Learning to Give: What is Service? What is Generosity?

My seven-year old daughter asked me about “service.” What does it mean “to serve others,” “to be generous,” as in helping others and giving back… I told her these types of definitions, but she still didn’t fully understand, even when I provided examples from our life. I decided to use the month of December to teach her about service by showing her examples myself and allowing her to help when she can. Each day, she learns about another type of giving and/or service. In some instances, she can contribute or participate, while for others, she can only learn about it (like serving food at a shelter since she isn’t old enough to participate).

That first day, I had already put a couple dollars from my pocket in the Salvation Army bucket, so I allowed it to “count” as Day 1, even if that meant Zoe only learned the concept and began applying it the next day (on Day 2, she put money in the bucket for herself).

For Day 2, I chose something simple. I was already making purchases for my nephews on CyberMonday. Zoe helped me choose their gifts and we added a small donation to Marine Toys for Tots. We talked about that organization and what they do for children. Her observation about Day 2: “Donating money is easy if you have some to donate.” We talked about other ways to help others, like donating your time and/or skills or talents.

For Day 3, Zoe wrapped presents for children and took them to her school, where teachers and school officials put together care packages of food and toys for local families in need. She enjoyed wrapping the presents, and they were a mess! of wrapping paper, but we got them wrapped without the gifts peeking through the paper.

This type of giving started a discussion about gender-defined toys. The school asked us to label the toys for boys or girls and list an appropriate age. We were going to label the volcano-making kit and science toys as boy’s—Ah! in a flash, we realized what we started to do. This was a perfect mistake to use as a way to talk about gender-defining conformities and assumptions. “Yeah, ’cause Lava Girl would want that volcano-making kit.” We circled both girl or boy, so the teahers can decide which child, girl or boy, would enjoy it the most. We did the same for most of the gifts she donated.

On the way to school, Zoe said, “I can donate some of my stuff I don’t want anymore.” I explained my plan to do exactly that for some other organizations that take used items and resell them or give them away. She already makes Goodwill and AMVETS donations with us sometimes, so she understood. I was relieved to know that she was already thinking of more ways to give.

One of our conversations was about giving a lot versus giving a little. On Day 2, Zoe asked why I didn’t give more money to Toys for Tots. I explained that some people do choose an organization and donate a lot of money and/or time to that one organization. And, by a lot of money or time, I explained to her that I mean “a lot” in reference to what they have to give, not what other people define as “a lot”. It’s not a comparison or competition. I choose to give a little here and a little there. I spread out my giving, especially right now, as I want her to see the different ways to give and the variety of organizations and opportunities that are out there to help others.

I’ll update my blog throughout this month with the ways we give and/or serve others, the observations we make about ourselves and others, and the organizations and people who inspire us with their generosity.