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Encouraging generosity, global awareness and perspective in kids

During our engagement, my husband and I read an article about a family that encouraged generosity and global awareness in their children by involving them in decisions about charitable giving.  We knew we wanted to adapt their method for our own kids, but 9 years – and 4 children – later, we were still talking about our plan to do that someday.

Well, for Lent this year, we decided to stop waiting until we had time to really come up with a perfected system for our family and just dive in now.  I feel a little weird writing about this, but I’m sharing what we are doing for 2 reasons: (1) we benefit so much when others share their ideas and (2) we know we could be doing it a lot better and are open to suggestions.

Here are the basics:

(1)   We told the kids that every Sunday during Lent this year, they are going to learn about one problem in the world and one organization that is trying to help address that problem.

(2)   Each week, we are going to pray for the people affected by the problem and the organization trying to help them.

(3)   At the end of Lent, we’ll review the different organizations (and problems they address) and the kids can decide which organization will receive some money from our family.

So far, we’ve focused on organizations that have short video clips on their websites, but we’re hoping to expand to other mediums this week.  So far, with the videos, we have been very careful about what we show and we talk to the kids about what they’re going to see in advance.  Only one of our kids can read, so we read the captions for them during the video.  And I talk over parts of the videos as I offer explanations for what the kids are seeing.  (The explanations are important as these videos aren’t made for the purpose of easy understanding by young kids, but they are powerful if shown in conjunction with explanation.)

Here are the videos we’ve shown so far.

(1)   From “Project Night Night” (http://projectnightnight.org)…We  summarized their efforts (detailed on the homepage) for our kids, then showed them the video.  The organization basically makes sure that kids in shelters receive a bag that contains a security blanket, a stuffed animal and a book.  A $20 donation buys a bag.   The video is a simple photo montage of kids who give, and receive, bags. We also suggested to them that one of the places that currently needs bags is located in their Nana’s hometown, and we could actually buy the objects to put in the bag and send it with Nana if they chose that organization (and if Nana was willing to do the delivery…what do you say, Nana?!).  Here’s the video…

Project Night Night Video/Photo Montage

(2)   From “Charity: Water” (http://www.charitywater.org/)… I was initially nervous about showing this video due to the soundtrack and some hard images (our oldest is 6), but I’m so glad we did.  Our kids’ reaction was amazing.  As they were watching, we emphasized that some people had to drink that dirty water and that helping build a well would mean clean water for everyone in a village.  Almost 2 weeks later, S pointed at a ditch full of dirty rainwater beside the road and said, “There are people in the world that have to drink water like that, but I’m sending pennies to help them.”  Another powerful thing about this video is that is says the average lifespan in this part of the world is 39.  We told our kids that dad and mom would both be 39 this year and aren’t we lucky that we live in a place with peace and clean water so that moms and dads live so much longer.  That really made an impression on them (but was a risk, as we don’t want them thinking about the possibility of us dying!)  Anyway, this video really made our kids think – in a good way.

(3)   From the Make a Wish foundation (www.wish.org).  We chose a video about a girl who wished to meet a real ballerina (1) because our girls totally related to that and (2) because the girl in the video gets better.  To introduce this, we emphasized that some kids are very sick and that Make a Wish offers them something fun to think about instead of thinking about being in the hospital.  (Like being able to focus on the sucker, instead of the shot sort of thing.)  Our kids still talk about the girl in this video too.

After this video, we also emphasized to the kids that giving money is not the only way to help.  If the girl had wished for a chance to play at our house, would we have let her?  Of course.  The dancers in the video gave their time, etc.  My husband works for UNC and we talked about how if someone’s wish was to do something there, would they help dad arrange it?  In short, making the point that giving time, energy, etc. is very important.

Here’s the video:

(4)   Not sure what we’re showing the kids tomorrow, but may read them part of a letter about a family in our town who just lost their home to a fire and ask if they would like to contribute to a community effort to assist them.

What has amazed me so far about this:

(1)   I needed to be reminded that the blessing comes back 10-fold.  Since watching these videos, my own perspective has received a wonderful adjustment.  Instead of feeling like money is tight, I am overwhelmed by how rich I feel simply having a bed, clean water, healthy kids… I need that perspective and so do my kids.

(2)   The kids’ generosity.  At random points, they say “I want you to send our family money to that one when it’s time, mom”, but in the meantime, they have each individually come up to us and said “please send some of my pennies to all of them”.  One night, S disappeared after the video and we thought she was playing her Dora tamborine in her room.   Turns out she was shaking pennies out of her piggie bank so we could send them for her.  And she was very thoughtful about it.  6 pennies to this place, 6 pennies to that place, and 13 to the other…

(3)   The kids’ attention.  Several times this week, they have asked me if we’ll see another video on Sunday and if there’ any way they could watch it early.  And they are totally focused when the videos are on.  We’ll see how they do if tomorrow is me reading part of a letter.

What we still need to work on :

(1)   I need ideas for organizations and materials to introduce those organizations to our kids.  This is my real Lenten sacrifice…the time to search to find the right images and words to talk to our kids about this.

