Spontaneous generosity from kids during a lesson on money

David Zinn, artist. 
This is an outdoor chalk drawing, visible until it rains or wears off. 

Originally published November 23, 2013. Today is August 25, 2023. The Maui fires are in the news. Perhaps other teachers and students will be inspired by these children.

I'm thinking about the spontaneous generosity of children and a conversation with a class of 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. A team teacher and I presented 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.”

“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 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 often vote at our weekly classroom meetings).

After our meeting, the older kids in the class composed 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.