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Sparking a Love of Charitable Giving in Your Kids

Photo: Nick Olejniczak/Flickr


When Lauren Porter’s 3-year-old daughter Cora saw the tent city near the Interstate 90 off-ramp on Rainier Avenue South, she thought people were camping for fun. Lauren, who runs Step It Up Tutoring in Renton and has a long history of community engagement, took the opportunity to talk to Cora about homelessness. “They are camping there because they don’t have houses,” she said.

Cora offered the money in her piggy bank to buy them a house. 

Instead of focusing on the impossibility of Cora’s idea, Lauren suggested they take some clothes to the women’s shelter instead. “As parents, we have to take big, heady things and bring them down to a kid’s level, where they are participating,” says Lauren. They went through her things, and Cora donated her special Easter “carrot dress.”

This wasn’t the first time Lauren encouraged Cora to engage. “I try to keep it on the table, to make her world bigger, help her see herself as lucky, and to empower her instead of it just being sad,” says Lauren. 

While social problems can feel overwhelming for children, connection turns that fear into empowerment. “It’s scary before you know it, but then it’s just people,” says Mary Karges of Moonjar, an organization in Seattle that helps families start conversations about money and philanthropy.

Mary suggests that there should be three pieces to money conversations — saving, spending and sharing. 

“As soon as kids start getting money, part of the conversation is about giving back,” she says. 

Even if children can only give a little, there are ways to make their generosity tangible. Crowdfunding allows kids to watch the money grow online. Giving something concrete, like socks instead of money, can feel more real. Parents can also offer matches for children’s gifts, suggests Mary. 

Parents can model generosity by including children in their own charity. For instance, Lauren’s family aspires to donate somewhere every month and talks about it at the dinner table. 

The key to long-term volunteerism and philanthropy, says Mary, is finding places that speak to each person. A child who isn’t stirred by homelessness might care passionately about animals or pollution or the elderly. 

Encouraging charity in kids is about helping them connect compassionately with their community. When kids feel connected instead of powerless, their inborn generosity shines. 

“We want our kids to have a bigger view of the world,” says Lauren, “so we try to slip it in where we can.” 


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