(2)   Our kids don’t get allowances and we haven’t talked to them much about money.  I would love to use some kind of system (they get 10 dimes, one goes to charity, one to savings, etc.) but we haven’t figured that out yet.  This would be a better project if they had some an understanding of money and some of their own money to give.

(3)   As kids get older, there are deeper conversations to have about all of this.  The point for our crew now is: (1) There are problems and good people working to fix them. (2) Our family helps.  You can help, and we’re so proud when you do. (3) We are blessed.  Appreciate what we have.

(4)   The prayer part.  I think the prayer for the people should be a bigger part of what we’re doing, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

Again, I feel a little weird writing this.  I don’t want to make it seem like we’re giving a lot.  And I don’t want to come across as anything other than someone who has procrastinated too long on an idea we learned about 9 years ago.  But I did want to share in case anyone else has ideas about how this can work, what resources we could use, or if anyone has been looking for an idea for their own kids.  So far, this has sparked some good conversations in our house and given me a reminder about the perspective I need to keep.

Hugs,

K

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Holiday Letter 2011

A belated holiday letter from us to you!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!  We hope you had a wonderful 2011.  Here’s a glimpse of our year, categorized by venue and starting with life…

Around the house… where, this year, the evidence of imagination is everywhere!  Daily, we watch the kids transform the ottoman into a pirate ship, the chairs into a doctor’s waiting room, the hallways into wedding aisles & the backyard into an African jungle.  The action?  Inspiring.  The aftermath?  Well, let’s just say there is no point in trying to “tidy” a pirate ship or a jungle (or at least that’s my excuse to myself & anyone who visits…)

T (18 months) is now walking & beginning to talk, and it’s no surprise that his first consistent words were “whoa!” (i.e. “I’m excited!”) & “night night” (i.e. “These people wear me out…”)  He is the foil in many of his sister’s productions, at least when he’s not busy obsessing over cars, trains, books, family photos or pacifiers (one in his mouth; a spare in his hand!)  He is at that precious moment of transition from cuddly baby to toddler-on-the-go, which leaves us savoring the snuggles, admiring the independence, & defending everything within reach.  Currently, the only thing he shows zero interest in is his high chair, where his newest word (“no”) & phrase (“yuck, yuck, pfffttt”) have made it almost impossible to feed this lovable, huggable guy.

S (3) and E (5) are most often in their princess costumes, inviting us into a magical world where gifts hidden too well in a box of packing peanuts mean “Nana sent us snow for Christmas!”  In addition to representing pure goodness (e.g. offering our nativity scene Jesus a room in their doll house), they constantly entertain and amuse us with their blend of impressive imagination and ever-increasing real world knowledge (one telling quote: “We have to run from the mean witch! Head for the woods!  And don’t forget to bring the GPS!”)

For those wondering about the parental presence in these productions, mom is part stage-hand (“Yes, I can clean dog poop off your glitter shoe…”), part villain (“Bedtime!”) and – on one occasion – a hero (when she affirmed E’s response to the Orkin man who told us he’d be happy to kill all our dandelions. E’s words: “No! We use those flowers to make wishes!  Don’t let him, mom!”)  Of course, dad’s role is that of prince charming, which is ironic since he is always kissing the kids, except when he is worried that doing so might actually wake them up.

When not playing together or with T, the girls are pursuing their own interests.  E loves to run (anywhere), draw (princesses and fairies), organize (things and people), perform (in costume, with a microphone), and help her mama bake cookies (but not clean up!  In her words “I’m E; not CinderE”).  She is pure joy, eternally enthusiastic, and a jumping-up-and-down, open-armed, caregiver to all.  This year, E has asked Santa for 101 real dalmation puppies, a request that has her parents seeing spots (& not the kind of spots E wants…)

S is more likely to be playing music (drums or piano), setting a table (for her 15 dolls – all named some variation of “Angie”), collecting (fuzz & pennies), painting (on any canvas, including her brother), and using her craft scissors (to cut paper, but also necklaces, and on one occasion her hair).  She remains eternally passionate (about everything), infinitely lovable (and loving), and greets the world with her head cocked, a hand on her hip and a twinkle in her eye.  At the age of 3, she calls everything just like she sees it.  Recently one assessment warmed our hearts when she told her dad he was “the best dad in the whole world… even Disneyworld”.

Around town:  You may have seen us taking E to Kindergarten, choir or space camp… S to preschool, playgroup, or princess dance camp… or T (my traveling buddy) to all those places plus his own playgroup at church.  If we’re not at those locations, try any UNC athletic event, where dad embraces both a job he loves and the opportunity to “take your family to work” on gamedays (despite S’ assertion that we’d get more milkshakes if he worked at our local, and much beloved, Chick-Fil-A).

Elsewhere: Trips to NY (including Niagara Falls!), the NC coast (& its turtle rescue center!), GA (the Santa train!), and anywhere else the kids’ imaginations take us. We are hoping 2012 will take us into 2 national titles (Bama football! UNC hoops!) & close to many of you.

And finally, from the deepest part of our hearts…  we are sending our very best to you and yours for a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!  God’s Blessings and the Peace of Christ to you all!

Love,

Mom, Dad, E, S & T