Children Giving To Their Sergeant Pen-Pal; A Life Lesson

Children are egocentric by nature.  Therefore, teaching the most important things in life, such as genuine thanks and caring, takes more than just words.  It takes doing.

After writing letters and drawing pictures for Sergeant Curran, our pen-pal stationed in Afghanistan, we hosted bake sales at school to raise money in order to buy him items that he might need.  As families arrived at school, children rang our bell, the kind used on a counter at a store to alert a clerk.  The bell is red- we love that bell!  Children were chanting, “Cookies for sale, muffins for sale”, in much the same way the peddler chants “Caps, caps for sale.  Fifty cents a cap” in the classic book Caps For Sale.  Perhaps the most fun was using a cash register to collect money and make the correct change.  We raised a little over $200.00.

Afterwards, the money in hand was a perfect tool for one of our best lessons in math.  Children gathered around the big, round table and watched as I opened the cash register.  I stacked all the one-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bills in separate piles.  We even had a few twenties.  I then taught the children that four quarters = one dollar, and ten dimes = one dollar.  We put the quarters in stacks of four and the dimes in stacks of ten.  Then we counted, from coins to twenty dollar bills, stopping along the way to learn that two fives = one ten.  What a great, hands-on math lesson.  Twenty minutes of engrossed children.

CVS is a short walk away, and we headed there to spend our $200.00 on what the children thought Sergeant Curran needed.  They made a list:

pencil and pen (rainbow)
toothpaste (pink)
note paper
Army guy book
snacks – Slim Jim

We had a blast!

Children picked out all the items on their list (except for the drum).  We had money to spare… now the children could follow their hearts, and not ‘a list’.  They were thrilled.  So they bought:

Nerf football
golden plastic eggs
Super Soaker
Paw Patrol mini basketball hoop and ball
crossword puzzle books
men’s magazines

I completely agreed with their choices.  Children suddenly went from what they felt Sergeant Curran needed to what he wanted.  The mind and the heart, working in unison, can be magic.

Back at school, we took time to spread out all the items for the children to see.

Looking at everything on the floor was… well, like walking into Fenway Park for the first time, or Christmas morning.  Children were overcome; the gifts staring at them right in the face, represented all that they had done, from the bake sale to CVS.  It felt good!  The children stared.  No words were needed.  This was a time to let it all soak in, what we did for Sergeant Curran.

Giving.  For young children this is not so easy, because in their world they come first.  They’re still learning about themselves, much less other people.  And that’s okay.  A real and meaningful giving experience has to be hands-on in order for children to grasp it’s importance.

That’s what we did, and children understood.  They stepped outside of their world and wanted to give.  And, it felt good.  Sergeant Curran will be on leave the end of May.  Can you imagine the shouts, hugs, tears, singing, stories… when he visits the children?


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Giving, Kindness, Math, military, patriotism, Peace, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Children Giving To Their Sergeant Pen-Pal; A Life Lesson

  1. That’s a great collection of presents for the Sergeant, the children must be so proud. I like that they get to see serviceable equipment in your class, items that aren’t always used these days, like cash registers and record players. 🙂

  2. You are amazing Jennie!

  3. I could put a hundred happy hearts and smiles here! What a wonderful lesson!

  4. Meg says:

    Real learning!

  5. Dave says:

    This made me smile. I remember receiving boxes like that while in Iraq and Afghanistan from various church or school group kids. It was always a bright spot of my day.

  6. This is a wonderful post. You are an amazing teacher.

  7. Nina says:

    Jennie, this is lovely! I could feel all that excitement from the preparation part to the buying part! This is such an amazing experience for the children and a great way exercise for kindness and caring for others; and I’m sure Sergeant Pen-Pal will love his gifts! Great job Jennie! You and the children are awesome! 😊

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Nina. It was truly wonderful for the children. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he opens his boxes. Looking forward to when he visits the children. 🙂

  8. beetleypete says:

    I love the way that they used the extra money to buy non-essentials, and despite their youth, chose just the right things. From raising the cash, to sending the parcel, they took in so much of what it means to be generous to others.
    I hope that Sgt Curran stays safe, and that the troops are brought home from Afghanistan soon.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      You said it very well, Pete. The experience offered children far more than expected. I look forward to his return and meeting the children.

  9. Ritu says:

    This is amazing Jennie! I look forward to reading about when he comes and meets them too!!

  10. Dan Antion says:

    I love their choices. I think putting candy first is something we should all remember. This was a great lesson, both in math and social skills. I can only imagine how happy the Sgt was to get that package.

  11. Darlene says:

    What a wonderful project. You are such a great teacher. You are teaching life skills as well as academics. That is what they need!

  12. Yeay! The Sergeant will actually meet his pen pals & gift-givers!
    I do have to ask: what’s an ‘army guy book’?

    • Lol — I was wondering exactly the same thing!

    • Jennie says:

      That was, in the eyes of the children, a book or magazine that had some Army guys. We found a few magazines at CVS that the children felt were satisfactory. I doubt they had Army guys, but they had what the children thought Sergeant Curran would like. It was a wonderful process of shopping. Yes, “yeah” that he will get to meet his pen-pals.

  13. Di says:

    Oh what a joy to read this post Jennie!
    Congratulations on another truly inspiring post with your young students 💐🌟

  14. How much do I love this? I can’t count the ways, but the moment that startled me in the best way was when the children “suddenly went from what they felt Sergeant Curran needed to what he wanted.” They imagined themselves into another person’s head. I’m so sure that their ability to do this had a lot to do with all the reading aloud and acting out stories these kids get to do in your classroom. So many adults are totally unable or unwilling to imagine what another’s life is like. This inability makes them callous and often cruel. Knowing that these very young children are already able to do it — well, I’m constantly on the lookout for reasons to feel hopeful, and this is most definitely one of them.

    • Jennie says:

      This is terrific, Susanna, because you ‘get it’. When they crossed over from a list of what they thought he needed, to suddenly being put in the position of deciding what he wanted… a successful outcome had to come from many stories both told and read-aloud, plenty of acting, and also “Gloria”. Like you, I feel hopeful when I see children understand and respond. They are the future. I have a big responsibility for that. I love what I do for children!

  15. srbottch says:

    A wonderful activity, Jennie. The kids will remember the awesome feeling of giving for the rest of their lives. The side lesson in math was terrific; kids learning while having fun. Once again, nice job.

  16. What a great adventure and I’m so glad the kids got to pick out the items. I think kids, despite being egocentric, love the thrill of giving. It’s a wonderful quality to nurture. Great lesson and post, Jennie.

  17. ren says:

    Another heart warming experience from you and your children.
    I can imagine what his visit will be like to your classroom. How wonderful it will be!
    thank you…ren

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