Great age-appropriate stewardship opportunities can be found in local communities too. When children work on local litter pick-up days, they experience first-hand what it means to be good stewards of their environment (and learn a valuable lesson about what NOT to do with trash). When they donate or organize canned goods for the neighborhood food pantry, they learn what it means to be “my brother’s keeper.” When they thank service members or first-responders (with written notes or treats), they extend not just gratitude, but care to those who keep them safe.
Too often we’re tempted to downplay these important acts of daily stewardship. Why not have young children march for action on climate change? Or write letters to Congressmen about gun control? Or contact state reps about minimum wage legislation? Because there is a difference between stewardship and political activism. Elementary schools (with parents on both sides of any given issue) should avoid the latter. Children have much to learn--academic and moral--and at this age, the important lessons of stewardship are best learned through the things they daily see, touch, and control. First and foremost, even as adults, quality lives are mostly about stewardship of the specific tasks entrusted to our care.
The classic nursery rhyme “For want of a nail” drives home that very point. The rhyme is based on the cautionary tale of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). Undersupplied and in haste, the cobbler failed to shoe the king’s horse properly, trusting that three nails rather than four would do the trick. In the heat of battle, the horseshoe flew off; the steed stumbled, threw its rider, and bolted. The King’s men, already in retreat, left their sovereign to his ignominious fate, and the battle was lost. Shakespeare has the fallen Richard cry out: “My horse, my horse! A kingdom for a horse!” Mother Goose recounts it this way:
For want of nail, a shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.
For want of a horse, a battle was lost,
For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The small acts of stewardship matter. They give rise to a lifetime of habits that move beyond home and classroom, and ultimately create a better world.
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