The research is unequivocal: When children spend time doing good for other people, they grow up to be healthier, happier and more caring. Super-simple service projects like these can help parents and grandparents build a habit of kindness in even the smallest children. Along with each project are questions to bring up while you work, to get little ones thinking about the value of generosity and compassion.
1. Send a Smile.
Ages 3 and up. Who can resist mucking around in the glue and construction paper? Together make a trip to your favorite craft store to pick up card-decorating supplies like stickers, stamps and markers. When you get home, visit sendkidstheworld.com; read a bit about the children who are very sick and eager for happy mail. Choose one or two, and create greeting cards for them. Include extra stickers or a handmade bookmark with each card, and mail them out.
IDEAS TO CHAT ABOUT: What would it feel like to be sick for a long time? What cheers you when you’re feeling sick? How do you think the child who receives your card will feel when he or she opens it?
2. Awesome Animal Toys.
Ages 4 and up. Helping animals is a surefire way to get kids excited about doing good. Create dog toys from leftover fleece strips or cat toys out of crew socks, using these simple instructions. Then head to your local humane society or animal shelter to drop off your creations and visit with the animals. Call ahead to be sure they can use the toys — and to find the best time to visit.
IDEAS TO CHAT ABOUT: Do you think animals have the same feelings as people? Why or why not? Why is it a good idea to help animals in need? What else can we do to help our non-human friends?
3. Firefighter Gratitude.
Ages 2-10. Here’s a chance to celebrate our heroes and thank them for their service. Decorate lunch bags with markers and stickers and fill them with treats. Add a decorated “thank you” card to each bag. Then walk or drive to the nearest fire station, deliver the bags, and perhaps get a tour or climb on the fire engine. You may want to call ahead to be sure it’s a good time for a visit.
IDEAS TO CHAT ABOUT: What do firefighters do that’s so important? Why is it important to thank the people in our community who help us? Who else could we thank?
4. Kindness Hunt.
Ages 3 and up. Plot some stealthy kindness activities over a pancake breakfast. Maybe you’ll tape quarters to a vending machine, or leave a book in a Little Free Library, or don gloves to pick up five pieces of litter. Here’s a list of ideas. Brainstorm some of your own as well. Print and decorate these nifty labels to leave at the scene of your generous acts.
IDEAS TO CHAT ABOUT: Which of these acts of kindness would you like someone to do for you? How would that feel? Do you think receiving an act of kindness makes people more likely to act kindly toward others?
5. For Your Bookworms.
Ages 6 and up. This project will let your young book lover share that love with a child in need. Contact Family-to-Family to be matched with a child living in poverty. You’ll receive the child’s name, age and reading level, so you can send him or her a new book each month for a year. After each bookstore trip to pick out the month’s book (perhaps something your child has read and loved), stop for cocoa and together write your young recipient a letter to accompany the book.
IDEAS TO CHAT ABOUT: How would you feel if you got a book in the mail each month? How can we know which books our recipient will like best? What kinds of things should we share in our letter? What kinds of questions should we ask?
For more ways to give back with children, check out the Pick a Project page on the Doing Good Together website. Also sign up for the free monthly listing of Twin Cities family-friendly volunteer opportunities.