HEATHROW, Fla. - Before they’re even in kindergarten, classrooms of Central Florida children are learning to be philanthropists.
In the VPK classroom at The Learning Experience in Heathrow, about a dozen 3 and 4 year-olds took turns adding toys they brought with them to a Toys for Tots donation bin, while those waiting their turn sang a song about giving.
Teacher Elizabeth Sekac said ‘giving,’ in honor of the holiday season, was their philanthropic word of the month, a term they switch out regularly to teach a new kindness term to the students.
"This is the only school I'm aware of that does a philanthropy program,” said Sekac. "We use a lot of music, so the big words like 'humanitarian' and 'philanthropist' are put with music to really help the children remember those big words."
It seemed to take as several of the students quickly spoke up to describe what ‘philanthropy’ meant to them.
The children were also quick to show off their philanthropy mascots for the class; 2 stuffed dogs named Charity and Grace.
Preschools emphasizing kindness is nothing new, but leaders at The Learning Experience want it to be more than just a matter of ‘don’t call each other names.’
They especially want to emphasize the topic as so many in the world, adults included, seem to have trouble remembering those simple lessons.
So The Learning Experience has created a philanthropy class curriculum in hopes of getting the basics of kindness and giving to better stick with future generations.
"Not only learn the importance of all of their academics, but couple that with giving back and being a good person,” said Sheelah Doyle, Director for the Heathrow location. "How to give back to their community, be a good friend, be a good neighbor."
Doyle said they teach elements of the curriculum as early as their baby room, but that the concepts really start to stick in the 3 and 4 year-olds.
It’s not just about concept though.
As with the toy drive this month, the center partners with different charity organizations throughout the year so the students can learn to give what they can regularly and help those in need.
"We earned over $6,000 for Make-a-Wish,” said Doyle or a previous drive.
The lessons seemed to have an effect even right at the classroom level, as several minor arguments or disagreements between children ended in a matter of seconds; often with a hug and a strong amount of sharing that can be tough for that age group.
Center leaders hope the curriculum will make a long-term difference for the children, and maybe even the peers their kids meet down the line in elementary school and beyond.
"When they exhibit these kind behaviors, they're going to be treated better and also inspire others to behave in a similar manner,” said Sekac.