Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"I Have A Present For You"

This is the time of year when children, and their families, bring me gifts. 

More often than not the children hand me their gifts without a word. Or maybe they'll say, "It's a present." I ask, "Is this a gift for me?" When they indicate it is, I ask, "Do you want me to open it now or wait until Christmas?" Most of our students' families celebrate Christmas. A few have wanted me to wait, but most expect me to unwrap it instantly, often doing it for me, often announcing what it is before it's unwrapped.

"It's chocolate!"

"It's a gift card!"

"It's a picture I made!"

It clearly gives them great pleasure to give their gifts to me, so much so that they can hardly contain themselves.

During the week leading up to the holidays we usually fill our sensory table with cheap bows, a few bits of ribbon, a collection of boxes, and some jingle bells. Yes, it is a "theme" table, and what the children do, two-year-olds to five-year-olds, year-after-year, is put bells and bows in boxes and give presents to me, to our parent-teachers, to other kids. 

"I have a present for you!"

Each one is opened, even when we already know what's inside, with anticipation and joy.

This year, we also broke out our collection of purses and loose change. Paying for merchandise is a topic that tends to also come up during the holidays and dramatic play around economics predictably emerges in December. Many of the hundreds of gifts we gave to one another last week included loose change and small purses. Some gifts were play dough. Some were . . . Well, anything that would fit into one of the boxes. We got creative, as they say, searching far and wide for just the right thing. And "just the right thing" is anything that fits in a box, because when we give we are only superficially giving stuff, we're really giving joy, which the children fully understand.

I tried to keep up. I tried to give more than I received, but it was impossible. The children overwhelmed me with their generosity last week. I finally resorted to simply being grateful, saying, "Thank you! Getting a gift from you makes me feel good!" which was a true statement, even if I made it a thousand times.

When we give a gift, a real gift, one not burdened with the commercial tit-for-tat of obligation, be it a gift card or a jingle bell in a box, what we are giving is the unique joyfulness of gratitude. I disagree with those who claim that it's "natural" for children to want to get more than give. The big "we," our culture, teaches them that. When left to their own devices, the young children I know always choose giving over getting. No one stands around moping because they don't receive, no one waits in anticipation of the gifts they will receive. No, if a child wants to play, she fills a box with bells and bows and says, "I have a present for you." There is no question: it's the giving that matters most.

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Miss K said...


john stoffel said...

Teacher Tom, I taught in a moderately poor school, therefore, in my early years I always requested students not buy me anything. That is, until one wise and seasoned teacher told me I was denying the students a chance to give freely. I lifted the ban, and to my surprise, not only was I denying my students, but I realized I was denying myself the chance to receive. Their generosity made me cry that year.

I always allow students to give me gifts, now. Once I even received something that belonged to me as a gift! All I said was thank you.