With a little bit of effort this season, the children in your family will have as much fun giving as getting. By weaving an extra dollop of compassion into the winter holidays, you’ll provide an antidote to the season’s focus on materialism and commercialism and remind yourself of the joy that empathy and sharing can bring to your celebrations. These project ideas and book suggestions will also spark important conversations with children about your family’s commitment to the common good.
- Sock it to ’em.
Socks are the most needed (and often least donated) item of clothing for people experiencing homelessness. Stop by a local discount store and let your children or grandchildren pick out one or more pairs to donate. Hang a clothesline across your living room, attach the socks from each family member, then begin collecting socks from relatives, friends, neighbors and work colleagues. When the holidays end, pull down your trove of socks and donate them a local shelter. Don’t forget to take a photo of the sock line to share with your helpers.
- Book to share: The Teddy Bear by David McPhail. A tale of love and generosity. When a man who is homeless finds a boy’s beloved teddy bear, the child’s unselfish reaction is heartwarming.
- The gift of a gift.
What a joy it would be if every child received a gift this season. You can help by donating to a toy drive or sponsoring a child or family for gift giving. (To find a local organization that sponsors these opportunities, along with details, see Doing Good Together’s December listing.) Take your own child or grandchild along to choose the gifts. Talk about the fact that some people don’t have enough money for “extras” like presents after paying for food, rent and medical bills.
- Book to share: Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen. This is the sweet story of a family trying to get by during a time of financial hardship.
- The gift of time.
Millions of people spend the holidays alone. You can make a difference by simply paying a visit. Call a nearby care facility and ask who would benefit from some holiday visitors—or how else you might lend a hand. Talk to your children about what to expect and bring along a favorite toy, book or homemade gift to share. Or, if your kids have been practicing a cheery holiday song on the piano (or other instrument), have them perform it for the residents. Here are some additional tips for making your family’s visit meaningful and fun.
- Book to share: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. A small boy befriends the residents of a nearby retirement home and tries to help his favorite, Miss Nancy, find her lost memory.
- Serve the underserved.
Whether you celebrate with lots of family or a handful of friends, carve out an hour or two during your gathering to do an at-home service project. There are lots of possibilities for creating something together to donate: assembling care kits, making sandwiches, downsizing rice and beans, tying no-sew fleece blankets, creating pet toys or putting together home starter kits for new refugees.
- Book to share: The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau. Beautiful illustrations highlight the inspiring messages of generosity and kindness in this lovely fairy tale-like story.
- Feed the need.
This simple, month-long project is a fun counting exercise that provides powerful lessons on poverty and hunger during the holiday season. Take a few minutes each day (for 30 days) to count something different in your home (say, stuffed animals or cans of food). Place that many coins in a bowl or jar. At the end of 30 days, donate this money to a hunger relief organization that you choose together with the children.
- Book to share: Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt. Sofia tries to help a friend whose refrigerator is empty. A realistic and inspiring story of friendship.
- Bake it forward.
Love holiday baking? Share that love by making extra cookies, pies or cakes to donate. Your family can deliver them to a nearby nursing home, shelter or care facility. Or drop cookies off at the Aliveness Project, a program serving the HIV/AIDS community. For extra fun, decorate a personalized plate to hold you baked gifts.
- Book to share: Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven. A delightful story in rhyme about how one woman’s bread baking brings sun and happiness to a town that is snowy and cold.
If you’d like to add a giving component to other holidays, try these favorites: Trick or Treat for UNICEF at Halloween, hold a card-making party for sick or lonely people at Valentine’s Day, or, each year on your children’s or grandchildren’s birthday, create a no-sew fleece blanket to donate to the hospital where they were born.
When you come together for the greater good, you make your holiday more special, bring your family closer — and make the world a better place, too.
The Minneapolis Foundation’s Family Philanthropy Resource Center is proud to partner with Doing Good Together to bring you creative ideas for incorporating “giving back” into your family traditions.
For more ideas for giving back with your children or grandchildren — all year long — check out the Pick a Project page on the Doing Good Together website. Also be sure sign up for the FREE monthly listing of Twin Cities family-friendly volunteer opportunities.