My church recently held a congregation-wide service day with dozens of opportunities to give back and volunteer around Columbus. I was eager to sign up and bring my husband and 1 and 3-year-old sons along to help. As I read through the list of activities, I was surprised to discover that there weren’t any projects for kids under 5 years old. While I understand why (liability, strenuous tasks, not age appropriate) it got me pondering simple things I could incorporate into our life to instill into my young boys the important values of volunteering and service.
The more I thought about it, I concluded that really most anything that takes the focus off of themselves and puts it on others is the first step. Keeping the conversation open and sharing the importance of what you’re doing and why will hopefully create a spirit of interest and help children buy into the task. With those ideas in mind, I developed a list of 10 ways to teach young children the importance of giving back. And as a bonus, most of them can be done from home!
1. Sponsor a Child
There are many organizations serving the poor and marginalized around the world. For little more than a dollar a day, you can sponsor a child. Well known sponsorship organizations like World Vision and Compassion send frequent information and updates about the child and their community and even provide channels to directly communicate with your sponsored child. We have our sponsored children’s photos on our refrigerator and talk about them often with our own kids. It’s a great opportunity to discuss how people around the world live and survive differently. You can even look through the photos of waiting children online and together select who you will support.
2. Donating clothes, toys and food
-Enlist the help of your little ones to collect canned and dry goods from your pantry to take to a local food bank.
-Walk around the areas of your house and let your kids each select one toy, book or game that they’d be willing to part with to give to a child in need (in my house this means donating to Goodwill or Salvation Army). This one can be hard for little ones so we often start with one item, then once my kids are in bed or napping I fill the bag with other neglected playthings. They never miss them or even realize they’re gone. And bonus, a little decluttering is done in the process. Here’s a list of additional local places to donate: Local Donation Organizations
-Rather than taking the task of going through all your clothes right away, leave a donation bag inside your closet. When your child outgrows something or you notice he or she just won’t wear it, drop it in the bag. Once its full, its time to donate.
3. Baking cookies for Kairos Prison Ministry
Kairos is a ministry that aims to transform the lives of Ohio’s incarcerated through retreats at prison facilities. During these three-day long retreats, homemade cookies are distributed to attendees. Hundreds of thousands of cookies are needed to support this ministry in Ohio. My kids love to bake and explaining that these cookies are being made to show love and support for others make this special time together even more meaningful. Cookie baking guidelines and drop off information is available on the Kairos Ohio website.
4. Read books about helping others
There are numerous books about serving others and giving back. Reading with little ones is a great way to introduce these concepts and get the conversation started about why volunteering and service to others are important and fulfilling. A couple of recommended titles include The Bernstein Bears Think of Others, The Mitten Tree and The Little Blue Truck.
5. Making Cards for nursing home residents
This one is particularly near and dear to my heart as my precious 91-year-old grandmother lives in an assisted living facility. The joy on the residents faces when I visit with my two sons is not quickly forgotten. Kids can color pictures, design artwork or make cards to distribute to nursing home residents. Once you’ve selected a location, call ahead to ask if your family can drop in and hand them out in a common area or if you could mail them to be placed in residents’ mailboxes.
6. Prepare a meal for a neighbor
Double your dinner one night and voila you have supper to deliver to a friend. Perhaps a neighbor’s spouse is out of town for work, a girlfriend is simply overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood or you just want to bless a family with a night off from cooking. Whatever the case, bring your children along as you deliver the meal and share your motivation for serving a friend.
7. Serve a sibling or parent
It can be logical for a young child to understand their responsibility for cleaning up after them self, but picking up for a sibling or parent can be more challenging. Ask your child to select a family member to serve, then together come up with a way to secretly serve them. It could be clearing dishes after a meal, picking up toys, putting away laundry, or another idea to surprise a loved one by serving them.
8. Make a financial gift
Giving financially is always a great way to support a cause meaningful to your family. If your kids have an allowance, encourage them to give as well. Little ones can start with coins from their piggy bank and work up to giving a portion of their birthday money to a charity of their choice. Giving financially can be liberating and will help teach your children that there are more important things than money.
9. Assemble snack packs for the Ronald McDonald House
There are several ways to support Central Ohio’s Ronald McDonald House, but one quick and easy way is to create snack packs for residents. These snack bags can provide an on the go meal for those wanting to stay close to their hospitalized child or provide a special treat reminiscent of a taste of home. A list of guidelines can help you determine the contents of the bags then spend time with your family shopping for the items and assembling the packs. You can deliver them together so your children can see exactly to whom and to where the packs will go.
10. Trash pick up in your community or park
Although not the most exciting way to give back, it is definitely impactful. Choose a location a local park, a stretch in your community or a school playground are some examples then tell your kids you’re going to go make it beautiful! Go on a trash and debris hunt and count the items as your collect them. Turn it into a competition among kids or foster teamwork by setting a goal number of items to pick up. This is an easy one to incorporate into daily walks or visits to the park.