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. 
Visit his gallery and shop

The suffering from Typoon Haiyan is heartbreaking.

Though it happened weeks ago, I imagine ideas still emerging in classroom conversations around the world about ways to help the people of the Philippines. (I read on Facebook this week how children at my favorite Florida school baked and sold the things they made to raise funds.)

I think about the spontaneous generosity of children.

And one conversation in particular with 3 – 6 year old preschool children at Dublin Montessori Academy in 2004 in response to another tragedy.

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

In circle we present a money lesson. This is what happened (from my notes) while teaching with Sue Metzger.

We talk about what money represents and its exchange purpose.

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. 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?” She nods yes.

We ask, “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 have your money at the bank?” I ask.


I tell them, “Then the bank will not give you money. Banks hold your money for you until you’re ready to use it.” It's quiet and evident that this might be news to them. I ask, How can you get some money?”  

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).

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 the letter to parents. 

The children price their toys, set up a store, take turns with the sales, and raise about $150. A $5 limit 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.

They 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.

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 Phillipines. Send Money!” includes links to places that can do the most with your generosity. 


  1. What a tsunami of emotions this piece evoked. I was completely overwhelmed at the image of the step stool. Beautifully written Susan. The children are very lucky to be taught by you and you are very blessed to be sharing their lives. Each one is a treasure.

  2. Oh Kelly, thanks. I know you understand this: kids are my best teachers. And yes, I still have that image of carrying the step stool in my heart.