Volunteering is something I have been involved with since I was a small child. As a Girl Scout I can remember working on different projects in our community and it is something I have made a part of my life since. Between volunteer vacations and working with local organizations I try to fit it into my schedule on a regular basis, and now I am looking for ways to involve my kids in volunteering as well and to start them on a path that will make them want to engage in volunteerism as they get older. Volunteering teaches even toddlers and preschoolers about compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude, and community responsibility. And children who volunteer are more likely to continue doing so as adults. While it may seem like a challenge to find a volunteer opportunity that your young child can take part it, it can be easier than you think. Here we're going to give you some ideas on how to get your child involved and interested in volunteering and giving back to their community. First, a few tips on how to find the best fit.
- Check out Volunteer Match, you can enter in your zip code and find tons of local opportunities to volunteer, all with descriptions and contact information.
- Decide whether you're interested in a onetime project (like starting a collection of children's books and donating them to a hospital, for example) or a longer-term commitment, such as serving dinner at a homeless shelter once a month. Then call the appropriate organization to ask how you can help. It might be a good idea to try a one time volunteer job for the first go with your child to try it out before committing longer term.
- Be realistic about your goals for volunteering. Even if it is a small one time experience it can be something to build on for the future, and the lesson of the importance can be learned and appreciated whether it is a short visit to a nursing home or a longer term project at a soup kitchen.
- If possible, visit the place you're going to volunteer beforehand to determine whether it will be a comfortable place for you and your child and if it seems like a situation that might work for you.
- After you've decided on where you're going to help out, explain to your children exactly what to expect. Be enthusiastic about what you're doing and explain why the job is important and answer your child's questions about the work and the people you'll be interacting with during the job.
- Above all, have fun! We all know that our attitudes and reactions towards something can be contagious to our kids, so if they see you participating and having fun it will be easier for them to enjoy it as well. Consider including your whole family or some friends with children your child's age and it can become a bonding experience for everyone involved.
Now here are our Top Ten Volunteering Ideas for Kids that can work with school aged children and even preschool aged children.
1. Sponsor a soldier Kids can create a relationship with a soldier through several national programs worldwide. They can collect items to send overseas or even write letters to keep in touch. Try Adopt a US Soldier for more info.
2. Try scouting The Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H, and similar groups emphasize helping others along with other fun activities such as sports, crafts, and camping.
3. Animal Shelters use volunteers to walk dogs and play with cats These pets need lots of human interaction to make them more sociable and adoptable. Take your animal loving children to your local shelter to participate.
4. Donate food to a food pantry Have your child pick out one item each time you go to the store. When you get a bagful, take it to a local food pantry. A fun way to donate food with family and friends is to host a holiday cooking party and make bread, soups, and even some cookies for a food pantry or shelter. Have party guests cook or bake together, or make healthy bags of snacks. The kids can help with the cooking and tie on bows and hand write holiday messages.
5. Walk to fight disease Many organizations use walks to increase awareness and raise funds. Kids 5 and up can walk a few miles, and you can push little ones in a stroller.
6. Help serve at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter This might not be too creative, but your kids can see for themselves that other kids and families just don’t have the things they have, it will be a lesson that stays with them for a lifetime.
7. Organize a toy drive This can be done for any organization who gives families and children gifts for Christmas, and locally you can donate the toys to the Franklin Community Center, who will distribute the toys you collect to children right here in Saratoga Springs. Another option for donating toys is Toys for Tots. For Finn's first birthday in lieu of gifts I asked guests to bring a gift suitable for donating to this organization and we wound up donating a carload of fantastic toys.
8. Help build Habitat homes by volunteering at the local Habitat for Humanity They welcome volunteers with all ability levels, including greeters and sandwich makers. This might be an exciting volunteer opportunity for older children who have always loved construction and building.
9. Visit a nursing home Your family can be matched with one person to call on regularly.
10. Clean up Pick up litter at a local park or while you take a walk in the neighborhood. (Wear gloves and supervise your children closely.)