Spontaneous generosity from kids during a lesson on money

On the line, David Zinn, artist. 
This is a chalk drawing, visible until it rains or wears off. One mouse throws a line holding a heart (love) to help another mouse get from here to there.
Visit his gallery and shop

I'm thinking about the spontaneous generosity of children and a conversation with 3 – 6-year-old preschool children at Dublin Montessori Academy in response to a tragedy.

(We had just returned from holiday break. The devastating December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami was still in the news.)

My team teacher and I present a money lesson. This is what happened (from my notes).

We talk about what money represents and its exchange purpose. "Money is a supra key that opens a door in exchange for life experiences."

We begin with a simple sorting exercise. For example, if given $3, it can be divided into thirds. One third saved, one third spent, and one third donated. It’s easy to explain reasons to save, and the use of money to pay for fundamental needs. Then we ask the children what it means to donate.

“That means you give away your money,” says a child. “Like to help the people in the wave.”

“Are you talking about the tsunami?” I ask. She nods yes.

“Has anyone else heard about the tsunami?” Hands fly up. They say:

“There was a big earthquake under the ground and it sent big waves that crashed into people.”

“People died.”

“It flooded and washed out villages.”

“The waves crashed houses.”

“The waves were so big.”

“It hit the hotels.”

“Some lost their cats and dogs.”

“Their boats got unhooked and carried away.”

“People got washed out into the ocean.”

“A tidal wave came onto the land.”

“An island sunk.”

“People had to run as fast as they could to get away from the wave.”

“The soldiers are giving food and medicine to people who lost their medicine.”

“Their houses broke.”

There’s a pause. I ask, “What are the people doing now?”

“They are trying to see if people got hurt.”

“Trying to build a new city.”

“It will take a long, long time to do that.”

“They need all new stuff.”

“They need to make new houses, restaurants, and villages.”

“They are trying to find their home.”

Then one of the kids says, “We should send the children some toys.”

And another child says, “Let’s send them money.”

“But, who has money?” asks a child.

“I have a lot of money,” says the child next to her.

“I don’t have any money, my piggy bank is empty,” replies another child.

“How can you get money?” I ask.

“Go to the bank.”

“Do you keep your money in the bank?” I ask.


I let them know that "the bank will not give you money. Banks hold your money for you until you’re ready to use it.” The children are quiet and I think this might be news to them. I ask, “Then, how can you get some money to give?”  

A child says, “I could sell one of my toys.”

Others turn to look at that child, and in seconds join in:

“I could sell an old Barbie doll.”

“I have a train and train movie to sell.”

“I have a guitar no one plays.”

“I have gymnastic blocks.”

“I have a teddy bear.”

“I have a scratchy ballerina costume.”

“I have a CD.”

“I have a shirt that doesn’t fit.”

“I have Buzz Lightyear.”

“I’ll sell Snow White.”

“I have a book I can sell.”

The children want to bring some of their toys to school for a sale. We vote and it’s unanimous (our first unanimous vote, and we vote often at our weekly classroom meetings).

After our meeting, the older kids in the class compose this letter. One writes the words. All the children sign it. 

Each child takes home a copy of this letter to their parents. 

The work of creating an experience to get money begins.

The children price their toys, set up a store, take turns with the sales, and raise about $150. (A $5 limit to spend is set so the children are able to use their own money for their purchases.) 

They count the money and write and sign a letter to The Red Cross. Three of the older kids in the class are chosen (by a lucky dip of all their names in a bucket) to go to the bank to exchange the money for a cashier’s check.

After school one day, I drive them to a nearby bank.

We take a step stool so they can see the teller. Two kids carry the stool and one carries the box of money. Many bank employees gather around.

The children are happy and smiling as the banker gives them a piece of paper that represents their money. The children understand that when they mail this piece of paper, a cashier's check, the people who need help will be able to buy the things they lost and need.

On the ride home, one child says, “My mom is having a garage sale. I’ll bring her to this bank to make a check for the tsunami people.”

The article “Don’t send shoes or breast milk or teddy bears to the Philippines. Send Money!” included links to places that could do the most with generosity. We were inspired by it.

Originally published November 23, 2013

Good luck and goodnight Abigail. We love you so much.

Image credit: Abigail holds a bird given to her by her medical team. 
It's given in honor of finishing her last round of chemotherapy and with the message, "Spread your wings and fly." From her Facebook photo album. 

