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Teaching Kids Charity and Clarity with Pre-Christmas Cleaning

Teaching Kids Charity and Clarity with Pre-Christmas Cleaning
Teaching Charity and Clarity

Today is “Black Friday”, the busiest shopping day of the year in the US and the official start of the Christmas buying season. If you have kids, that most likely means a new crop of the latest toys and video games.

The wholesale (maybe I should say “retail”) celebration of consumerism makes a lot of people anxious, with good reason. What kind of values are we modeling for our children when we embrace consumption so greedily during the Christmas season?

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And yet, children outgrow toys. Their tastes change, their abilities change, and what was appropriate last year has little to offer them next year. Unless we’re ready to embrace a toy-free childhood for our kids, I think we have to accept the yearly churn of toys, and Christmas is as good a time as any to do the turn-over.

But we do not have to accept the blind consumerism that often comes along with it. Christmastime offers an opportunity to teach children important lessons about consumption, by instituting a yearly ritual that starts with cleaning up their room.

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The idea is simple: set aside a day this weekend or next, as the Christmas season pitches into full gear, to work with your children on cleaning their rooms. This isn’t a normal room-cleaning, though. Explain to them that while they are dreaming of new toys for Christmas, there are lots of kids whose families can’t afford to give their children new toys, and that those children would be happy to have some of your kids’ toys to play with.

Set out two boxes, one for trash and one for charity, and sort their old toys into them. As you pick up each toy in their room, ask them whether they think they will still play with it next year. Then ask whether another child might enjoy it more than they would. If they aren’t playing with it anymore, or if they can bear to part with it, it goes in one of the two boxes.

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Which box is for you and our child to decide. If you have young children, this is an opportunity to teach them something of the quality of things — what it means for something to be working or not working, whole or broken. You might also be able to make a point about taking care of their things — if a toy is something they would still play with if it wasn’t broken, talk about how they might have protected it better.

Broken toys go in the trash box, and whole toys go in the charity box. You might have to second-guess a few of your children’s decisions, but for the most part, you should follow their lead. If you take too much of the decision-making responsibility out of their hands, they will start to see giving as a kind of punishment, which is obviously not the goal.

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For each toy they choose to keep, ask them where they think it should be kept in their room. Help them decide on a realistic strategy for organizing their stuff (and keeping it organized) — even if the neatness doesn’t last, the lessons of categorizing and organizing will.

There are a number of benefits to this beyond just getting their rooms clean in time for the arrival of Santa’s deliveries. Making this kind of clean-sweep teaches:

  • Organization: Kids tend to have short attention spans and aren’t mentally equipped to always consider the consequences of their actions, so it might be too much to ask that they keep things organized, but they still have to be taught how to organize if they’re ever going to learn. Getting them to categorize their toys — “keep”, “give”, “throw out” — helps them develop the mental capacities to understand why things have places in which they belong.
  • Charity: Teaching children to take responsibility for giving also helps teach them to take responsibility for others and to recognize their own relative privilege.
  • Empathy: Children — heck, many adults, too — have a hard time imagining the way that their lives differ from other people’s lives. Getting them to imagine a life without their favorite toys, or a life without a gift-bedecked Christmas tree, helps them learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes — an important lesson for almost every aspect of their later lives.
  • Contemplation: Getting into the habit of annually reviewing one’s possessions and their meaning helps counteract the raw consumerism that surrounds us at Christmastime. It teaches children to look at themselves and their lives — again, an important lesson for a balanced adulthood.
  • Counter-consumerism: I’m not preaching anti-consumerism, here — it’s pretty much inevitable that our children’s lives will be shaped by consumerism. But we can teach them to create a critical and reflective relationship with their own consumption, so that they learn to build identities that are not determined by what they buy. Thinking about the relationship between need and possession — e.g. “Do I want this toy because I actually play with it or just because it’s mine?” — can help put them on that path.

After filling up your charity box (or boxes), load them in the car and take them to a local charity with your children. You might have todo a little research to decide where to give your toys — things that are new and in their packages can go to Toys for Tots, toys that are not new but are still in good shape can go to a local shelter, religious organization, or other relief organization. Thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army sell toys to raise money for their other activities, which means that you cannot be sure a needy child will benefit from your children’s charity, but if you can’t find anything else locally, they are a fine last alternative.

With an afternoon’s work — and family togetherness, which is nothing to sneeze at! — you can teach some valuable lessons to your children and help out someone else’s children at the same time. And, if nothing else, you’ll have cleared up some space in their rooms for the new arrivals come Christmas.

More by this author

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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