Raising Philanthropic Children:

How Children 5-8 Meet the School Community

Robert Coles writes: “In elementary school, maybe as never before or afterward, given favorable family and neighborhood circumstances, the child becomes an intensely moral creature, quite interested in figuring out the reasons of this world: how and why things work, but also, how and why he or she should behave in various situations.” 

School Provides New Opportunities for Growth

At this age, children encounter a new set of potentially traumatic experiences —leaving the home, entering day-long school, meeting a large number of same-age peers, and usually adhering to strict daily routines.

"A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold."

—Ogden Nash

Children in early elementary grades are quite able to express their feelings about fairness, selfishness, sharing and caring, justice, and equity. Listening to and sharing their impressions will help them successfully negotiate the new school environment. Most school situations require your children to learn to take turns, to listen, to share, and to obey basic rules. You can help your children by encouraging and rewarding these behaviors at home.

Philanthropy Concepts for the Early Elementary Age Child

Your children are now ready to understand these philanthropic concepts:

  • Why a community needs rules, and why they are important in protecting individuals
  • Cooperation
  • Sharing
  • Respect for individual private property
  • Recognizing and dealing with emotions, such as jealousy or gratitude
  • Selfishness and selflessness

Ideas for You and Your Children

  • Introduce philanthropy as a word. Children at this age love big words. Define it as the sharing of time, talent, or treasure.
  • Identify local heroes, such as a local religious leader, a kind volunteer, a school crossing guard, the reading volunteer at the library, or the local volunteer firefighter. Discuss their importance.
  • Introduce diverse cultures and encourage your children to develop interest and trust in people who look different from members of your family.
  • Use your children's natural emotional connection with animals, with nature, and with other children of similar ages to talk about caring and sharing.
  • Introduce your children to play or social groups that offer some focus on caring, sharing, and helping. Youth organizations or the youth group in your congregation are good places to start.

Literature and Storytelling

Read books aloud and discuss the philanthropic themes of giving, sharing, and community. These literature guides available on the Learning to Give website provide questions and activities to go along with storybooks with themes about giving and sharing.

Make Family Count

"Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice."

—Reinhold Niebuhr

Begin to involve your elementary-aged children in activities that demonstrate giving and sharing and build confidence in their own abilities. Tell family stories of philanthropy—both when your family has been the recipient of giving and sharing, and when your family has given. This connection may be as simple as your family's enjoyment of the symphony's children's concert sponsored by a local company—to assistance given a grandparent or parent during their lives. It might include a funny incident when your family has given a gift, or a touching moment when someone in your family made a special effort to reach out and help another person. These family stories make the complex ideas mentioned later in the curriculum real, understandable, and important to children.

Take a Look at Local Youth Groups

Just as school provides opportunities for young children to learn to socialize and to share with other children, many positive lessons can be learned from their involvement in youth groups. These groups come in many forms, such as well-known national youth organizations with local clubs (like Girl Scouts, Girls on the Run, and 4-H ), faith-based youth groups, and special interest groups with local clubs (for example, Ukranian-American Youth Association and the environmental group Earth Force ). 

Some of these groups provide structured sharing activities while others provide opportunities for children to work together (such as learning about birds or learning karate).

Hands-On Activities

Visit the local animal shelter or humane society. Have appropriate answers prepared for your children's questions regarding the future welfare of the animals. The Humane Society , dedicated to animal adoption, is a good choice at this age.

  • Make homemade dog biscuits and catnip toys to give to the animals.
  • Take your old newspapers to the animal shelter for use as cage liners.
  • Discuss how the animals do not have a home because someone was not a responsible owner.
  • Discuss how kind people will come to adopt the animals and give them a home.
  • Discuss how the animal shelter is supported by people who give their time, talent or treasure, to make sure there is shelter.

Invite your children's friends over to make homemade soup for lunch.

  • Ask each child to bring one ingredient.
  • Have the children work cooperatively to prepare the vegetables.
  • Talk with the children about how cooperation builds a community.
  • Point out that each child's contribution has resulted in more for everyone. (The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.)
  • Make enough soup so that some can be shared with a shut-in or elderly neighbor.
  • Discuss with the children the concept of “extra” and “excess” and about the sharing of resources with those who have less.

"The family is one of nature's masterpieces."

—George Santayana

Develop a family “Caring Container” with an “act of kindness or giving” written on an individual slip of paper. Encourage each family member to take a slip from the container each day and to complete a philanthropic act. These need not be large tasks. Short, repetitive activities reinforce sharing and caring. Examples of first-grade-level activities may include:

  • Pick up any trash that you see on the floor
  • Respect each other's space
  • Compliment others around you
  • Play with someone new during recess
  • Share a book with someone
  • Bring a treat for the whole class to enjoy
  • Write a thank-you note to the school physical education teacher, custodian, art teacher or cafeteria foodservice worker.

Charitable Giving in the Community

Encourage your children to give away extra toys, wearable clothes, and a small portion of their allowances. Make a trip to the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or women's shelter a family event. If you have other items to contribute, this activity will place your children's gifts in the context of “what our family does.” Discuss with your children how fortunate they are to have things that can be shared, and point out how other children will benefit from their sharing.

Discuss how your children benefit from other people who share with them (parents, grandparents, siblings, friends). If you regularly attend a religious institution, encourage your children to contribute a portion of their allowance to the church, synagogue, or mosque.

Be a Role Model

"We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends."

—Mary McLeod Bethune

Children will often repeat behaviors and attitudes exhibited by the most central adults in their lives, usually their parents. Children who grow into caring and giving adults often report a strong sense of belonging and acceptance from their family. Young adult volunteers state things such as “my parents are very caring,” “they make time for me,” “they listen,” and “they are supportive when I have a problem .”

Talking With Your Child

Always discuss what you are doing philanthropically and why. Children need the language tools to express these concepts.

Questions to Stimulate Reflection

Ages 5-8

  • What did you like about helping/giving/sharing? How did it make you feel?
  • What did you like about the museum (or other nonprofit) that you visited? What did you dislike about it? Would you like to visit again?
  • How did you feel when the child/adult you helped or to whom you gave something said “thank you”? Would you like to share/help/give again?
  • What did the character(s) in your book do that was nice? What did the character(s) do that wasn't nice? How did it make you feel? What would you do in that situation?
  • How did it feel to give away your money (or possession)?

Activities for Lower Elementary Children

  • Read books with philanthropic content about giving and sharing.
  • Involve your child in a philanthropic group.
  • Hold family discussions on issues related to giving.
  • Encourage high-quality Academic Service-Learning in schools both for your child and other children.
  • Tell family stories of philanthropy including both giving and receiving.
  • Visit museums and focus on heroic figures who have benefited your community or society.
  • Talk with your child about why your family cares.
  • Visit the Humane Society and bring gifts to animals. Take up a collection for them.
  • Make a stew and deliver it to a shut-in or friend. Share a book with someone at a nursing home.
  • Have children make a quilt or other gifts and take to a shelter.
  • Develop a family "Caring Container" of activities.
  • Make clay models or other gifts and deliver to a shelter or friend.
  • Involve an isolated child in small-group activities.
  • Gather and deliver excess toys and clothes to a shelter or program for needy children.
  • Be a role model of giving and serving.