Back to School: 5 simple (and fun) ways to teach children about poverty

Crayons, notebooks, backpacks… oh my! The beginning of the school year is always ripe with different emotions.

Excitement for the year ahead.

Sadness for the end of summer vacation.

Anticipation for all that will be learned.

Sadness for the end of summer vacation.

I guess you can tell what my emotions typically were when starting school!

But for teachers, students and parents alike, this is a time to get refocused on the pursuit of education. My grandma use to quote my grandfather to me (who was actually quoting Mark Twain, but my Grandma didn’t know that) saying,

Never let your studies get in the way of your education.

Later in life, my grandma would come to regret pushing this notion on an adventurous college student, but that’s a story for a different time. The fact remains that we want our children to be educated in more than just the “3 R’s” of Reading, (W)Riting, and (A)Rithmatic! We want our children to learn valuable lessons about the world, and life in it.

Here are five simple and fun ways to teach children about different cultures and what its like to live in poverty. You can also download our ebook, The Remarkable Truth About Ending World Poverty, to help you learn more about the issues and solutions.

1. Sponsor a child for the classroom

One of the best ways a teacher or parent can begin a conversation with a child about poverty around the world, is by sponsoring a child for a classroom. Ask the students to bring in $1 a month in order to participate. Then begin corresponding with the child in different meaningful ways. Allow students to ask questions about how the sponsored child plays with their friends, or what they are learning in school, or what they want to be when they grow up. Sponsoring a child is the ultimate pen-pal relationship for a student, and it can be done in the classroom, or at home.

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. ~Sydney J. Harris

2. Hold a Hunger Banquette

The Hunger Banquette is a fun, interactive activity that you can do in a classroom to teach about the demographics of poverty around the world. All you need are a few basic food items, and some tasty snacks and you can have yourself a full representation of how food is distributed around the world. It is a memorable activity that will certainly leave students asking questions. And that’s a good thing!

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~John Dewey

3. Hungry Decisions exercise

Another interactive activity that can be done in a classroom or at home, is the Hungry Decisions exercise. This is a “choose your own adventure” simulation of the challenges faced by the most vulnerable people around the world. It requires critical thinking skills and is a simple way to introduce the complex issues of poverty to children.

4. First world problems jar

While this might be for more advanced grade-levels, the First World problems jar is a way for students to begin acknowledging the privileges and blessings that they may take for granted. It is a great thing to do in both the classroom and at home! Set a jar out that is clearly marked (something like “First World Problems Jar” will do) and make it clear for all the students that this is money that will be donated to a person in need. Then, make sure you watch this video and this video to begin thinking what might be considered a “first world problem.” Then, anytime someone complains about something that could only be considered a “first world problem,” ask them to contribute something to the jar (maybe $1, or even just a quarter). It won’t take long before students stop complaining that the cafeteria ran out of chocolate milk! You can also see how other people are joining in the silliness and create your own “First World Problems” meme here!

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. ~Author Unknown

5. Local School supply drives

It’s always important keep lessons like these in perspective. Therefore, including an activity or exercise that your children can relate to is helpful. A simple way this can be done is by conducting school supplies or canned food drives. For every item of school supplies they may buy, ask if they (and their parents) might consider buying additional supplies for local children who can’t afford it. This allows the students to begin thinking about the blessings they have, while also providing them an immediate outlet for compassion and generosity.

Teaching a child about the needs of the most vulnerable is an education that will go beyond their required studies. If we want our children to grow up with hearts of generosity, lead lives of compassion, and to seek justice, these are simple activities that will begin to shape a healthy perspective of how we can all work together to care for the poor.