Monday, December 12, 2011

Giving Back - UNICEF Survival Gifts

My grade two class is currently learning about air and water in our environment, one of the grade two science units.  A big push is to help our students become critical thinkers, inquirers, and to see and understand problems in order to create solutions for their world.  We did an experiment one day where we split the children up into three groups - Canada, India, and Ethiopia.  Each group had to collect enough water to fill a bucket, but they had restrictions to help them somewhat experience what children in other countries experience where clean water and well systems are scarce. 

The Canadian group was able to fill their bucket from the tap.  The group from India was to take a smaller jar and fill their bucket in turns from a close water fountain.  The Ethopian group was to take a small dixie cup, and one at a time take turns gathering water from the far water fountain to fill their bucket.  As they thought of questions or comments during the activity, they were to write it down on a post-it note and stick it up on chart paper -- this is part of inquiry-based learning, not immediately answering all questions, but allowing thoughts to form and develop prior to teacher-led discussion.

It was powerful.  When the dixie cup was going soft and wasn't holding as much water, one of my students asked, "Why can't they just get more cups?".  I said, "Well, there aren't always supplies available.  They can't afford, and don't have, the option of going to a Walmart to buy new cups."  Then I added, "We're very lucky, remember, I wonder if we could do anything to help."

Another of my students, quite a keen little girl, spoke up, "WE could buy them cups!"  I said, "Maybe you can add that to our chart paper."

After the activity, we reviewed the thoughts and questions that were on the chart paper.  We spent quite awhile discussing the idea about people from Canada buying more cups for families in other countries.  I explained that this is called charity.  I explained that we are allowed to feel fortunate, and we need to feel it so we can appreciate it, but then we need to think about how we can use our good fortune to be powerful in our world.  How can we take what we're so lucky to have and help those in need?  The kids often hear me talk about being powerful, and helping others, we had a similarly deep discussion about this back in September when I did my cancer walk for The Weekend to End Women's Cancers and they did the Terry Fox walk at school.

The other day a flyer arrived from UNICEF, called UNICEF Survival Gifts.  I happened to have the flyer sitting on my desk, and one of my students noticed it.  He asked if he could look at it.  Next thing I know, he's sharing wonderful options of ways we can give back to countries "like Ethiopia" (his words).  He began to show other students in my class the UNICEF flyer, by his own initiative.

Today, during science, I sat my students down and we all looked through the Survival Gifts flyer together.  I told my students that I would make a donation on behalf of the class if they could help me choose what we wanted to give to those in need.  We made a short list, and then we voted.  Tonight, I ordered our gifts.  I just know tomorrow they'll be asking if I remembered to do it. 

Here's what we ordered:  the Bed Net, Plumpy'Nut therapeutic food packets, and Water Purification Tablets.  (I did not ask my class for monetary donations, I wanted to give back and wanted my students included in the process, I just gave them direction towards items within my personal budget range -- and there were lots of options, too).

I was so proud of my students, they wanted to give something to do with water because they are learning about how necessary clean water is for survival (hooray for demonstrating learning from our unit of study!).  They also voted in a way that helped spend my allotted donation amount on a variety of items, so they were able, at age seven, to recognize that it may be a way to help a wider variety of those in need.

I was really proud of them, and I'm looking forward to telling them tomorrow that the donation has been made.  I dedicate all of these donated items to my class.  I am in no way affiliated with UNICEF, this was just a meaningful and powerful experience with my students and I wanted to share.  When you think about giving back this holiday season, please consider including your children or students in the process -- it gives them a chance to learn about helping others and being charitable.

Speaking of giving, click here to enter for a chance to win a $10 gift certificate for or (winners choice).  Contest ends 12:01 am on December 16th.


  1. A great post, as always, Ms. Key! How did you approach the topic of cancer with your kids? Also, I was curious - do you come up with your own lesson plans from scratch, or do you have a syllabus to work from?

  2. I love this whole idea. I hope my kids' school does something like this.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Heather -- I asked my students if they knew what cancer was, and most of them have heard about it before. I explained that it's a disease that can affect a variety of parts of the body, but luckily scientists are working hard to find a cure. I said that we can help them find a cure, but being powerful and by raising money so the researchers and scientists can continue to do their great work. It went over pretty well. Many of them have heard of Terry Fox over the past few years, so they had a little bit of background knowledge.

    We follow the Ontario Curriculum documents, which offer some specific expectations that can help with planning activities. We make a long-range plan at the beginning of the school year so that we can divide our time well and know which units we'll be teaching in which order. I tend to do a lot of planning with my grade two team, often using some tried and tested activities from previous years. I also plan a lot of my activities myself, based on whatever expectation we need to learn about. Hope that helps!

    Swistle -- I wish many classroom teachers would do what I did, but I did shell out my own money for the charity so I'm not sure that everyone would. It would be so nice though! I love that I was able to do something charitable, AND include my students in the process helping them to feel powerful too!

  4. Thanks for explaining your approach so well, Ms. Key. As a nursery school 'assistant' teacher, I still cannot really imagine what it is like to have a class of one's own. I hope that one day, it'll become a possibility! By the way, you know that little phrase you use when kids hurt themselves? I taught it (in Italian) to my colleagues at school, and we tried it out on a few kids. It worked! :D


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