and collaboration. Fifth graders have bake sales for all-school events and take in the proceeds for a worthy goal.
If we want children to see themselves as capable of giving, we should avoid referring to them as selfish for having items they don’t want to share with siblings or friends. In this season, it’s important to realize that it is loving attachments with children, nourished by time spent together, that help them feel less frantic about getting things. Sharing with others doesn’t have to cost money, and it’s wonderful if families can make having open hands to give to others their motto all year.
The Giving Book by Ellen Sabin provides a resource for families to explore giving in an interactive, participatory way. Watering Can Press offers many books that help children learn about the world and develop pro-social abilities.