Operation Christmas Child - Teaching Extravagant Generosity

Matt MathesonFamily Money School Founder

This post contains affiliate links.

When it comes to teaching kids to be generous, I don’t think my wife and I are alone in finding it a struggle. Our kids are spoiled rotten by their grandparents and aunts and uncles. It’s to the point where at times it looks like our house just puked after going to an all you can eat toy buffet.

Just like you need to hit the Tums hard after crushing the buffet, the cure for a nasty case of the Gimmes is to learn how to be generous.

And one of the best ways that I’ve found to do this for kids is to participate in Operation Christmas Child.

What Is Operation Christmas Child?

Operation Christmas Child is an initiative run by the charity Samaritan’s Purse which provides gift boxes for children in need around the world.

Participants fill a shoebox full of necessities and goodies and pack it up in a standard sized shoebox provided by Operation Christmas Child. It’s picked up and delivered to a local collection center and then transported to a country where it’s distributed to a child in need.

It’s an AMAZING program that has been running for almost 30 years, having delivered shoeboxes to 157 million kids.

I even did it when I was a kid! And now that I’ve got little munchkins of my own, participating in Operation Christmas Child has become one of our family Christmas traditions.

Operation Christmas Child FMS

Operation Christmas Child Controversy

In recent years Operation Christmas child has come under fire. The grievances have ranged from the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse Franklin Graham and his political ideology to the fact that the items in the boxes can have a negative impact on the local economy where the boxes are distributed. While some points have potential merit, others are a bit more of a stretch. Some I’ve heard are that Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes reinforce a “we need white people to solve our problems” mentality and that the shoeboxes are meant to share the Gospel with kids.

As Samaritan’s Purse states unequivocally,

“Operation Christmas Child exists to let children in need around the world know that they are not forgotten and they are loved. In the spirit of Christmas, we deliver millions of shoebox gifts each year to children suffering from poverty, natural disaster, war, terror, disease and famine, many of whom have never received a gift in their life.

“No matter where we go, we don’t hide the fact that we are Christians. We always serve these children without any strings attached.

“Where appropriate, children receiving gift-filled shoeboxes are also offered a copy of The Greatest Gift booklet. This booklet gives children receiving shoeboxes the opportunity to know more about Jesus, and about Christmas, just like we do here through nativity plays, carol concerts and the like.“

Operation Christmas Child

In my mind, the Operation Christmas Child folks aren’t hiding anything when it comes to the purpose of the gifts. They make it clear that it’s to show these kids that they’re loved and to give them the chance to know more about the source of this love.

In addition, the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to packing a shoebox. That’s why my family does it every year!

Operation Christmas Child Ideas

When deciding what to fill your box with, the first thing you need to determine is if you’d like to buy for a boy or a girl. Gemma, our daughter, wanted to buy for a girl between the ages of 5 and 9 so that’s what we went with.

On their website, you can find an Operation Christmas Child list that gives very clear directions about what to fill your box with. Necessities like toothbrushes, soap, and washcloths. School supplies like pencils, paper, crayons, coloring books, and notebooks. And things like t-shirts, socks, hair clips, and sunglasses.

One of the coolest parts is that the good folks at Operation Christmas Child suggest that you delight a child with a “wow” item that will grab the kids’ attention the second they open the box! They recommend things like a soccer ball and pump, a stuffed animal, or a musical instrument.

Just the thought of a little one opening the shoe box and screaming with joy makes my heart melt!  

Operation Christmas Child 3

Teaching Generosity Using Operation Christmas Child

So last weekend we loaded up our family and set off to fill our shoebox.

Before we went out with our kiddos we chatted with them about why we were filling the box. We talked about how there are kids who don’t have as many toys, clothes, or art supplies as they do. Their parents don’t make as much money as we do, so they don’t get Christmas presents. Because we have more, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to share what we have with them so that they can have a special Christmas too!

Now you can go anywhere to get your items. But I’m a bang for buck kinda guy.  Because of that, we headed to the best dollar store in town. Typically we don’t make a habit of shopping without a budget. However, when it comes to teaching generosity, we want our kids to practice extravagance.

That, and when you buy at the dollar store, you can afford to shop without a strict budget!

This Is Your Kids On Generosity

As we started down the aisles, I could sense the anticipation in my kids. 

