Tending Treasure in the Five-and-Under Set

How families and churches can include small children in stewardship


By Dawn Rundman, Ph.D.

Stewardship may not seem like an age-appropriate term to introduce to young children. But to understand the foundations of generous giving, kids must learn that money has value and that God calls us to share it with others.

Let’s take a closer look at how young children begin to develop a basic knowledge about what money is, what money does, and how money matters.

Young children first encounter money concepts through play. Preschools and other early childhood centers typically provide multisensory opportunities for young children to learn about money through activities like coin counting, coin rubbing art projects, and grocery store play centers with items for purchase.  Young children begin to develop a vocabulary about money through activities embedded within play.

Young children pay attention to what their caregivers value. Have you ever been asked to share stories about your earliest memories of money (or heard these stories from others)? Many of us can recall instances of parents or other relatives talking about money in emotionally-charged ways. These memories stay with young children to shape their views around the value of money. 

Young children today learn about money differently than past generations. During your childhood, how did you see your family members, neighbors, and others in your community spend, share, and save money? Now think about the massive shifts in monetary transactions today: automated bill paying, mobile payments, credit cards, cash-sharing apps, and more. This digitization of commerce means that many young children rarely witness the concrete act of physical money actually changing hands. Consider these common occurrences:

  • Instead of their parent paying cash at the store, little ones watch a parent swipe a plastic card or show their phone.
  • Instead of seeing parents write and mail checks to pay for goods and services, a family’s bill-paying may be entirely automated and unseen.
  • Instead of a parent going to a bank to cash a check, children see them use the same plastic card to get money from a wall. (A child may begin to assume that a plastic debit or credit card is almost magical—hand it over, get what you want, then get the card back.)
  • Instead of watching their parent write a check, seal it in an offering envelope, and place it in the collection plate on a Sunday morning, most little ones have parents who give using electronic balance transfer systems.

Most young children have few opportunities to connect what they’re learning about money in preschool and with parents to biblical, theological messages about money. How are we called to raise the next generation of generous givers when so much has changed? As a church leader, you can do something about this by planning deliberate activities to support young children and their families as they learn about what money is and how it can be generously given.

Encourage families to make a Giving Jar. Little ones need things to be concrete in order for them to make sense. Invite families to designate a see-through container as the “Giving Jar” and encourage them to put coins or bills into it on a regular basis. Once a month, families can decide where they want the money to go, and then deliver the money to that organization so kids can see their money is making a difference for somebody else.

Provide opportunities for young children to give in worship. You can deepen kids’ learning about money, giving, and faith  by encouraging kids to give coins and bills during offering time. (Check out churches doing Noisy Offering.) 

Provide ways for kids to participate in a larger giving campaign. Teach about generous giving during the children’s message and Sunday school classes. Plan exciting campaigns for young children to give throughout the year. (The ELCA Good Gifts program provides a delightful array of concrete ways for kids’ giving to make a difference.) 

Invite parents and children to collect the offering during worship. First of all, there is something very touching about a child and a parent or grandparent working together to collect the offering during worship. Second, this practice of participation in worship reinforces that all are welcome and important to the faith community. Third, kids will get to watch people putting money in the offering basket, so they will have firsthand knowledge of others who give money during the offering.

Help parents of children talk and teach about money. Parents of little ones (and older ones too) may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with ways to weave in these teachings, especially given the long list of other demands on their time and energy. If you are offering early childhood faith classes for children and parents, include stories about giving money (Zacchaeus, the widow’s offering) and open the floor to discussion about this topic. Remind them that their young children are listening, learning, and trying to make sense of what money is and what it means.

No matter how small the step, try doing something around this topic. If we as church leaders do not engage in any specific teaching, children will learn about money, generosity, and faith in other places and at other times. Start early. Then marvel at what these little ones have to offer!

About the Author

Dawn Rundman is Director of Faith Formation Resource Development at 1517 Media, the publishing ministry of the ELCA. She has worked on teams that have published over 20,000 pages of Sunday school and confirmation curriculum, Bibles, and children’s books for Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse. She lives in Edina, Minnesota with her husband and their two teenage church nerd kids. www.dawnrundman.com

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