A Family Affair: How to Do Volunteer Work With Children
As a parent, your biggest job is to raise, healthy, happy kids. Of course you want to provide them with everything they need – and plenty of things they want, too. It can be tricky to find the line between giving your children the things you never had and spoiling them.
One way you can make sure to keep materialism at bay and bring an attitude of gratitude into your home is foster a love of volunteer work in your family. Even the youngest children can tag along while you work to make the world a better place, and in doing so they’ll see that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. Older kids will also learn the importance of helping others and will grow to understand their power to make the world a better place.
What are you waiting for? Here are some ideas to get your kids involved in volunteering with activities that are appropriate for different ages and stages of development:
Babies and Toddlers
While it’s true that babies and toddlers can’t do much on their own to make the world a better place, they can brighten peoples’ days by doing what they do best: looking cute and cuddly. In particular, senior citizens in residential facilities enjoy playing with little ones, and the relationships formed can be mutually beneficial — especially if you don’t live close enough to have grandparents in your child’s life. Volunteer your time taking meals to shut-ins or playing games a local nursing home, and bring your cuties along for the ride to meet the residents.
Preschoolers and Kindergarteners
Children between the ages of 3 and 6 can start to get more actively involved in volunteer work. The best activities are still ones in which they’re helping you, but now they can lend a hand – especially if you choose projects that don’t require perfect fine motor skills. Try these on for size:
• Have kids make Valentines or other holiday cards to deliver to the friends they’ve made at the nursing home over the years.
• Get kids involved in choosing gently used toys and clothes to donate to charity. It’s powerful to see their good fortune going to help other kids.
• Have little ones help cook up a dish to take to a soup kitchen. Let them help serve and interact with those less fortunate as well. Personal interactions are very powerful at this age.
Once they’re in school, kids have many more opportunities to do volunteer work, and they’ll start participating in projects with their classmates instead of tagging along on your volunteer opportunities. Many school activities involve fundraising, but you can still provide plenty of hands-on projects for your children:
• Create grab bags with healthy snacks and warm socks for the homeless. If you live in an urban area, you can carry a few to hand out directly. Otherwise, shelters are always looking for donations.
• As your kids get older and learn to play an instrument, consider getting a group of friends together to perform a short concert for nursing home residents or other people in assisted-living programs.
• Have kids shovel walks or pull weeds for neighbors who have trouble doing these chores on their own.
Middle and High Schoolers
As your teens become more independent, it may seem like they’re not interested in being with you at all – and that’s OK. You can still encourage them to keep up with volunteering on their own terms. Encourage them to focus on issues they care about and use their unique talents to help others. Kids at this age are building their identities, and their volunteer work can be a powerful expression of their interests and compassion. Suggest these activities to your older kids:
• If your teens have a job, encourage them to set aside a portion of their income to give to a charity they believe in. This is a great habit to start now to carry into adulthood.
• Once your kids are old enough to drive, they can volunteer to run errands or household chores for elderly neighbors. They can also be a big help to local nonprofits that need help moving items, putting out flyers or other activities around town.
• Teens can volunteer at animal shelters, food pantries and many other locations in the community that need helping hands to complete their missions. Working independently at these places is great practice for future on-the-job responsibilities and will give your child a real sense of accomplishment.
No matter what cause you choose to devote your time to, you can get your whole family involved in volunteering. It’s a fun way to spend time together, and you’ll be laying the foundation for a lifetime of giving. There’s no better legacy for your family than that.
Anum Yoon started and maintains Current on Currency, where she shares her hard-earned insights on money management. Catch her updates on Twitter @anumyoon.