We all try to raise good kids. Why not take it one step further and raise kids to do good? Volunteering is a wonderful way to teach your kids (and yourself!) important values while spending quality time together. No matter what your interests—or how busy your schedule—community service can fit into your life. Our ages-and-stages guide below offers a bunch of volunteering ideas and links to specific projects to fit your family's needs. Helping others will give you and your kids an amazing sense of empowerment, and remind you of your altruistic college days, back before the house, the kids, the job, the car….Preschoolers: 4- to 5-year olds
is the time when kids begin to show sympathy and compassion for others, and enjoy doing simple chores. Try one of these easy service projects:
Color a Smile: Have your preschooler create drawings
to brighten a senior's day. Deliver them to a local care facility, or mail them to Color A Smile
, an organization that distributes children's drawings to nursing homes and Meals on Wheels
Delightful Deliveries: Offer a nutritious lunch, a few minutes of conversation and a safety check on homebound individuals by volunteering to deliver meals. It only takes about an hour, and you can volunteer weekly or as infrequently as once a month. Visit Meals on Wheels
for your local program.
Grandparents Galore: Keep a senior company by visiting a nursing home
or care facility with your child. Arrange a visit and make art projects
with the residents, tell them jokes
, or help out in a game of bingo
. You can even bring your pets
. You can also help out the elderly in your own neighborhood by making blackout boxes
Crafts for a Cause: Create a blanket for a child in need of warmth. Find the simple pattern for a no-sew fleece blanket as well as donation information at Binky Patrol
. Other crafty possibilities include making hats
for chemotherapy patients, drawing pictures
for seniors, making cards
for ill children, baking a cake
for a child in need or decorating goody bags
for first responders.
Kids: 6- to 8-year olds
At this stage, kids are generally excited about community service. But it's important to respect your child's opinions by deciding together which project to undertake. Here are some possibilities:
Box Tops for Education
: Earn cash for your school by clipping box tops! Find them on Betty Crocker® Fruit Flavored Snacks, cereals and thousands of other products.
Birthday Beneficence: This year skip the extravagant birthday bash and ask the guests at your kid's party to focus on others instead. Decorate and laminate place mats for Meals on Wheels
recipients, decorate and fill birthday bags
for impoverished kids, join the Peter Pan Birthday Club
or set up a lemonade stand
to raise money for charity. For other ideas, visit Charity Guide's Web site
Collections That Count: Many nonprofits are eager for in-kind contributions. Ask your kid what kinds of stuff might be fun to collect and donate. Toys for a family shelter? Baby gear
for a crisis nursery? Cat and dog toys for the Humane Society
? Used eyeglasses
? Contact the appropriate agency to see what's needed. Then help your child publicize the drive by creating and handing out flyers, sending an email to family and friends, or putting a notice in the local paper.
Preteens: 9- to 12-year olds
Your adolescent probably feels all grown up by now, but many organizations won't allow kids in this age group to volunteer without adult supervision. Think about opportunities your kid can pursue autonomously, or ones that include family and peers. Some possibilities:
Cooking Class: Gather a group of families and work together to cook and serve a meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. This is a great way to expand your kid's world and break down stereotypes.
Fun Fundraisers: Help your kid round up friends to organize a neighborhood fundraiser for a cause they embrace. Consider a community carnival, a play or talent show or a bake or craft sale.
Planet Protection: Get your couch potato to clean up their (and everyone else's) act with the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative
. Contact your local environmental organization, parks department or visit Volunteer Match
for other green ideas.
Teens: 13- to 19-year olds
If your teen has begun to think about career interests, encourage your child to find a volunteer opportunity related to that field. If your teen hasn't (don't worry, it's totally normal), suggest one of these projects. Note: Be sure to check with the individual organizations regarding age restrictions:
Build a Dream: Be a construction volunteer (no skills required) and assist in building or repairing homes for low-income folks. Contact Habitat for Humanity
or Rebuilding Together
for more information.
Great Games: Got an athlete? The Special Olympics
depends heavily on volunteers. Positions include being an athlete escort, a scorekeeper or timer, an award presenter, a cheerleader or a food service helper. Each state has its own schedule of events.
Volunteer Vacation: Cross-cultural volunteer travel
can be life-changing. Most service-oriented vacations don't require any specific skills, just enthusiasm, open-mindedness and a willingness to pay your own expenses. Volunteers might work with young kids, build and renovate structures or take on environmental projects. Family-friendly organizations such as Global Citizens Network
have options for family trips. Or, if your teen is old enough, look for a group that offers youth trips.
When children (and adults!) spend time reflecting on their volunteer work, they acquire a deeper understanding of the world around them. Help spark those conversations by asking probing questions
, reading related books
together or recording your volunteer experiences in a photo album or journal.