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The Story of the Mitten Tree at Alexandria’s St. Luke’s Day School

ALEXANDRIA, VA-The tree was not taken down after the holidays. Rather, St. Luke’s Day School students found a new, creative, and giving way to decorate.

When the school’s first-year director, Gennifer Difilippo, saw the positive impact a children’s book and lesson, taught by teacher Trish Herrera, had on the class, she decided it would be a wonderful message for the entire preschool.

Difilippo, a long-time teacher at the Alexandria preschool, spent the beginning of January reading “The Mitten Tree” by Candace Christiansen, to each of the six classes.

St. Luke’s Day School Director Gennifer Difilippo reading The Mitten Tree. (Photo Courtesy of Trish Herrera)

The book’s main character, an elderly woman named Sarah, notices a boy not playing with the other children in the snow at the bus stop because he has no mittens. This discovery inspires her  to secretly knit a pair of mittens for the child, hanging them on a tree for him to discover the following morning. This one act becomes a game between the children and Sarah with a new pair of mittens appearing each morning on the tree. The story teaches children the joy of giving, even when the giver is unknown.

“We had collected so much food in November for Food for Our Neighbors, said Difilippo, “so I thought we need to do this more, because at these young kids’ age. They do get it, they understand.”

Children at St. Luke’s Day School hanging their mittens on the Mitten Tree. (Photo Courtesy of Trish Herrera)

She explains to the children that they are always nice and helpful to their families – people they know. But in the story, Sarah did something for a stranger, and it’s nice to do things for people that you don’t know, to help others.

“We always [do] this lesson around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Because they are so little, they don’t see color, But they know how to be nice to people,” Herrerra said. “It shows our kids that they have so much. And some kids don’t even have gloves [so] this little lady did this and she ran out of yarn, so the kids helped her too.”

People often donate coats and jackets, but not scarves and mittens.  The children, ages 2 ½ through kindergarten, were so excited each morning to come in with their mittens and hang them on the Mitten Tree. Difilippo always say to them, “Thank you for being kind to others.”

At the end of the collection, the 99 sets of mittens were delivered to resource centers in elementary schools such as Hollin Meadows Elementary and Fort Hunt Elementary.

St. Luke’s Day School Children Admiring their Finished Mitten Tree (Photo Courtesy of Trish Herrera)

“We feel at St. Luke’s that our kids understand and should start giving back to their community at a very young age,” Difilippo said. “They shouldn’t have to wait until they are older.”

St. Luke’s Day School, 8009 Fort Hunt Road, is a full-service preschool that offers an environment that encourages curiosity and fosters the excitement of learning. St. Luke’s believes in the beauty, creativity and intelligence of playing. Find more information at [email protected]

Up Next: Attend the Titans for Scholars’ Art Auction this Saturday  

Kelli Goel

Kelli Goel is a food blogger with The Zebra Press and lives with her husband and children in Alexandria, Virginia.

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