Posted by: coachingparents | December 18, 2007

Teaching Kids to Care

Inspiring Our Youngest Philanthropists, Part 1

Philanthropy is a big word for a nine year old. It might seem like an even bigger concept to parents and children alike. Recent national tragedies, however, have provided an acute time of need for many people, as well as the opportunity to introduce children to the importance of giving. Philanthropy, at its heart, is about more than dollars and cents. (It actually derives from the Greek humane.) Children can understand, through simple acts, that donations of time or companionship may mean the most. “The key for inspiring children to think philanthropically is to plug into something personal that the child is passionate about,” advises Lisa Parker, mother of two and President of the Lawrence Welk Family Foundation.

Experts inform us that the critical window for introducing children to giving is between the ages of five and fifteen, a span during which children have varied interests. Even if parents have different philanthropic goals, it is important to commit to issues their children feel are important. Parker’s daughter, age six, is an animal lover. When she decided to give a portion of her allowance to a local wild animal park, Parker was enthusiastic, even though her own commitments are to poverty and children. Her daughter is now the proud parent to adopted deer, Arthur, and she is already dedicated to the practice of giving.

Schools will occasionally facilitate a child’s interest in philanthropy, and parents can be involved too. If a child is studying the wetlands, for example, try signing up for a beach cleanup. A nutrition lesson can turn into a trip to the grocery store to find healthy canned goods to donate to your local food bank.

It seems that universities are picking up on the importance of these lessons as well. New courses in philanthropy are cropping up at institutions like the University of Virginia and the University of Mary Washington. At Mary Washington, a class of undergrads ultimately determines how to give away a sum of $10,000.

Teaching philanthropy to pre-college kids, however, is largely a parent’s responsibility. Parents may wish to use the college course model, on a smaller scale, to teach their children. Children might portion off their allowances, for example, and determine how to distribute their funds after six months or a year.  On birthdays, a child might donate a book to the public library, in addition to receiving new toys or clothing. At younger ages, unlike in the college courses, it is important that kids make their own decisions about the recipients of their gifts. In the early stages, all that matters is that kids start to see giving as part of everyday life.

Jilliene Schenkel, mother of three and a family philanthropic advisor in Los Angeles, is a firm believer that philanthropy needs to be taught and reinforced to children. She emphasizes how important it is “for me to work alongside my children when we give back to the community.” Ensure you are showing your kids that giving matters by pointing out what you do to give back – volunteering at school, cooking dinner for a sick friend, buying Girl Scout cookies (it’s not all about the thin mints, is it?). A child from a family with at least one parent volunteer is almost twice as likely to volunteer as a child with no family member who volunteers, and almost three times as likely to volunteer on a regular basis.

About The Author …
Tracy Olson Chait is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, who writes about urban community, education, and culture. She can be reached at


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