Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Pine and the Winter Sparrow; however, all opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission.
One of the first lessons we did with our character-building class for kids was on generosity. In some ways, this is an easy lesson for kids to learn, as it is all about giving gifts and sharing toys. From that basic understanding, you can also stretch them to think in more abstract terms, like giving your time, sharing a smile, and so on. More to the point, that the best form of generosity is done sincerely, expecting nothing in return.
Teaching Kids about Generosity: Lesson Plan
We talked about how generosity is giving to others without expecting anything back. We asked the kids to come up with ideas for what this might look like, such as giving a gift on someone’s birthday (or just because), or sharing a toy or a snack. We also talked about how spending time with someone, reading a book together, or playing together, is a gift of time. And we can also share hugs and smiles with others.
We then sang a song that I grew up with, “Magic Penny” by Malvina Reynolds. (Here are a video and the full lyrics). The song is terrific and easy for kids to relate to, about how love is like a magic penny – it only works if you give it away! The version I grew up singing actually was just the chorus (“It’s just like a magic penny–“) plus variations of the verse about love (“A smile/Time is something if you give it away–“)
Ahead of time I cut out a heart, a smiley face, and a clock from craft foam, and as we sang each corresponding verse, we passed the objects around the circle like a hot potato. This is nice because it makes it hands on, since otherwise the song can get a little long for restless little ones!
A really beautiful book to share with kids about kindness and generosity is Wisdom Tales Press’s Pine and the Winter Sparrow by Alexis York Lumbard. Based on a Native American fable, it tells the story of an injured sparrow who cannot fly south for the winter. All of the other trees turn the little sparrow away, except for the pine tree, who offers the bird shelter for the winter. Due to this act of generosity, the Creator decided that the pine tree would be rewarded by not losing its leaves in the winter. And thus it is due to its innate kindness that the pine tree stays green all year long. Gorgeous book about the importance of sharing what we have and also the need to care for the natural world. The gentle message and beautiful paintings make this a wonderful book to share with kids.
And of course, you can’t talk about children’s books on generosity without mentioning The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, a classic book about the selfless nature of giving.
Another great book on generosity is The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, a beautifully illustrated book about a fish who learns that having something wonderful all to yourself is not nearly as fun as sharing it with others.
For our activity, we acted out the story of Stone Soup, a popular folk tale about how when everyone shares what they have – no matter how little it may be – we can create something wonderful for everyone. There are many versions of this tale (here is one), but the general idea is that times are tight, and no one feels like sharing, as they have so little to begin with. Finally someone decides to make a “delicious” stone soup, and as he starts to cook, one by one people start to add the little food that they have – a cabbage, a carrot, a potato – until they have a wonderful, filling soup that they all can share.
I had asked the children to each bring toy food from home (plus I had extras on hand), so that as I told the story to them, they could each take turns adding “food” to the pot. This story lends itself very well to acting out, and it’s an easy way for children to practice generosity and see how when we share we can make something better for everyone.
Craft & Service Project
To drive the lesson home, I decided to tie our craft into a service project. We made these beautiful rainbow vases using pour painting. (You can also do this using regular garden pots). I cannot stress how fun this craft is. The only problem I had was that Monkey got a little too enthusiastic and knocked his vase over as we were working, so try to find vases that won’t break easily! But not only did the kids have fun, the vases really did turn out beautifully.
And of course they make beautiful gifts! (Find more gifts that kids can make on my Homemade Gift Ideas Pinterest board). So in a subsequent class we visited a senior living home and delivered the vases to some of the residents. We had called ahead to make arrangements, and the activities director was kind enough to meet with us and lead us around to those residents that would most appreciate a visit. The kids took turns handing out the vases. Besides generosity, it was good practice for them to be courageous talking to new people and gracious in accepting thanks from them.