Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement


Building Trust: Infancy Through the Preschool Years

Family As Example

From the very beginning, infants are shaping their view of the world and their place in it. A strong foundation of trust, built in a loving and caring environment, is the first step in philanthropy. At its most basic level, philanthropy is the love of mankind. During early years, children learn about love by being loved. They learn the role of rules in a community by having rules set at home. They learn about consequences, fairness, tolerance, altruism, justice, giving, sharing, and caring during their years in the most important community—the family.

"Likely as not, the child you can do the least with will do the most to make you proud."

—Mignon McLaughlin

"Success in life depends more on [the] ability to work with others than it does on [the] ability to work alone. More and more, the ability to be effectively interdependent, as opposed to independent, is the key to success. In a world of specialization and knowledge overflow, success depends upon knowing how to choose the right partners and employees, knowing how to inspire others, to command loyalty, and to motivate groups. This kind of skill is learned in childhood. Indeed, childhood is like a laboratory of social connection. Sharing, negotiating, sticking up for the one who is being excluded, finding something good to say, playing by the rules—these simple tasks of childhood can become life skills of the highest order," writes psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell. 1

Your child will be watching the model practiced by the family to form his or her understanding of the world and to learn acceptable behavior in given situations. Your child's mannerisms and speech will mimic your own or those of frequently seen relatives or friends.

Developing a strong base of trust is crucial during these early years. The most significant gift you can give your young child is the sense of being cared for by you. Feelings of safety and trust allow children to expand beyond their own needs and to begin to appreciate the needs of others. These feelings are the first steps toward becoming a caring and philanthropic person.

student artwork
Student artwork by Andrea, Brethren High School, Brethren, MI

Don't Forget Play

"The ideal of happiness has always taken material form in the house, whether cottage or castle. It stands for permanence and separation from the world."

—Simone de Beauvoir

Use opportunities during your children's playtime with other children or imaginary friends to teach sharing and caring behavior. Just as learning can be fun, fun can be an opportunity to learn. “Your child's development will center around play . . . an essential means of acquiring the majority of adult skills, particularly social ones.” 2 The preschool experience need not be focused on academics, but instead on the social experiences that come from spending time in a group. The abilities to sit for short periods of time, to take turns, and to learn to trust other adults are the beginning of the transition to the school community.

Philanthropy Concepts for the Infant through Preschool Age Child

  • Family rules, the reasons for rules, and the consequences for obeying rules and breaking rules (these topics provide the basis for a mature understanding of the need for rules in the larger community)
  • The fair application of rules and the idea of justice
  • Sharing and being the recipient of sharing
  • Learning to wait, appropriately, when other members of the family have needs that must be met
  • Helping others around the house and having age-appropriate responsibilities (such as picking up toys before bedtime)
  • Listening to others
  • Preschool children can begin to learn the basic language of philanthropy ― sharing, giving, loving, saying “thank you.”

Ideas for You and Your Children

Philanthropy and Reading

Young children relate well when you read picture books to them. As infants, they will be attracted to the sound of the words and the tone of your voice, and, as they mature, the sharing or caring in the story. Don't be afraid to repeat favorite stories. Young children begin to repeat and incorporate words and terms used by parents, and relate to what is valued and what is not, based in part on childhood stories.

See and Talk About Volunteers in Action

"The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have past at home in the bosom of my family. . .public employment contributes neither to advantage nor happiness. It is but honorable exile from one's family and affairs."

—Thomas Jefferson

Your preschool children can accompany you when you participate in a community event such as a spring Crop Walk, when you visit an art museum, or attend a committee meeting. Visiting elderly friends and taking them flowers or bringing refreshments to a Habitat for Humanity work site begin to lay a foundation about giving and serving. These situations allow your children to meet a diverse group of people in a “safe” environment where they can ask questions as they arise.

Make Art for a Gift

Draw, color, paint or make collages with your children. Let them express themselves through their art. Deliver the art to a friendly neighbor, nursing home, children's hospital, library, pediatrician's office, police station, or special community center. Let your children give the gifts. At these young ages, giving away their artwork to another family member is a big step in understanding the giving process. These sharing opportunities also teach the meaning of the words “thank you” and “you're welcome.”

Practice Philanthropy in Your Religion

If your family has a religious tradition, your preschooler can become involved in religious service and giving activities. Christian churches often organize philanthropic projects like drawing pictures for residents of a local nursing home or collecting presents for a needy family during the Christmas season. Similarly, in the Jewish faith, the expectation of “tzedakah” or giving creates opportunities for children to give money to causes that are important to them—on special occasions (as in celebrating the memory of a loved one) or regularly as a part of every Sabbath.

Discuss Your Family's Giving Beliefs

"The family you come from isn't as important as the family you're going to have."

—Ring Lardner

As parents and caregivers, openly discuss your family values and the concepts of your family's philanthropy. Give your children concrete examples of the ways in which you give: “We send food to the shelter.” “We give money to support the symphony.” “Our family believes in taking care of the environment and that's why we recycle.”

Helping at Home

As your toddlers gain new skills, it will become increasingly easy to involve them in household chores. Regularly ask your children to help pick up shoes or toys, put away dishes, and sort and fold laundry. They may not actually “help” you, since you may need to do the task over again, but by following very simple directions or imitating your actions, they are building a habit and ethic of helping.

student artwork
Student artwork "Käthe Kollwitz"
by Colleen, Brethren High School, Brethren, MI

Questions to Stimulate Reflection

Infancy Through the Preschool Years

  • Did you like sharing (helping or giving)? What did you like most about sharing (helping or giving)?
  • Did you like the museum (or other nonprofit) that you visited? What was your favorite part of the visit? Would you like to visit again?
  • What did you like most about the child/adult you helped (or with whom you shared or to whom you gave)? How did you feel when that child/adult said “thank you”? Would you like to share/help/give again? Why?
  • What did the character(s) in your book do that was nice?

Activities for Infancy through Preschool Children

  • Read picture books with philanthropic messages
  • Observe family philanthropy in action
  • Relate giving and sharing to family activity
  • Discuss family beliefs and traditions of giving and sharing
  • Enjoy family volunteer activities together
  • Talk with your child about why your family cares
  • Help to take responsibility at home.