In my pursuit of raising globally engaged kids, I’ve realized we need to start locally. I want my kids to move beyond caring to action and beyond knowledge to knowing. Currently we’re not traveling the world together, and they can’t comprehend the complexities of social issues. But I can still do small things to make them more aware of life outside of themselves, like sponsoring a child, and finding local volunteer opportunities.
- Kids have natural charisma. I’m 99.999% introverted, but when I’m out with my two kids, I always talk to strangers. People want to talk to us because young children are irresistible. They have a silliness, a joy, a curiosity that the rest of us envy. They have energy and creativity rarely matched by adults. My children are a gift to me, and (most of the time) are a gift to whoever they’re around. They are especially qualified to care for the lonely people in society. Senior centers and Meals on Wheels programs are great ways to connect your children to elderly people in need. Nervous to do it alone? Grab some friends and have a play group at a local senior center!
- Volunteering is a great way to cultivate a love of helping. My toddler isn’t the most consistent helper, but he certainly takes pride in his work. When he helps set the table or cook a meal or (his favorite) bakes brownies, he’s very proud of being a “big boy” helper. Food pantries are great places to give kids simple tasks – they can stock shelves, sort foods and lift spirits by their silly approach to getting things done.
- Volunteering doesn’t have to be planned or public. Embracing the spontaneous volunteer opportunity helps teach children to see needs and meet them. Whether it’s making a meal for a sick neighbor, shoveling an extra sidewalk for the elderly, picking up sidewalk trash on your walk, giving someone a ride to the doctors or donating clothes to a family who just lost their home, involving your kids in helping can be spontaneous. Kids can also make cards and drawings and special gifts to send to soldiers overseas or children in a hospital. These projects can be done at home without worrying about coordinating the ultimate time to be serving.
- Having kids helps clarify your family’s values by calling for action rather than ideals. Prior to being a parent, I easily thought about the things I valued in intangible ways, but having children makes me more realize my actions are much more important than my intention. My kids learn by doing themselves, and they learn by what I do, not what I say. So when I think about valuing volunteering and service, I quickly realize I need to be doing these things if I want to pass these values on. Volunteering as a family can be a great way to involve small children. If there are two adults involved, at least one of you can continue to be helpful even if your kids aren’t fully cooperating. You might clean up a park, participate in a fundraising walk or bike ride (with kids in a tow-behind), or serve at a community dinner. It’s a great way to combine family time with service.
Not everyone allows young children to accompany their parents at volunteer opportunities, but seeking out ways to include them is important to raising kids who care.