I decided to try something new this year. And, honestly, I thought it would be a total flop. I adapted ideas I had heard over the years from a few different moms and decided that during the month of December, I would set out tons of toys, along with an empty bin, and encourage them to give some of their toys to needy children. Now, my children are 3 (as of this morning!) and 4. They really like their toys. A lot. I really did not have high hopes that they would go for this “giving away toys” thing. But, wow, they are amazing me!
I told them about the project on Tuesday evening, then prepared the playroom after they went to bed. Normally, I keep things simple and just have a small number of toys out at a time, rotating them every month or so. Part of my thought in this project, though, is to give them an understanding of how many toys they have in contrast with needy children. So I crammed as many toys as I (neatly) could on their toy shelves. As you can imagine, they went crazy the next morning, and our playroom quickly became a total wreck, with toys everywhere.
At first, when I would remind my kiddos of giving toys to other children, they were quick to point out, “I play with such-and-such every day, so I’m going to keep that.” Pretty soon, though, my birthday boy, Mr. BANG started putting a toy here and a toy there into the give-away bin. By the end of the day, he went through the shelves (after toys had been cleaned up), saying, “I’ll share this with a child,” or “I’ll give this to a baby”. I’m not sure how much he understood that he was actually giving them away, but he did specifically say, “I just love this, so I’m going to keep it” concerning a few toys, so he must have some level of understanding.
By the time he finished, one area was bare except for one whale finger puppet, a puzzle, and some empty containers. He had even put our wooden blocks, one of his favorite toys, by the give away bin! I didn’t question him on any of those choices; I just made comments about how great it was that he was thinking of other children more than himself, and that I imagine it makes God smile when he’s being generous with his toys. I knew that I could later privately veto anything put in the bin – including those blocks. (Sorry the second pic is sideways. I tried to correct and it wouldn’t let me save it that way for some reason.)
One important thing I had explained at the beginning was that when one child placed something in the bin, the other child needed to leave it there. Then every evening before bed, we would look through the bin and see if there was anything in it that one of the children did not want to give away. Those we would simply pull back out and keep. That prevents continuous fights about Mr. BANG giving away things that Drama Queen wants to keep. That first night, when Drama Queen looked through the bin, she pulled back out probably 3/4 of what Mr. BANG had put in, but she did leave the other fourth! I was really surprised! We actually had a decent amount of toys that they both agreed that they wanted to give to other children!
That night after bedtime, I restocked with other toys, so the playroom still had the look of being jam-packed with toys. Yesterday, the second day, they were more realistic about what to put in the bin. Mr. BANG put less, Drama Queen put more. Several times throughout the day, she cheerfully said, “I don’t need this anymore – I can give it to other children!” They ended the day with about as many items in the bin as the first evening, but this time they only took out a few toys before approving the contents of the bin.
Other than the generosity of their sweet hearts, the other thing that has surprised me is that it’s hard for me to give away some of those things! I mean, the really high-quality wooden toys aren’t going on the shelves in the first place because I know I don’t want to give those away. Those are the few I’ll be setting aside for grandchildren in a few decades. (Is that silly? It sounds silly as I type that.) But there are plenty of others that I hesitantly think, “Should I take that out? I thought we’d get more use out of that!” I’m really limiting myself on what I veto, though. There are a few things that I know I would be replacing soon if we gave them away (i.e. large plastic animals, plastic boats), so I’m putting those back in my toy storage and making myself follow my kids’ lead on giving the rest away!
One other detail to make this work smoothly is that each night after the kids are in bed, I move all the give-away toys into a different box, which I place out of sight. There are two benefits to that: 1) it leaves the bin empty each morning, begging for toys to be put in, and 2) Mr. BANG and Drama Queen aren’t tempted to take back toys they had given away the day before.
What do you do to teach your children to be givers?