Making Lemonade: How to Explain Charity to Your Children
Teaching the lessons of charity at an early age can be a simple, fun and rewarding endeavor as a parent.
When my kids were younger, (ages 5 and 3) they asked me if we could host a lemonade stand in our neighborhood during their summer break. I thought it would be a great opportunity to teach them a lesson in basic economics. Testing a bit of supply and demand theory, we tried a few lemonade stands first, getting a feel for pricing and purchasing. Our sale was a grand success and the kids brought in $33 in gross profit. Having determined in advance that we would give a portion of our profits to charity, I found that our little economic lesson also allowed me to teach my children the basics about philanthropy.
My children have seen homeless men and women on the street, asking for money, food, etc. Each time we give money and each time my husband and I carefully try to explain why it is that some people go without the basics that we are so fortunate to have: a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and toys to play with.
"What's a charity?" they both asked. It felt difficult to explain, and I weighed my words carefully. Knowing that both my husband and I work in a space of philanthropy (my husband with veterans, and I with developing economy communities), my oldest son asked if my husband and I work for charities. I explained that while we do not work for charities, we work for people that need our help as charities do too. That seemed to quell his curiosity.
So in explaining charity I had to explain that a portion of our lemonade sales should go help these men, women and children that go without. Hoping that my words sank in, we moved on to what our conversations generally revolved around those days: baseball.
I was reminded to revisit our lemonade lessons when I read an article by Paul Sullivan at The New York Times. The article, "Learning Young the Gift of Helping Others" explained how giving back is becoming a more ingrained value in our family routines, and that children are increasingly learning the importance of philanthropy at younger ages. Sure the priority placed on giving back comes from the parent, but more and more children are making decisions about charitable giving and volunteerism on their own. Couple that with an education system that is building curriculum around philanthropy increasingly into its plans, and young children are apt to surpass their parents in charitable giving over the next few decades. One can only hope.
My children weighed their lemonade proceeds options quite carefully, and finally decided to donate the money to our local food bank. Before we delivered the money, my youngest son spotted a man on the street holding a sign and asking for money. He asked me if that man had a bed to sleep in, food to eat or toys to play with. I answered that he may not. Both my sons paused for a minute. I could almost hear their brains churning with the thought about what it would be like to not sleep in a warm bed, have food available for each meal or have toys to play with. That feeling of empathy is the greatest gift I can give as a parent, a woman and professional.
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, an advisory firm aiding organizations in partnership strategy and fundraising diversification to address social, environmental and economic development challenges through collaboration. Joanne is a trained development economist and has been living and working in the Washington, D.C. area since 2004. Joanne’s book, ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact, documents how to overcome fear, uncertainty and risk aversion to seek fulfillment in one’s life, and truly make a difference. Joanne serves on the board of Emerging Leaders, an Oxford, UK based NGO training leaders in vulnerable communities throughout the world. Joanne lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and two boys.