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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Provide the Gift of Giving for Students

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu)
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It is not uncommon during the end-of-year holidays, across religions, for families to give children gifts (often, many gifts). Even in families that are struggling financially, heroic efforts are made to give children gifts for every night of holidays, or as close as possible. In families that are better off, there can be temptations to go overboard.

There is another kind of gift we can give children. This year, start a new tradition: the Gift of Giving. Here's how it can work, with parents and in classrooms.

Bringing the Idea to Parents

Teachers can communicate the Gift of Giving idea by sending a message to the families of students. Try something like this:

Dear Parents,

Many households observe upcoming holidays by giving children gifts. This year, please consider starting a new tradition: Instead of giving your child one of your gifts, or instead of one day of gift-giving, allow your child the blessing of giving a gift to others. Children get a very deep and lasting feeling of satisfaction and worth by doing or giving something special to others. It becomes a gift to them that lasts far longer than most toys or games or articles of clothing.

You can discuss this with them as part of the holiday and connect it with the spirit of the holiday that you observe. Let them know how special you consider it. Perhaps you will even do the same, instead of receiving a present.

First, discuss who the gift might be for. Is there a cause or concern that matters to your family, which you want to communicate to your child? A donation to cancer research, to a shelter, to visiting nurses, to a religious group that gave you special comfort in a time of need -- all of those, however large or small, matter a lot. Perhaps there are groups that might want your child's gently-used toys, games, books, or clothing, especially things no longer being used or recently replaced by newer items.

Another way of thinking about gifts is sending a special thank you to first-responders in the community, to members of the military, to those who help with transportation and safety. A personal note, a picture, something created by your children is a special gift, indeed.

In some families with elderly relatives, giving the gift of memory is powerful. Spend time assembling some pictures and make a collage of special moments together. Using the website, Snapfish, or other related services, it's possible to make a picture book of memories of time together. This can mean more to a grandparent or great aunt or uncle, or family friend, than any gift items one might buy.

With best wishes to your family!

Bringing the Idea to Classrooms

Use holiday time to turn this idea into an activity of thanks within your school, perhaps even extending to class "gifts" to the community. Use your creativity and imagination to connect giving and doing for others to the Common Core (helping to make it also a Caring Core).

Writing assignments can be turned into thank you cards; art assignments can be turned into appreciative pictures; music assignments can lead to the creation of songs, or singing or playing for others; social studies can focus on those who have given so much to others -- sometimes even their lives; science can spend time discussing new inventions and applications of science to make lives better.

The key element is using the holiday time and its pervasive spirit of giving and kindness as an occasion to make the connection of what you are doing in school to the benefit of others. Have children reflect on the activities and get in touch with their feelings about being able to brighten others' lives, or at least focusing one's energies on learning to make others' lives better.

Providing the Gift of Giving helps restore the true spirit of the holidays in our homes and in our schools, and shows students how they can use their learning to shine a bright light in others' lives, and by so doing, in their own.

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Holiday Gift Guide
Whether it is a gift of kind words or a Bluetooth-enabled robot, this series offers new ideas on showing gratitude to students and educators alike.

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu)
In This Series
Whether it is a gift of kind words or a Bluetooth-enabled robot, this series offers new ideas on showing gratitude to students and educators alike.

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Davr's picture
Davr
Know thyself

Great new initiative in our school this year. Giving back. We put up our turkey in our entrance way. Feathers had specific things students and families could donate. Everything from food, clothing, to doing something nice around the school. Students pledged what they wanted to accomplish, pulled the feather off the bird and once complete replaced the feather with a handprint with their name on it. The real power is having this idea of giving hit the students as they enter; we also repeat this manta of "giving back" during our advisory time.

Our bird is now covered with handprints and the local food pantry will receive a big donation come Thanksgiving. The idea is to continue to season of giving (this time with a Giving Tree with ornaments) to give toys to a local organization or Toys for Tots.

We were surprised and very pleased to see the students step up and we are on our way to accomplishing our goals this season.

(1)
Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

JELLY FOR GRADES. THE GIFT OF GILLIGAN

Found on my desk late today was a jar of jelly. Nora Mill Granary Georgia Moonshine Jelly, from Gilligan, and a yellow sticky note. His words:

This if for you Todd. Cus your my faivorihc teacher ... Gilligan

I'll be damned. He's already making a solid F in class and I ride him hard but with an understanding touch. I know that doesn't make sense, but you'd just have to be there. I give Gilligan all I've got, and he gives me back a jar of moonshine-flavored jelly. It's a square deal. A struggling child's affection? How oddly sweet is that?

(1)

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