Have you noticed that people who actively contribute to their communities lead such fulfilling lives? I’m sure you agree: sharing resources with people or causes about which you feel passionately is incredibly rewarding.
As an educator I often consider how to help children identify and appreciate the many contributions they can make to their families, friends, neighbors, and the greater community. Children learn through observation and experience. It’s important for us to share with them our stories of community involvement and to discuss the ways we contribute. But it is equally essential for children to have hands-on experiences that teach them about engagement and giving in a deeper way. When children identify—and help solve—a real need, their sense of fulfillment is tremendous.
Helping Children Get Involved
Match your family’s interests and values with opportunities to give to the community. There are so many choices! Passion drives the commitment to justice, service, and engagement. The greater your child’s interest in a project, the richer the impact.
- Young children understand hunger and the importance of food. Stress that food is not always available to some people. Shop with your child; choose healthy foods your that your child likes and would like to share with others. Put these items in the cart with your family’s groceries. At home, have your child help you pack your donation and deliver it to a local food bank. Take a look at Project Zero’s Family Dinner Project for more “dinner-oriented acts of giving.”
- Older children can cull their playthings for toys (in excellent condition) they no longer use, but still consider “theirs.” Setting aside some of these toys for others in need will help your child realize that they have something meaningful to give.
- Next birthday, emphasize giving over receiving. Suggest that guests bring new children’s books to donate to a family shelter. If possible, involve your child in the delivery of the books.
- If your child’s allowance is intended to help teach fiscal responsibility, include lessons in giving as well as saving and spending. This helps “contributing” become part of your child’s financial vocabulary. The discussion about giving is more important than the amount that your child contributes and can be revisited when allowance increases.
- Children can contribute more than money and belongings! Does your child love animals? Adopt a shelter pet: your child can help an animal while learning about responsibility and the joy of caring. The next step might be to determine the animal shelter’s volunteer needs and involve your older child in rescue work.
- Your child’s artistic or musical skills can be a powerful gift. Small recitals of music and singing are welcome treats for seniors in nursing homes. Begin with someone you already know and let things evolve, as the environment becomes comfortable for your child. Your child may also come to appreciate the value of intergenerational friendships.
- Consider a family service project. Solicit ideas from every member, including your child. Prepare and serve meals for the homeless, handle repairs for housebound neighbors, tutor nor teach English as a second language. Build up to a major commitment such as such as a family “Habitat for Humanity” trip; it can be a life-changing experience for teens.
- Discuss your own community service activities. If you are excited about a cause, don’t hide your excitement and what you are learning from these experiences. Your passion and commitment will inspire your child.
- Take your child with you when you perform acts of generosity, like donating blood or helping elderly neighbors after a storm. Talk about why you do these things.
So far, I have described family-centered activities; I believe this is where the spirit of giving first develops. However, schools also play an important role when it comes to teaching about community engagement. More on that topic next time!