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Back to School: 3 Ways to Teach Students About Poverty in the Classroom

Back to school was always an exciting time. As a kid, I remember laying out my strategically planned outfit on my bed the night before. I had each detail planned out from hair accessories to my pencil box. Even in college, I was always excited to get a new syllabus in hand. New classes meant new experiences and new friends. It meant I could start fresh with a clean slate. Looking forward always meant I was that much closer to finishing.

Since I’ve been out of school for quite some time and I’m getting ready to send my son off on his academic journey soon, I think about back to school in a much different way. I deeply hope that he learns writing, reading, science, art, math, and history. However, I hope even more that his little character will be refined. I want nothing more than for him to complete another year of school with a better sense of serving others. I want him to experience what it means to be a teammate, how to build others up, and how to be brave in new circumstances.

I think that a part of building that character is helping him understand that the world is bigger than his own perceptions. It’s helping him understand poverty in a way that his little mind can begin to understand. It’s about planting small seeds of caring and awareness. I hope they will help him develop into a loving and service-minded man. Regardless if you’re a teacher or a parent, here are a few ways you can start conversations about poverty into the classroom or home.

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. You could ask students to bring in $1 a month in order to participate. Then begin writing letters and sending pictures to your sponsored child. Allow students to ask questions about the sponsored child. Ask them what they like to do or what they are learning in school. Find out what they want to be when they grow up. It’s also a good chance to talk about the country where the child lives and learn more about that culture. Sponsoring a child is the ultimate pen-pal relationship for a student. Plus, it can be done in the classroom or at home.

2. Host a school supply drive

It’s always important to keep children a way to engage and respond to the injustices that they’ll likely notice as a result of your teaching. A simple way students can take action is by collecting school supplies. When families are shopping for back to school supplies, they might consider buying additional supplies for local children who might otherwise go without. This allows the students an immediate outlet for compassion and generosity. Students can also collect money to purchase school supplies for vulnerable students in developing nations through the Food for the Hungry Gift Catalog.

3. Hungry Decisions exercise

Invite students to participate in the Hungry Decisions exercise. This is an interactive activity that can be done in a classroom or at home. It’s a “choose your own adventure” simulation of the challenges many vulnerable people around the world face. It requires critical thinking skills and is a simple way to introduce the complex issues of poverty to children.

Teaching our children about responding to the needs of others is an education that will go beyond their academia as they go back to school. 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 can help shape a healthy perspective. They can help parents and educators begin dialogues on how to care for others, especially the vulnerable.