Is Generosity a Life Skill? Should it be?

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As a homeschooling parent, I know you want your children to be well-educated. They should know the 3Rs, be able to think critically, have a clear understanding of their world and more.

At Sonlight, we add "learn to be generous" to that list. Is that a proper function of education?

I think it is.

Sonlight student with bread
Sonlight student Gracie L bakes bread to share

Jesus taught us to be extravagantly generous with the story of the widow who gave her last small coins to the Lord's service. (See Mark 12:42-43.)

Therefore, we partner with various mission agencies to train our children to give, and give joyfully. Sonlight families, children and friends recently raised $157,487.14 to share the Good News through radio broadcasts via the Phoenix Phaxx project. With the matching grant, the total amount comes to $314,974.28. I couldn't be more grateful for both the money raised and the heart attitude demonstrated.

A key reason we host these projects is to help children learn to be generous. Studies show that generous people are more joyful. But, generosity also helps prepare children to do whatever God calls them to do. How?

When we model cheerful giving, we show children that we don't "own" money. When we tithe at church, bring meals to a needy family, or support missionaries, we demonstrate that we are stewards of the resources God gives us, that we are responsible to God for how we use our money. When children are allowed to give of their own limited resources, those lessons get written on their hearts.

One way we've helped teach our children a right attitude for money is to use the "envelope system." When John and I would give our children an allowance (which didn't happen as regularly as it should have) we taught them to divide it up. We explained that 10% needed to go in the saving envelope, at least 10% in the giving one, and then they could spend the rest with joy.

I believe the concrete lesson of financial stewardship can extend outward to other areas. By showing our children that a portion belongs to God's work, our children see that their money does not belong to them, but to God. From there, you can teach that their time (a different kind of resource) also belongs to God. God has bigger plans for their time than just their own pleasure.

This foundation can support the lesson that our children's entire lives belong to God. God entrusts them with time, personality, talents and resources. He gives them a call to follow. And they are responsible for stewarding their life to live it fully for God.

For we were created to serve God. We find great joy and purpose when we do so. When we give children the chance to bless others with their money, we give them a chance to experience the great joy of living for something beyond themselves.

So I'm curious: How can we do this more effectively? How can parents better teach generosity? The almost-annual Sonlight giving projects such as Phoenix Phaxx and My Passport to India provide great opportunities, but what can parents do the rest of the year? Have you had success with anything? Should Sonlight do something year-round?

I'd really love to hear your thoughts.

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One Comment

  1. Rikki

    My family practices what I would call planned generosity. From every paycheck my husband brings home, part of it is budgeted as give away. This doesn't include the tithe to our church, or the money we have pledged to missionaries or our World Vision sponsorship. This money is available so when we hear of a neighbor who is having financial difficulties, a family at church whose primary breadwinner is suddenly unemployed, or any of the many other things where people need financial assistance we are prepared to help. On Christmas morning, before opening presents, we gather the kids at the computer and visit World Vision's Gift Catalog and whatever money is leftover is spent there.
    This doesn't just apply to money. With stuff, often it is a loan- "You've never heard of "What's in the Bible?" sure you can borrow one of ours." "Your homeschooled child is having problems with math and has become totally unmotivated. Sure you can borrow Life of Fred from us, I need Apples back by December, my kindergartener will be ready for it by then." But our stuff is available if you need it.
    Actually we have already seen how this planned generosity is impacting our children- we have a son who is 7 and a daughter who is 5. Earlier this year we learned that our neighbors were unable to make their mortgage payment. We decided to give the family a gift card to a local grocery. My husband took our son with him to the store to purchase the card after his karate lesson one evening. On the way home our son asked "Are we going home before we deliver the card?" "Yes, of course, they are just across the street." "Are we going inside first?" "Yes." When they got home our son went into his room and emptied his piggy bank. He was just a week or two away from being able to but the Lego set he was saving for. He asked for a bag to put the money in and gave that to the neighbors with the gift card. He has done this a few times since then when he has heard of someone else in need.
    I believe that generosity is modeled as much as it is taught. It can't be forced, but it can be learned.