What's Public? What's Private?

K, 1, 2

In this lesson, young people learn the difference between private and public resources and identify areas that are called commons. They discuss whose responsibility it is to take care of those areas and how they are managed.

PrintOne Forty-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • differentiate between public and private property.
  • list “commons” areas in the school and community.
  • describe how to take care of “commons” in the school.

shared copy of the book This Land Is Your Land (see Bibliography)

  • Guthrie, Woody and Arlo Guthrie.  This Land Is Your Land.  Rounder Kids C8050. Rounder Records Corp., 1997. ASIN: B000003H1, CD.
  • Guthrie, Woody and Kathy Jakobsen.  This Land Is Your Land.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998.  ISBN: 0-316-39215-4.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Play the song “This Land Is Your Land” and sing along, using the book as a guide if you like.


  2. Refer to the pages in the book This Land Is Your Land where the “No Trespassing” and the “Public Park” signs are shown.

    Discuss what the word public means in this case (a place where everyone can go.) Look at the picture to describe what the public park has to offer for everyone (swimming, hiking, camping picnicking, boating). Explain that public areas are sometimes called commons, a place we all have, where we can all go. The government or nonprofit organizations may own and maintain those places. Since the public is welcome, there is a social contract that requires each user to take good care of the shared space. Talk about what taking good care of might look like. 

    Discuss what the word private means and why the "No Trespassing" sign is there. Private property and resources may be owned by individuals, families, or companies. People are only welcome there by invitation.

  3. Discuss why there is a need for both public and private resources.

    Talk about several different places in the pictures and around your own region that are both public and private. Talk about ways to tell the difference. A zoo, museum, or park may be owned by the county (government) or a nonprofit organization. A swimming pool may be owned and operated by the local government or a family. When something is owned by the government, we all pay for it with our taxes. If it is owned by a nonprofit organization, donations and volunteers help maintain the resource.

  4. Make a T-Chart with Public/Private at the top. Ask children to name places in the community. Then have the group decide if it fits under public or private (possible places include: church, playground, school, friend’s home, a farm, an art center, the beach in front of someone’s home).

  5. Although our school is a public place, there are still areas we don't go unless invited or asked to go (principal’s office, other classrooms). There are some areas where everyone goes. These areas are called commons. List some of the commons in the school: lunchroom/cafeteria, playground, gym, hallways, auditorium, and bathrooms.

  6. Review the meaning of volunteer (a person who does something without getting paid) and philanthropy (giving of your time, talent, or treasure). Explain that volunteers help make the common places and the world a better place for us all.

  7. Brainstorm ideas of what people can do to make common spaces better for everyone.

  8. Make a poster with a drawing and a saying that tells others how we can all take care of our commons. Their posters will be posted in the commons area they wrote about. It will help create awareness of the areas we all use and serve as a reminder of the importance of caring for our commons. Give examples: cafeteria - throw away your own trash, hallways - walk quietly.

  9. Learners will design posters to share with other learners to encourage the care of the commons areas in the school.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.8 Recognize the difference between private property and common resources.
      2. Benchmark E.9 Identify the "commons" in the school and neighborhood.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.4 Analyze information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to the common good.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.