Helping Children Learn to GIVE

Char•i•ty (noun)
1.    The voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need.
2.    Help or money given in this way.

Helping young children to understand the value of money can be tricky. Not only do they need to learn to recognise the various forms and denominations of a currency and the value of each individual unit but also how to count it (and eventually to add, subtract, multiply and divide it), why money is important and how it is used in everyday life. The complex and abstract nature of these concepts means children need plenty of time and lots of opportunity to talk about, to play with and to meaningfully use money with the help of an adult.

Learning to save and learning to give are also important money lessons that are much easier for children to take into adulthood when the foundations are laid in childhood. However, they are also not easy lessons for a young child to learn or understand.

Immy’s school regularly encourages supporting charity through fun child and family orientated events such as ‘free dress’ (no school uniform) days and donating items for disadvantaged children in the lead up to Christmas. It is however taking Immy more than a little time to come to an understanding of why it is important to share the good fortune we have. I recall our discussion about the first free dress day went something like this…

Me: What would you like to wear to school tomorrow for the special, free dress day? You can wear what ever you want to.
Immy: My pink, swirly dress.
Me: We need to remember to take a gold coin as our donation as well.
Immy: But I don’t want to take a gold coin. That is our money.
Me: We need to take a gold coin or else you are not allowed to wear free dress, you will have to wear you uniform. The gold coin is very special because Mrs C collects up everyone’s coins and puts them all together to give to a company that helps to look after children who are very sick.
Immy: But we need that money. It’s ours!
Me: It’s good for us to share what we have. Isn’t it good that we have enough money to be able to give a gold coin.
Immy: I don’t want to wear free dress!

That evening and the following morning we had a number of short, gentle discussions about why it was important to share our good fortune and after a lot of convincing Immy went off to school the next day in her pink, swirly dress with a gold coin to give. There have however been a number of similar indignant conversations since, and even tears when it came time to explain why we were going to buy toys to give to other children this Christmas!

Which got me to thinking about finding a more practical, concrete way of involving Immy in the process of sharing wealth and good fortune (which at the same time it might just help to counter the ‘I Wants!’) Enter our very basic, introductory system of giving pocket money.

Each day Immy is invited to unpack the clean dishes from the dishwasher. If she does so, then we give her three coins as ‘pocket money’ for completing this chore. The coins are distributed between her money box and her Giving Jar. At least one coin must go into each but she gets to decide where the third coin ends up. At this stage (Immy is only four), we are not focusing so much on the value of the coins (in fact, the coins differ each time depending upon what is in my purse!) but the act of putting some money aside to save for something she wants to buy (this is the money in her money box) and some money to be used to give to a charity, whether that be related to a school event or given to a charity of her choice.

Teaching children about giving

The system is working well so far. It has generated lots of talk about the value of different coins and I have been happy to see that Immy often allocates the third coin to her Giving Jar. If you would like to try this pocket money system would your own children, you might like to think about;

  • Which chores are for pocket money and which are just regular, unpaid chores that help children to learn to be a functioning member of a family. Not everything should be about ‘earning money,’ which is why I chose one specific chore, keeping the system simple enough for a four year old to understand.
  • Keeping their money in a glass jar helps younger children to see their collection of coins grow.
  • Encouraging your child to save for a toy (or other item) that they would like to buy keeps them motivated. Immy has already spent some of the money from her money box on a specific purchase and the process of waiting as she saved (though not waiting too long for this first purchase as I want her to get an idea of saving being purposeful and achievable), counting her coins, putting them into a purse and paying for her own purchase has been invaluable for learning about money. Also, now whenever I hear the ‘I Wants’ we are able to discuss what she would like to save for next.
  • Talking to your child about opportunities to save and use the money from their Giving Jar to make a cash donation to a charity or to buy items to donate to a local organisation, making the act of giving even more tangible for young children.

How do you involve your children with giving and charitable acts?

THIS GIVING CAMPAIGN HAS NOW FINISHED -> Thanks to the powers of social media, one small action today can make a big difference in the lives of children who are sick, disadvantaged or have special needs. All you need to do is Like the Nurofen Facebook page and Nurofen will take care of the rest, donating $1 for every new like received between now and December 31st, 2012.

Variety, the Children’s Charity is a national not-for-profit organisation committed to transforming and enriching the lives of Australian children. Through three core programs Variety grants vital equipment, support and experiences which provide tangible and positive social benefits to the lives of sick, disadvantaged and special needs children, their families and the community.

This post is sponsored by Nuffnang.


  1. Jen Fischer says:

    I think teaching the value of giving to our children is so important, and I recently wrote a guest post about it at The Educators Spin On It in regards to giving and the holidays. Thank you for sharing about this.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Jen, would love you to leave a link to your post. The approach of the holidays certainly makes this a natural time to be having these conversations with the children in our lives.

  2. Great idea! I’ve been thinking lots about this topic lately and how we can do it all better. This time of year (ie Christmas) is especially great for teaching kids about giving. We just finished our Christmas boxes for Samaritan’s purse last week. Have you heard of those? I’ve found it sparks some great discussion and you can track your gift abc they show footage of children receiving the gifts on their website.

    1. We too have been involved with the Christmas shoeboxes this year, Emma. For us, showing Immy the video made a big difference to her understanding/accepting the process of buying toys and gifts to give to others.

  3. Teaching children about charity is something I really want to do more at home. We do the Kmart wishing tree at Christmas, and regularly go through our home to choose things to donate to the Op Shop. I talk with our 33 month old about why we’re doing these things. I’d like to do more though. Thanks for your post, great ideas.

    1. It can be hard when they are small, Kylie, but I believe keeping the conversation going and doing small things regularly helps them to better understand 🙂

  4. Thanks for bringing such an important topic to light. I have been wanting to start doing this with my kids and it seems like the perfect time of year to do so. Pinned this to my parenting board.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Vicky, I agree that the holidays do seem like a natural time to start having these conversations 🙂

  5. We have done the Kmart Wishing Tree each year since Miss Daisy was born. She chooses a toy suitable for a child the same age as her. We will continue to do this with both our daughter’s this year. We also regularly bake for our friends and family and Miss Daisy is actively involved in baking, wrapping and giving such gifts. It’s important to teach this early isn’t it. Thanks for a great post. I like your money system.

    1. I love that you bake for others, Rebekah…if only I had any talent in the kitchen 😉

  6. Just a lovely post Christie…and an area i want to work more on with my girls so thankyou for posting your inspiration and ideas!

  7. Just tonight we sponsored our first child as a family. The kids were so excited! The younger two offered all the money from their money boxes, while the eldest offered a portion of his pocket money. Our kids are 10, 6 and 4 – quite a range, so their comprehension of what we’re doing is vastly different from child to child. But, I hope with time, even the littlest will really understand the value just a small contribution to another child can be. They even wrote letters to the little boy. It was pure joy for me to see them wanting to reach out and help a child in need.

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