The Meaning of the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: Analysis and Activities for Children

By Maryam DiMauro

The Giving Tree is a beautiful tale that is seemingly simple to understand. However, some of the more abstract meanings might be difficult for some children to grasp. For children who need practice at home, here are some great exercises to help them out.

Selfless Generosity

In order to fully grasp how you can help with your children's homework, let's break down the meaning of this book.

This book is a great tool for parents to help children understand abstract themes and cultivate important values within their child. The vocabulary and reading skills in this book can also help with this.

In simple terms, the book is a journey between a boy and a tree. It starts out simply "Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy". This is a simple enough statement. It also encompasses the whole underlying theme of this little book. For it is this pure love which drives the sacrifices and the generosity of the tree. The tree gives all that it can give selflessly. It gives till there is no more to give.

How to Deal with Change

The book also deals with change:

"But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone."

As change comes, and the boy grows older, the tree is not needed. Yet, the tree accepts change and loves the boy all the same. It is there whenever the boy needs him.

When the boy no longer enjoys the simplistic part of his innocence, which is to simply play and to be, he desires material gain i.e. the apples. The tree loves selflessly giving the boy the apples. The tree does everything for the boy to be happy. Yet again, the boy leaves the tree alone for a long time causing sadness.

The boy comes back a third time, and is now a grown man. The tree yet again refers to his innocent nature and asks if the boy wishes to play. The man/boy, of course, does not. His priorities have changed, and he wishes to marry and have a child. He does not want childish pursuits. Instead, he asks for a house. The tree of course offers his branches.

What the boy yet again ceases to understand is the complete unconditional love of the tree. This is symbolic of a child/ parent relationship. The tree gives yet more of itself in terms of its branches and yet it is happy because it has made the boy happy.

The next time the boy comes, he is now an older man, who has known loss. It is clear that he has lost everything he had desired. He again does not see the joy of being with the tree, but wants to go far away with a boat. The tree, who has nothing left to give, offers her trunk.

The last time he returns, the tree has nothing left to give. In the end, when the man, now old with age returns, he is now content and innocent once more, and when the tree has nothing left to give it is that very thing that is enough for an old man who now realizes the beauty in innocent pastimes. It is a story of selfless love and generosity and the changes we go through in relationships in our lives.

Help Your Child Understand the Book

  • If it is an assigned book, ask the teacher to explain what the tasks and activities were assigned to them.
  • Ask your child to tell you the story in his own words and then have him read over the book with them.
  • Make sure you go through abstract concepts and feelings. Ask your child what it is like to be generous, why things would change when you get older and what is the meaning of pure love. Try not to provide the answers for your child but simply let them try to seek the answers on their own.
  • Have them go over vocabulary and words they don't understand.
  • Have your child read the book various times, making sure that they pronounce things properly and give time to change the conversation. When correcting, make sure you do so patiently. For your child to understand, make sure you read some passages yourself so they get an idea.
  • There are various youtube videos which narrate the story , watch it with them so they understand it.
  • To help children with their dexterity , they can draw the tree and the child. You can also create your own version of the giving tree at home where they can point out acts of generosity they have done throughout the day.