Serving others is a great way to empower kids with responsibility and engage their compassion. Not to mention that it helps children learn to recognize their own personal good fortune and blessings. I can't promise that your kids won't still ask for every toy they see, but having them involved in giving back can afford them a different perspective on material things.
Volunteering together as a family helps kids learn that they can make a positive difference in the lives of others which, as you hopefully know, is a wonderful feeling! Family memories and traditions made while volunteering together will last long after the novelty of their shiny new toys has passed. If you are looking to get your kids involved but are not sure where to start, read on for a list of some of the most creative (and enjoyable) service projects for kids:
Cheerful charity: Have your family help collect toys, books and movies and donate them to a children's hospital such as the Ronald McDonald House or St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Children suffering from serious illnesses are often bored, scared and cooped up for long periods of time. Having a few new toys to play with will not only give them a little comfort but also will brighten their day!
Food drive: Food drives are very popular during the holiday season, but families are hungry year-round. Organize a food drive in your neighborhood, church or school. Many low-income families struggle to try to put food on the table every day. To locate a food pantry or soup kitchen in your area, check out www.foodpantries.org.
Supplies surprise: Whenever school supplies go on sale, pack up a backpack and supplies for a local child in need. Many organizations, including the YMCA, frequently collect these types of donations to distribute throughout the community. In addition, you can also check with the guidance counselor or teacher at your child's school to see if there is a need for donations.
Community cleanup: Know of a local park or recreation center that could use a good cleanup? Arrange a "Community Cleanup" day in your neighborhood. Set a date and get the word out. Then put on your gloves and pitch in! Teaching children to take pride in their community also gives them a sense of responsibility.
Puppy love: Volunteer at an animal shelter such as the Baltimore Humane Society or ASPCA. Encourage a love of animals by showing kids how to nurture and care for their needs. Participate in tasks such as walking, feeding and exercising. Kids can even set up a time to read to their favorite furry friend.
Neighborly neighbor: How wonderful would it be to come out to a raked yard or even a shoveled driveway when it snows? Have your family be someone's angel. Do it for an elderly or disabled neighbor or the new mom down the block and spread a little community cheer.
Student guide: Have your children work with their friends to make a "New Student" or a "Fun Things to Do" guide for your town that includes information about your school, your favorite parks, a map of the neighborhood and fun things to do in the area. This could be a really helpful guide for students transitioning into a new area and is a great way to make some new friends. This also works well as a class project.
Care package: Put together a care package for a missionary or member of the military. Be sure to include personal-care items and other convenience items (such as phone cards) that they may not have readily available to them. Have your children make cards or write letters to include in the packages. When someone is worlds apart from their family and feeling lonely, your family could be making their day due to your thoughtfulness.
Saving coins: Encourage your children, along with other members of the family, to save their quarters. When you have saved up about $10 to $20 worth, take a handful of quarters and a roll of tape and stick the quarters on gumball machines. Or put the quarters inside the coin return on a video game and vending machines. Just a few dollars could bring a lot of smiles all over town.
Parents these days have a unique opportunity to enable their children to become more socially aware of the problems in their communities. They can learn to look at these problems with compassion and kindness and move forward with solutions that help build a better world for generations to come.
Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.