South Lyon — Two buses loaded with teachers, pupils, several parents and Christmas gifts rolled up to the La Casa Crisis shelter in Howell, and the preschool children from the Learning Experience school in South Lyon bounded off, happy and excited.
For the 4- and 5-year-olds, the bus ride topped off the exhilaration of being out of class on a field trip.
Amid all of their enthusiasm, the intention was learning.
The daily lesson: Kindness.
“And we sang!” said Elianna Peterson, 4, recalling the day the class visited the Howell facility, which houses domestic violence and sexual abuse victims and their children, to deliver the presents and spread holiday cheer.
In a bashful voice, she described the reason for their visit. “Giving back to kids and helping,” Elianna said. “And we got a field trip.”
Providing at least a bit of Christmas for women and families who shelter from domestic violence is part of a “philanthropy” curriculum at the Learning Experience, which introduces preschoolers to concepts such as giving, sharing and donating. At the chain’s preschools in more than 20 states, children participate in monthly events that include gathering and distributing gifts to those in need.
“We teach kindness, giving back,” said Mollie Blixt, vice president of operations for the Learning Experience.
Through these events, parents, teachers and administrators say, the children at the South Lyon school come to an understanding of the need for compassion, and its benefits.
“With our school in the Clarkston area, we both do an event,” Blixt said. “They fill their bus, and we fill our bus here. “We sing. The children have practiced their little holiday performance. And we have Santa there and bring in live reindeer. When we put the live reindeer out by the bus, the children love the reindeer.”
Those monthly, hands-on activities are reinforced in class each day.
“That’s a funny word!” said Elianna’s teacher, Sam Fulkerson, as she sat in front of her class, about to read from a children’s book during a lesson last week at the South Lyon school.
Fulkerson repeated the keyword in snippets for comprehension.
“Phil-an-thro-py,” she said, drawing out the syllables with pauses in between.
The curriculum emphasizes continuously practicing kindness, giving back to the community and emphasizing that their tender age is no barrier to empathetic participation in society.
It has been part of the school days at the Learning Experience in a formal way for the past 11 years after similar lessons had been taught in a more informal way.
As Fulkerson and another teacher, April Bessey, continued last week’s class, they asked the children to think of ways they can make people happy.
“Grace and charity are teaching us about?” Fulkerson prompted them.
“Giving!” came the response, from an eager Caleb Olivero.
“And sharing,” came a further answer from the pupils, some of whom pronounced the ‘R’ as ‘W.’
“This month, we’re talking about giving,” Fulkerson emphasized. “And we’re talking about what you can give to others that you can’t buy at the store.
“So Miss April and I thought we would make a Christmas giving tree. When we call your names, you guys can tell us what you give, and we’re going to hang it on our Christmas tree.”
As the children responded with such answers as “hugs,” “make people smile” and “help them,” the words were written on paper Christmas ornaments and hung by the child offering the suggestion on a large paper tree at the front of the room.
“My kids are getting an idea of what goes on outside our home and at other people’s homes, and not everybody is as fortunate as they are,” said a parent, Angie Talbert of South Lyon.
“It’s nice to see them participate and make a difference in other people’s lives, and that they are aware of that.
“Around Christmas time, I take the kids shopping, and I explain to them what we need to do, and how we are doing it. They really take pride in picking out gifts for kids that are not as fortunate, or health and beauty stuff, food, diapers.
“They understand why we’re doing it. And, at that young age, I feel like that’s important to instill in them so that growing up they are not close-minded.”