By Laura Reagan-Porras
Volunteering or donating items is often part of this season of giving. However, rather than use your winter budget on a winter wonderland vacation or winter camp, why not use the opportunity to show children what impactful giving is all about. Engage kids in charitable giving in a realistic way. Take a family vote on where to invest your family’s winter break budget and make the giving personal by volunteering where you give.
Sally was nine years old and her sister Emily was seven years old when they began volunteering at their local food bank with their family. Volunteering included sorting boxes and cans of food into different groups and then packing family boxes for the low income families that the food bank serves. The first time Sally and Emily volunteered, they asked lots of questions and enjoyed the can conveyer belt tremendously. The food bank volunteer manager had things well organized so the kids were engaged the entire time. In order to make the experience purposeful, their mom pointed out the families waiting in the lobby who were to receive the boxes of food. As they were leaving the food bank, the volunteer manager heard Sally say, “This was one of the best days of my life!” Her sister Emily decided to give the money she earned doing extra chores around the house to the food bank. Mom and Dad donated the equivalent of the family winter vacation money to the food bank also.
Service learning can be a parenting and teaching strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. Service learning also builds character and teaches civic responsibility as youth participate in service projects in education, public welfare, health, public safety or the environment. Families can volunteer together and reap all the benefits of service learning while making a memory.
Teaching service is most effective when children give something meaningful to them. An example of an age appropriate, meaningful service project for first and second graders is a teddy bear drive for abused children of domestic violence in shelters or hospitals.
Children can be encouraged to give a stuffed animal of their own that is in good shape or earn the money by doing household chores to make a purchase themselves. Children can also travel to the shelter to drop off the stuffed animals so that the “giving” is concrete.
Children can develop their own ideas about service projects that have special meaning to them. Older children may work together to sell candy or crafts at a profit to purchase items for less fortunate families such as children’s coats. Your family can vote on which causes and non-profits you want to support. Service learning studies show that children who serve are more likely to grow to become charitable adults.
Volunteering and giving can give your winter special meaning. Here are a few suggestions.
- Perhaps your children have had a grandparent die with cancer. It might be meaningful to plan a walk/ run for cancer research or donate their winter vacation money to a local hospital that has a tie to your family.
- Shovel snow in an elderly neighbor’s yard. Organize a kids’ pool of snow shoveling volunteers for elders in multiple neighborhoods.
- Organize and conduct a canned food drive at your child’s school together. (This may involve several pieces, announcing the food drive at various classrooms, making posters, decorating the collection boxes and finally taking the cans to the food pantry or food bank.)
- Walk dogs at the local humane society shelter. Conduct a penny drive to buy needed dog food and supplies.
- Collect new or like new books for the children’s wing of the hospital and delivering the books to the hospital auxiliary to distribute.
- Use your winter camp fees to buy school supplies for the second semester for children who cannot afford them. Often times children’s charities are given school supplies, clothes and shoes at the beginning of the year but children grow and have needs year round.
Working together as a family for others not only strengthens communities by helping the cause of your choice, but it also models good character and strengthens family bonds that can cast a beautiful, long winter’s shadow over a child’s charitable future.
Laura Reagan Porras is a family sociologist, parenting journalist and parenting coach. She can be reached for questions or comments through her parenting resource services, www.heart2heartparents.com. She is the mother of two volunteering daughters.