This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!
For children (and for adults as well, if we are honest about it!) one of the best ways to learn a concept is through story. To help your students learn about liberality (or generosity), we would recommend that you select a story to read or tell to your students them. Select a story which will invite a discussion on generosity, its value, and how important it is that we Orthodox Christians live generous lives, and share it with your students.
A favorite story of ours is “The Apple Dumpling,” a folktale from England. The protagonist is hungry for an apple dumpling but has no apples with which to make one. She sets out with a basketful of what she does have, plums, hoping to trade with someone who has apples. She makes many new friends along the way, and does indeed get rid of her plums… but she does not exchange the plums for apples! Throughout her journey, she meets people with needs and desires that she has the opportunity to grant and immediately does so, without thinking about herself. (When we’ve told this story before, we have done so by memory, pulling things out of a cloth-covered basket: first, two plums, then a bag of feathers, a bouquet of flowers, a golden necklace, a stuffed puppy, and – of course – an apple. This method of storytelling helps the teller remember what comes next because they can feel it inside the basket. It also piques the children’s interest because things just keep coming out of that basket!!! ) Find a version of the story here: https://www.storiestogrowby.org/story/apple-dumpling/
This story could be used effectively with Sunday Church School students of many ages. For younger children, the story speaks for itself and a small discussion on how kind the lady was to give away her things is how God wants us to be could follow the story. For older students, this story opens the opportunity for a more in-depth discussion: Did the lady always know that she would get something back? Did that hinder her giving? How did she feel along the way? If the story stopped before it does, would she have been content? Why/why not? How generous was this woman? If she were living today in this way, would her actions be pleasing to God? Why/why not?
Brainstorm with your students and make a community list of ways that they, like the woman, can share what they have (ie: give something of theirs to a sibling or friend who would really enjoy it; be generous with smiles, hugs, or greetings to others; share unneeded toys or clothes with those in need – for example, take them to a shelter). Remind them that true generosity, the way God wants us all to live, expects nothing in return. Encourage the students to be truly generous.
If there is still time in the class period, consider making apple dumplings or a related craft (painted wooden apple pins or decorated wooden apple paperweights?) that the students can take and share with someone when class is finished. (If you do the apple dumplings, they’ll need to wrap them in a piece of foil and take directions so the recipient can bake their apple dumpling when they get home, since you likely will not have time to do so in class.) Encourage the students to think of someone that may need this item: not just a favorite friend or family member, but maybe someone else in the parish, a neighbor, etc. And when they give the gift, encourage them to do so without expecting anything in return. Challenge them to remember two things after giving the gift: to thank God for the opportunity and resources to give the gift, and to say a prayer that God will continue to bless the recipient.
There are many, many other ways to teach children generosity. Here are a few of them:
This lesson plan can offer some ideas that could be used to teach Sunday Church School students about generosity. The lesson is written for Christian parents to use, and is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many useful parts that teachers can easily use to teach Orthodox Christian children about generosity. You will find many verses that could be used for Bible memory, some story suggestions from the Scriptures, craft ideas, hands-on ways to practice generosity together, and various discussion starters here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/sites/default/files/Generosity-PC-2015-best.pdf
This blog post is not religiously-affiliated, but contains ideas of books to read and activities that can be done with children who are learning about generosity: http://alldonemonkey.com/2015/03/12/teaching-kids-about-generosity/
If your Sunday Church School students studied St. Maria of Paris (learn more about her here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/ ), they may be interested to read about how this parish, inspired by her and determined to be more generous with their community, started a ministry to their neighborhood. http://everygoodandperfectgift.org/st-marias-table/#more-1039
“I would give all the wealth of Ireland away to the poor to serve the King of Heaven.” ~ St. Brigid of Kildare
Teach your students about St. Brigid of Kildare, who was known for her generosity. This book could be the basis of a lesson on St. Brigid and her generosity: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-life-of-st-brigid/ and this page can offer information as well: http://myocn.net/generosity-saint-brigid/
Show this short video to older Sunday Church School students to begin your discussion of generosity: http://myocn.net/widows-mite-without-saying-much-short-video-says-lot/ After watching, talk about what you’ve just seen. What can we learn from this video? How should we apply this learning to our own lives? What steps can we take to be the generous ones?
If your Sunday Church School students enjoy exploring words, consider doing an activity with the following synonyms and antonyms of generosity. Merriam-Webster.com offers these:
Synonyms: bigheartedness, bountifulness, bounty, generosity, generousness, largesse (also largess), munificence, openhandedness, openheartedness, philanthropy, unselfishness
Antonyms: cheapness, closeness, meanness, miserliness, parsimony, penuriousness, pinching, selfishness, stinginess, tightness, ungenerosity
Before class, write each of the above words on a 3×5 card. Mix them all up and place them in a pile where the students can reach them. Provide two baskets, one marked “synonyms for generosity” and one marked “antonyms of generosity.” (Or, if your students like to move around, simply mark different corners of the room instead of the baskets.) Have a dictionary available, as well. Have each student select a word and place it in its appropriate basket (or take it and stand in the appropriate corner). Talk together about that word, its meaning, and how it demonstrates either generosity or greed. After all of the words are sorted, discuss which of the two is the more godly way to live. Review all of the words in the “synonyms” pile, challenging yourselves to live in that manner.