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A Thanksgiving Lesson in Giving

Do we really need to bribe kids to get them to give?

“Hi Mom,” my son greeted me with a smile and a request as he got off the bus. “I need more cans for school.”

“Didn’t we already buy and deliver cans for the school food drive?” I asked.

“Yes, but our class is WAY behind,” he said. “Even the kindergarteners are beating us.”

He showed me the evidence – a piece of paper with a graph he had made. Each grade was listed along the horizontal axis and numbers, in increments of 50, were listed along the vertical axis. The second-graders’ tally was impressive at 150 cans, but the kindergarteners were certainly leaving the other grades in the dust with 450 cans and counting.

“See?” he said, pointing to his calculations on the back side of the paper. “If every second-grader brings in three cans, we’ll win.”

“Win what?” I asked.

“A pizza party,” he said with a broad grin.

Great. I’ve been searching high and low for a new twist on traditional Thanksgiving fare, and my son still thinks cafeteria pizza is the culinary equivalent of gold.

Why is it that some school administrators believe that the only way to get children to act responsibly and generously is to bribe them? What happened to teaching children that random acts of kindness have their own inherent value? I do give the teachers credit for using a real-life experience to practice math skills. But the emphasis on getting a reward for engaging in a charitable endeavor puts me into defense mode.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought about what I could do to get my children to focus on the real reason giving is important. I decided to start at the library. There we found books that discussed poverty and how poor people live. We searched the internet and learned about World Toilet Day (November 19, in case you didn’t know) and that over 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation. We read about and other local charities that help feed the homeless.

The resources were great, but the point seemed to really hit home when we met, and began a conversation with, a homeless man while on our way home from a birthday party. After making my kids laugh with a silly joke and offering encouraging words, the man accepted some fruit we happened to have with us. On the way home my children asked a lot of questions about our experience. We sat in silence for a while, each of us mulling over the day's events.

That evening, my son asked his father how many zeros were in a billion. Impressed with what he assumed was Montgomery County’s accelerated math program, my husband asked the boys what they were working on.

Without missing a beat, the younger one said, “We’re trying to figure out how much money we need to buy toilets for two and a half billion people.”

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