Native American Philanthropists

K, 1, 2

This lesson introduces the students to the definition of philanthropy and tells how the Native Americans were philanthropic toward the Pilgrims. Students carry out their own “random acts of kindness.”

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • define philanthropy as the giving of one’s time, talent and treasure for the sake of another or for the common good.
  • define and give examples of community capital in history and in the classroom.
  • state how Samoset and Squanto acted as philanthropists to the settlers.
  • set goals for performing philanthropic acts of his/her own.
  • If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 (from Lesson Two) pages 37-54
  • Squanto’s Journey ( See Bibliographical References)
  • Journals and pencils
  • A copy of Attachment One: Acrostic Poem
  • Student copies of Attachment Two: End of Unit Test
  • Bulletin board display with the heading “Random Acts of Kindness.” (Cut out a large tree trunk and branches and staple it on the bulletin board. Cut out several leaves to be added to the tree as students carry out their acts of kindness.)
Home Connection 

Encourage the students to build up community capital at home with their parents and siblings (and neighbors) by performing acts of kindness at home, too.

  • McGovern, Anne. If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. Scholastic, 1993. ISBN: 0590451618
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Squanto’s Journey. Silver White, 2000. ISBN: 0512018174


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Write the word “philanthropist” on the board. Ask the students to define it, or introduce the definition as giving or sharing time, talent or treasure for the common good. Discuss what that means and give examples and non-examples. (A pilgrim who shares a meal with the whole group is a philanthropist. A pilgrim who sells food to the group is not.)

  2. Explain to the students that even though the Pilgrims had arrived in their new land, their troubles were not over. They had trouble finding a good place to settle. They were afraid of the Native Americans. They didn’t know very much about hunting, fishing and planting. (You may read aloud some of these details from If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620.)

    • Explain that the pilgrims were helped by two philanthropists named Samoset and Squanto. Read Squanto’s Journey or summarize information on Samoset and Squanto, explaining how they showed the pilgrims places to fish and hunt and taught them how to plant corn and other crops.

    • Ask the children why they think the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims. (Guide them to such answers as the following: They knew that if they didn’t help, the pilgrims would die. They wanted to get along with the new comers. They had to share limited resources. Native Americans had an understanding of the responsibility to do things for the common good—community is very important.)

    • Explain that Samoset and Squanto gave their time and talent for the sake of the common good. That is what a philanthropist does. Ask the children what they think Squanto and Samoset got in return for helping the pilgrims. When the Native Americans helped them, they built community capital (“banked” good will in the community, that can be drawn on later to help solve problems) with the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims lost some of their fear of the Native Americans and were also probably more motivated to find ways to cooperate with the Native Americans in the future.

    • Ask the students what they think would have happened to the Pilgrims if the Native Americans had not helped them? (Without these acts of kindness, the Pilgrims would not have survived in this new environment.)

    • Brainstorm on chart paper acts of kindness that the students can perform (or have performed or have seen other students perform). Encourage them to think of spontaneous helpful actions as simple as letting someone else go first, sharing playground equipment or asking a new friend to play.

  3. Discuss the concept of community capital in the classroom. When they perform these kind acts, it will generate positive feelings about the students and the classroom, and will make the community a more cooperative, helpful place. Others will be motivated to reciprocate the kindness in the future. Have students reflect on the long-term effects of this.

  4. Show the students the incomplete bulletin board. Tell them that you want them to fill up the bulletin board with their random acts of kindness. (Explain that random means not specifically planned) Every morning for the next week (or month or year) they will have the opportunity to add to the bulletin board.

  5. For each kind act performed, a student adds a leaf to the tree. It may be the student who performs the act or receives the act. A student writes a brief description (or drawing) of the kind act on one side of a leaf and writes his or her name on the other side. In the beginning, look at their work before it goes up and conference with the children, as needed, about appropriateness. The writing should be neat and correctly spelled. When neatness and appropriateness are the habit, the teacher can conference less and let the students take control of the bulletin board more.


Teacher observation of student participation. Students write an acrostic poem with words and phrases that demonstrate their understanding of the journey of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and their interaction with the Native Americans. See Attachment One: Acrostic Poem. End of Unit Test (Attachment Two)

Cross Curriculum 

Students recognize the value to the community of being philanthropists. They will perform simple acts of kindness for others in their “community” with increasing regularity. They record their acts on a bulletin board and build community capital in the classroom and school (and home).

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. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
    3. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.3 Give examples of <i>opportunity cost</i> in philanthropic giving.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.13 Offer examples of community/social capital in school.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark E.4 Describe an early example of philanthropy practiced in the indigenous culture.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.7 Give classroom examples of when a student does not need the teacher's permission to act philanthropically.
      2. Benchmark E.8 Recognize the concept of community/social capital in the classroom.