Here’s a wonderfully simple way to focus on helping others as the holidays approach.  All you need is a large jar and some sort of item to use as a “counter”.  In our house, we used dried pinto beans.  Pennies would also be a good counter, or even pebbles.

One of my husband’s and my main goals as the holidays approach is to teach our children about the gift of giving of ourselves.  We do this by focusing on ways to be helpful without being asked and without fanfare or reward.  The focus is on the act of kindness.  To reinforce this lesson, we set a large jar on the kitchen counter along with a shallow dish with a supply of dried beans in it.

Each time one of us (children and adults alike) was helpful to another family member, a friend, a neighbor or even a stranger, we moved a bean from the dish into the jar.  Over the next several weeks, we watch the number of beans in the jar grow.  We also talk about being helpful on Sundays when we are all dining together.  We share ideas of how to be helpful and come up with new ways to help and try out during the upcoming week. 

These small acts can be something simple, such as helping a schoolmate at the water fountain or aiding in a search for a lost toy or item.  Or, it can be something larger, such as helping with the dishes when it isn’t even your turn, or cleaning up your room without being told.  Regardless, everyone is on his or her honor to help “fill the jar”. 

On Christmas Eve, after the kids go to sleep, “Santa” comes to our house and replaces the beans with something a bit more festive, such as chocolate candies or jellybeans.  There are usually “a few more” than there were beans.  After all, Santa’s a very giving person as well!  It helps tie in this wonderful lesson we want our children to learn with the fun of Christmas.

This is a great idea to try year-round.  Once the jar is filled, the family can trade it in for something special, such as a trip to the movies or an ice-cream night.  If using pennies, trade in the pennies for folding change and use that for the special reward!