Operation Christmas Child

You can’t tell from the picture but they were literally vibrating with excitement. I’m sure the people in the store thought they were nuts and we were terrible parents as they were pulling things off the shelves and plunking them into our cart. It must’ve looked like we were giving them free rein. Which in some ways we were…to be generous!

Up and down the aisles our kiddo’s went, picking items off the shelves to put in our shoebox. With each item they got, their excitement built.

My daughter is almost 6, so she gets the whole thing. She was great about choosing items she thought the little girl would really find special and enjoy. My son, on the other hand, was, how shall we say…learning about giving. He’s got such a generous heart but he found it tough in a store full of toys to buy for someone else.

And he’s 3, so I didn’t give him too hard a time.

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments

Shopping with your kids provides great opportunities to teach them about money.

As we wandered throughout the store and the kids were grabbing things for the shoebox, I would ask them the cost of each item. They got really good at figuring out the prices and calling them out.

I even had the chance to talk with my daughter about unit pricing. We looked at a 10 pack of pencils for $2 and compared them to a 20 pack for $3. “Which one is the better deal?” I asked her. After a little coaching about how we could get twice as many pencils for only a dollar more, she settled on the $3 20 pack (a girl after my own heart).

After we’d spent about half an hour covering all the cool aisles in the store (we stayed away from the cleaning supplies and Tupperware), we had a pretty good haul of items in our cart. We stopped to do a bit of quick math where we added up the prices of all our items.

Now my daughter wasn’t doing the math in her head or anything (she’s 5) but she saw me doing it. I would call out the numbers and then add them out loud. I don’t anticipate that she’ll pick up the mental math just by seeing me do it. But I do believe she’ll see the value of being able to handle numbers in your head. And with a little work, she’ll know how to determine how much she’s spent by doing some quick estimating on the fly.

Both of these skills are ones I want her to develop so that she’ll learn how to be wise with her money both now and in the future.

Skin in the Game

With our cart loaded up with holiday cheer, we made our way to the till. The kids placed all the items on the counter while the cashier rang them through.

One of the things we do is pay my daughter commission for the work she does around our house. Every payday she puts some money in her Give container, some in Save and some in Spend.

In order to pay for the gifts, my daughter used money from her Give jar. Now it obviously didn’t cover all the gifts. It was the dollar store but the bill wasn’t that cheap. What we really wanted was for her to have some skin in the game when it comes to being generous. I think it’s important that generosity COSTS the giver something. The gift is so much more meaningful when it’s been given in a spirit of sacrifice.

She plopped down her quarters on the counter and we covered the rest of the bill. With a bag full of goodies we loaded up the car and headed home.

Packing the Box

Back at the ranch (not really a ranch, just our house), we laid out all the items to be packed. One word of caution. If you’re trying to pack a box FULL of stuff, you have to be strategic in how you pack. It’s kind of like a game of Tetris…you can’t waste any space.

After about 20 minutes of them wanting to try the flashlight, my son blowing on the recorder, and me trying to strategically fit everything inside the box in the midst of all the chaos, it was finally packed.

Operation Christmas Child

And it was FULL.

Actually, it was overflowing to the point that it was spilling over and barely able to close.

But we didn’t care.

We were all just pumped that we had been able to fill the box so full to bring our little girl a bit of sunshine on Christmas.

Operation Christmas Child Boxes - Bringing It All Together

I love doing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes as a family. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to model generosity with our kids. That, and it gives them a chance to practice generosity in real life.

The hands-on nature of the activity is perfect for teaching generosity. Having them shop for the gifts and decide what goes in the box is HUGE! It gives them a level of personal ownership that they’re not used to. Not only that, but it provides them with a tangible experience of generosity that they’ll never forget.

And that’s a big part of what parenting is all about.

How do you teach your kids to be generous? Add to the conversation in the comments below !!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Family Money School Today and Give Your Kids the Skills They Need to Thrive with Money!

Get Instant Access to 100+ Lessons and Activities to Raise a Money-Wise Kiddo!

Learn More

Popular Posts

10 Crazy Simple Ideas For How To Make Money As A Kid
Why I Always Say Yes When My Kids Ask Me To Buy Them Stuff
9 Of The Top Money Rules For Kids: Build Wealth, Live Free
8 Unsurpassed Life Lessons That Will Empower You To Be Outstanding (from my Grandpa)
8 Powerful Lessons to Teach Your Kids About Money