“Where’s the pizza?” my husband asks.

We eat dinner out. He wants to make sure one of us brought the leftovers in from the car and put them in the refrigerator.

“I don’t know,” I respond from my reading chair as he walks over and takes the pizza box resting under my book off of my lap.


He smiles gently though doesn’t mention that I still have my sunglasses on. I notice them when it’s hard to read while squinting over Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem about night travelers who search the darkness instead of running from it (Search the Darkness, The Pocket Rumi, edited by Kabir Helminski, p. 53).

I’m dwelling on the part where Rumi says that night travelers are full of light.

Here it is again: adversity is a harvest opportunity. Those night travelers are full of light from a practice of softening and opening while in the darkness of pain.

I think about Abigail, and that she knows about this type of harvest. (I meet her about a year and a half before she is diagnosed with cancer and while I am in treatment for lymphoma. I’m now stable.)

She just died.

Abigail passed from complications during an autologous stem cell transplant. She is thirty-one.  

I’m sad and shocked. I knew she was very sick. I knew about stem cell rescue statistics. So why does her passing feel sudden and unexpected?

Because she thought, spoke, and lived like she wasn’t sick. Well, it’s more than that. She lived a moment as the best ever, even at her sickest. She had that kind of life-loving spirit.

Even when her stem cells are being drawn to save for re-entry later, her “no big deal, I can do this, wait, I can do this with humor and acceptance” comes through. As if giving a White House tour, in a video she says:

“Welcome! Here I am at the hospital…blood being drawn. Stem cells! As you can see, I have a corner view.” She gestures to large windows and raises her eyebrows in jollity, making me wonder if she’s at a five-star hotel. With a click of her tongue, a nod, and grin, she closes with an Edward R. Murrow mimic. “Good luck and good night.” Then she smiles like an Olympian who has already won a gold medal.

And just a few weeks ago when her healthy stem cells were being reintroduced into her body, a group of nurses gather to sing happy birthday. Abigail opened to the love, raised her arms, and directed their song as if conducting a choir.

Abigail was happy.

Overflowing happy. I see it in her short simple videos: a close-up glee of a sparkler aflame, pleasure in seeing rowing crews glide by on a river outside her window, sounds of the Pacific lapping on the shoreline, a recording of her beloved Stanton’s Daffy Duck voice. And the video of a butterfly visit and request: “Butterfly, tell me your secrets.”

I think that butterfly gleaned from Abigail’s secrets. I imagine that large black swallowtail gathering and sprinkling golden pollen dust in a Roald Dahl BFG blow-dreams-into-hearts way. That's how Abigail's attention felt. (Being happiness was giving it.)

Her happiness is confident and evident in our conversations. Even ones about tough topics.

We talk about how both her brother and my son die unexpectedly. She says, “You know how when someone dies they’re still here?” I smile and tell her about the day a hummingbird flew into my school classroom and landed at my feet when I am in early grief about my son’s passing. Her face lights up as if she knows that bird. She speaks with a heart-connected sparkle in her eye, “I feel my brother nearby like that.” And then we share beautiful and quirky ways we’ll visit loved ones after passing on.

She calls around the end of June.

She talks about the coming stem cell capture procedure. She’s thinking a lot about that. Well, not that exactly. She’s thinking about love. And those who love her.

She hopes so much that they feel her love. I listen to what I believe is one of the most precious soliloquies I’ve ever heard about her deep and abiding love. Her voice sings in joy.

In love.

She loves them and she knows they love her. She can feel it.  It’s like nothing else matters. There is nothing else to do.

I feel like I’m part of a privileged awareness.

I take in her message.

She thanks me for listening and ends with what she tells everyone she meets, “I love you so much.”

I miss Abigail. I think of all those people missing her right now. Her fearless journey reminds me that love enlarges when I face difficulty with an open heart in community with others. Her passing invites a high calling: face your joy and despair at once.

With inner brilliance beacons, Abigail shows us how. 

Published 7/29/14. 
Republished in celebration of beautiful Abigail, with love and tenderheartedness for her Mom, JoLynn.

NOTE: Pondering that comment Abigail made about visiting someone in quirky ways after passing on—twice in the last months my phone rang for Facetime with Abigail while I was in the middle of a call. Why hello, Abigail.