When the 19 preschool students Kim Brown teaches asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she had an answer ready: do something nice for someone else.
On Thursday (Brown’s birthday), the students honored her wish by running the “Lemons to Lemonade” stand at their Pre-K Counts program in Wharton Township, raising more than $1,000 for the American Red Cross and the Angel Tree program.
“If you’re kind, does that make your heart feel good?” Brown asked her students as they sat on the floor of their classroom.
Nods and yeses all around.
“When it’s your birthday, you should only buy presents for yourself, right?” she asked.
Some hesitation followed.
The 3- and- 4-year-olds knew Brown was asking on her birthday.
She didn’t leave them hanging, pulling out a bag of “Squeeze Me” T-shirts for them to wear when they worked at their lemonade stand.
An educator for three decades, Brown said teaching kindness has always been a part of her curriculum.
“It’s really a theme throughout life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, you can always be kind. Words are free.”
And while the lemonade wasn’t (the students sold it for $1 per cup), families, friends and other donors generously supported their efforts. Students sold 72 cups of lemonade, but an additional $551 in tips and $400 in donations took their fundraising total to $1,023.
Brown came up with the idea to run a lemonade stand on a hot day early into the school year. She overheard some parents talking about the struggles associated with the pandemic, something she understood far too well.
She was hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, and spent two months on oxygen after her release.
“We need to stop and enjoy the good stuff now. But as hard as it was for me, I realized COVID has effected so many people,” she said. “We’d saved up enough sour lemons that we were going to change it into something good.”
As part of the “Lemons to Lemonade” project, the students took home paper lemons so their parents could write down an act of kindness they did for someone at home.
The students cut them out themselves and “signed” them – many with squiggles for signatures. During class, each student came up to tell their classmates what they did.
Their answers included helping with dishes, folding clothes and picking flowers to cheer up a relative.
While most couldn’t actually read what their parents wrote, they all proudly declared their good deed, Brown said.
The stand also provided other teaching lessons.
The students made a chart on sweet and sour foods and followed a recipe to make the lemonade – including squeezing the lemons themselves.
They also served the drinks, and collected and counted the money from friends and family who came.
And yes, they got a lesson on thanking their customers.
Brown, who calls her students “my babies,” said preschool is the perfect time to begin teaching how rewarding it is to be kind. At ages 3 and 4, they’re all full of wonder.
She recounted being outside her with students on a recent hot day. They’d all been exceptionally well-behaved on the playground, so Brown told them she was going to get them some “special pre-K water.”
It was, of course, just water, but they didn’t know that. All they heard was their good behavior was about to be rewarded with some kindness from “Miss Kim.”
She brought out a jug and filled up cups as students eagerly took their treat.
One, in particular, was impressed.
“This is the wettest water I’ve ever tasted,” the student told Brown.
She chuckled about it, but said it illustrates the point perfectly: “These babies are looking for magic, and they want to use their magic.”
She said the lemonade stand offered a perfect opportunity for them to do just that.
“It showed them how it feels to get something, and how it feels to give something,” Brown said. “This is how I would choose to spend every birthday.”