Volunteering is a great way for you and your children to get involved in the community, make new friends while helping others and an amazing way to teach the importance of giving back. Instill strong character in your children by showing that it really can be better to give than to receive, as well as how to be thankful for what they have.
Consider your child's age, interests and capabilities
Parents should try to find opportunities that match their children's skills and interests. There are opportunities available that even very young children can do with parental guidance. Mei Cobb, the director of United Way's Volunteer Engagement program, notes that parents should be conscious of what is suitable for each child's age group, and suggests any of the following age-appropriate activities:
Ages 1 to 4
- Play with other children at a children's center
- Visit a nursing home with other family members
- Join an older family member to read books at the library or community center
- Go along for the delivery of meals prepared for those who are homebound or hungry
Ages 5 to 12
- Participate in a read-a-thon project, in which students read to younger students
- Collect used books and toys for a shelter for homeless families
- Make cards or letters for military personnel
- Perform plays and skits depicting community problems and their solutions
- Rake the yard for an elderly person in the neighborhood
- Help with a park or beach cleanup
- Make holiday greeting cards and artwork for senior citizens who live in a nearby nursing home
- Lead workshops on bike safety for younger children
Do your research
When looking into kid-friendly volunteering, be sure not to assume all non profits are created equal. Ensure the organizations have a program in place for children who wish to volunteer and that the volunteer coordinators, workers and other staff are properly accredited. Know exactly what will be expected of your child, and always ask for references where possible.
Volunteer on your own
There are several simple ways to get started on the path to philanthropy that don't require formally registering for any one particular organization, and some don't even require you to leave your home.
- Organize a cleanup program in your neighborhood
- Visit a senior center and offer to read or sing to residents
- Donate food to shelters and food banks or volunteer your time to help serve
- Collect coupons and donate to food banks, or help with a food drive
- Help a neighbor shovel snow or tidy their yard
- Collect school supplies and fill back packs
- Write letters and send care packages to troops living abroad
- Organize snacks for walkers during fundraising events
- Grow a vegetable garden and donate some of the food to a shelter
- Plant trees and other native species to preserve natural habitats at parks, church and schools
While there are many factors that contribute to the behaviors and beliefs of youth in today's society, volunteering is a way to guide and positively affect their belief systems and develop a closer relationship in the process.