By Alex Chiu
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “charity” as “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” and “generosity and helpfulness, especially toward the needy or suffering”. We seem to hear more from charities during this time of year, with Salvation Army bell ringers on every corner and more envelopes than we can carry from the mailbox requesting donations for various groups. It is in December when more people are inclined to volunteer or make a contribution, opening their hearts and wallets a little more easily.
No doubt, we all feel a little lighter when we’ve done something to help someone else. Scientific studies have shown that volunteering and making charitable contributions of time or money can affect how we feel—people who are charitable tend to be happier, and even, according to some studies, healthier. So, if it makes us feel good to help others, why so often, do we set aside the needs of others until December rolls around? How do we keep this spirit of charity and goodwill alive throughout the year not only within ourselves, but in our children?
Think about that first Merriam-Webster definition again. In what ways do we foster “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” at home? First, it comes from how we treat our own family members, showing respect through our words and actions at home. We then must have the same expectation of our children to show respect to us, their siblings, and other relatives. Words do matter. So do actions. When our children see and then emulate respect at home, this then naturally trickles into their interactions with friends, neighbors, store clerks, classmates, teachers, colleagues, etc. For Montessori students, it’s reinforced daily with Grace and Courtesy lessons as well. In addition, as Maria Montessori herself said, “There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness. There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community.” The Montessori classroom is an extension of that environment of respect which is developed in the home.
Next, think about the second part of the definition: “generosity and helpfulness, especially toward the needy or suffering”. Again, as the old adage acclaims “Charity begins at home”. How can your child show generosity and helpfulness at home? Very simply, they can do this by participating in the necessary tasks of daily life—tidying up, helping with mealtimes, sharing with siblings, or offering to do something for someone else who may be tired or busy. Parents who model this type of generosity and helpfulness, and who encourage their children to follow suit, have already laid the foundation for spreading that goodwill beyond their homes, where their children will realize that their acts of charity, however big or small, can benefit ‘the needy or suffering’, too.
This year, it’s been impossible to ignore the many needs of people suffering both in our own country and around the world. The many natural disasters, resulting in fires and flooding, have devastated so many areas near and far. Sometimes, even for adults, seeing the news repeat the details of such events can be overwhelmingly sad and disheartening. However, as we have seen with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, these disasters have actually brought people together working for the common good. And even our youngest children can learn that there are ways that they can help.
At The Montessori Children’s Academy, we recently held Bake Sales at each of our campuses, with all of the proceeds benefiting Montessori schools affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The students learned about how the schools were damaged, and class discussions led by the teachers allowed the children to process what it must be like for children just like them to not be able to go to school following such a strong storm. The empathy of the students permeated into their beautiful posters which were displayed at the Bake Sales, and the overwhelming response of parents, teachers, and administrative staff to contribute items as well as purchase them to support this great cause was heartwarming. In all, MCA raised more than $3,000 to support Instituto Nueva Escuela in its efforts to provide disaster relief to Montessori schools and their families in Puerto Rico!
In addition, MCA annually chooses an organization to support through various charitable endeavors throughout the entire school year. This year, we are supporting Paws of War. From September through June, our MCA students will learn about this organization and participate in several activities in the hopes of raising awareness, as well as funds, for the good work that they do. Earlier this fall, the students were treated to an in-school assembly where a Paws of War representative shared information about how the organization trains rescue dogs to become supportive service dogs to military veterans. The children had the opportunity to meet one veteran and his canine partner, and they learned firsthand how this partnership has improved the life of both the rescued dog and the serviceman. Doubly good work! Over the course of the next several months, MCA students will continue to learn about the programs and brainstorm other ways they would like to help.
At home, children learn respect and the value of helping family members. In school, there is a natural extension of this in the multi-age Montessori classrooms, where students help one another every day. Our Montessori children quickly come to learn that it feels good to help others. As a school that promotes awareness of a different charity each school year, our students also learn about the variety of larger needs in our communities. Whether it is by helping a classmate tie his or her shoelaces, making posters for a bake sale, or collecting money to support an organization such as Paws of War, they see that there are so many ways they can contribute to their communities and help others each and every day. And when a sudden disaster strikes, such as the hurricanes of this past fall, they see that their school families can combine efforts to help with those needs as well. Charity then is something that becomes a natural part of the children’s lives. Most importantly, they see that charity isn’t a one-time, December event. The children find that charity comes in the words and actions that they share daily, showing their “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity”.
This holiday season, everyone at
The Montessori Children’s Academy
extends our warmest wishes for
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All!
*For more information about or to make a contribution to Paws of War, please visit their website www.pawsofwar.org. For more information about Instituto Nueva Escuela, please visit www.en-inepr.weebly.com and the GoFundMe page https://www.gofundme.com/puerto-rico-montessori2montessori to help support the disaster relief efforts for the Montessori community in Puerto Rico.