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Teacher’s gifts are a must-have for the end of the school year. However, teachers say that the gift of giving is enough in itself. Read more here.

The saying: “It’s the thought that counts” is by no means a novel concept. Yet somewhere in the WhatsApps and emails asking for year-end teacher gift contributions, real “thought” often gets lost. And now research is showing that, for our children especially, losing the thought behind gift-giving is also a lost opportunity to develop essential life skills.

In terms of gift-giving, “thought” translates into reflection, time, effort, and intention. It also means developing a sense of gratitude and taking the time to step into someone else’s shoes. “The sweetest (and funniest) thing I have been given was a half-used roll of deodorant! A child had taken it off her mom’s dresser and wrapped  for me,” laughs foundation phase teacher Anna Smith. “It totally felt more special as she knew I loved perfume and she thought the deodorant smelt nice.” Grade 1 teacher Colette Hinds agrees. “My best gift was one of those horrible plastic trophies with ‘No. 1 Teacher’ on it. What made it so special was that I knew he had saved his pocket money to buy it for me.”

These are not new sentiments: teachers love personal gifts. And academic research proves it. Dr Dylan Clark, anthropology professor at the University of Toronto, found in his research into gift-giving that, “teachers wished parents would believe them when they say letters, cards, and heartfelt thanks mean the most”.

Organisational behaviour research at Stanford Graduate School of Business, also repeatedly showed that more expensive gifts are not more highly valued than less expensive ones. Despite what most gift-givers assume, the R250 for something they really want shows how giver’s appreciation much more than a R2 000 voucher does.

Read more about gift-giving for teachers and also how to create affordable and unique gifts of joy.

gift of giving is good for the giver too

It turns out that the “thought” shown by children means a great deal to their teachers. More importantly, it will stand them in  good stead for their futures. Research in 2014 from Hofstra University, New York,  found that children who understand intention and gratitude are, “happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more emotional support to others”.

Researcher Dr Jeffery Froh explains: “Gratitude does more than just make children feel good; it also improves their mood, mental health, and life satisfaction. Furthermore, it can jumpstart more purposeful engagement in life at a critical moment in their development, when their identity is taking shape.”

Joburg-based school psychologist and a mother of three Sarah van Olst agrees. “When a child chooses a present or wrapping paper, cuts the sticky tape or writes a card, they are giving up their time and energy. Plus, they are thinking of another person. This is  a vital developmental leap for the ego-centric toddler or young child. It also develops empathy, altruism and authenticity – skills all needed for psychological wellbeing.”

society benefits too

Froh adds, saying that these skills are not just an issue for families, but “… an issue for societies”.

“As complex societal problems mount, gratitude may help catalyse the motivation and skills youth need to succeed not just academically but in life too,” explains Froh.

Taking the time to think about, plan and action a gift for a beloved teacher is the perfect opportunity to model gratitude and teach these values to our children.

The opposite is also true

In the same way that thoughtful gifts can promote wellbeing and appreciation in both giver and receiver, group or last-minute gifts can (rightly or wrongly) send the message that the gift was given purely out of obligation.

Louise Cork duly handed over the R100 towards the “thank-you” gift for a teacher whose lack of empathy and experience left her once-joyful daughter feeling extremely anxious and unhappy. She did it because “in part, the R100 contribution was a safe, easy option. It also required no real involvement or commitment. It was easy to hand over a bit of cash and it meant very little. I would not have asked my child to choose a present, or write a card or sweet letter. But I also did not want to be the free rider.”

Well thought-out gifts show a person you have thought about them specifically. They show how well you know them and that you want to buy a gift they will like and genuinely appreciate, even if it did not cost very much. “I always appreciate any gift from a class, or learner,” says a Grade 1 teacher. “However, I have been given very generous gifts that I know I won’t use, then I just feel guilty or embarrassed when they go to waste.”

don’t forget the card

Whatever you do for your child’s teacher this year, what matters most is getting your child involved in the process. And as one Grade 2 teacher says: “Don’t forget the card – that is the part that no teacher throws away.”

Camilla Rankin