r’s note: Today I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Shannon Wiersbitzky who will be sharing five ways to teach your kids to give back.
Please add ways YOU teach your children to give back in the comments!
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved in helping others. It was something my grandparents did, something I saw my parents doing, and therefore, it became a part of my life too. When I became a mother (I’ve got two boys), I wanted to figure out a way to include them as well.
If giving back is important to you, part of who you are and what you stand for, then you’ve probably asked yourself these questions: How can I get my children involved? How can I make it fun? What can we do as a family?
Here are five ideas for getting your kids into giving back:
1. Start small – With very young children, teaching charity might mean bringing baked goods or a meal to a sick friend. It could be drawing a get-well picture. Or it could mean giving away an unused toy. For my boys, baking brownies (which they love) and then giving them away to neighbors, was a first step in practicing kindness. They were thrilled to ring doorbells of several neighbors and receive wonderful smiles and words of praise from those who answered. It was a great way to begin.
2. Find a cause they can relate to – Does your family have a particular hobby or activity you do together? If the outdoors are your thing, then find a way to help a local park. Or maybe you love to cook together. If so, spending time at a soup kitchen might be right for you. Unfortunately, many families have been personally impacted by an illness or disease. This can be a good place to start as well. An Aunt of mine had breast cancer. My kids had heard us discussing her illness. One day they announced they wanted to help. We baked cookies and held a sale in our kitchen. Social media helped get the word out. If you pick a cause that involves an illness, be prepared for questions from your child. And be prepared to answer them openly and honestly. My kids and I talked a lot about cancer. I was surprised at how much they already knew, from other kids at school, and bits they’d heard on television.
3. Find an age-appropriate activity – You might decide to simply raise money. If so, there are endless ways to do that: car washes, walks, or bike rides. Raising money can be great, but it can also be hard for very young kids to understand exactly how money can help others. If your children are too young to make the connection, you might try an activity that is more tangible. Something that allows them to see a result quickly. Think planting trees, painting a wall, or packing boxes. Last year, for our Martin Luther King Jr. day of service, my boys and I spent the morning at a library, recording books on tape. What fun we had! Reading, making up funny voices, taking turns flipping the pages. I took them out to lunch and while we ate, we talked about our favorite parts. It wasn’t just a day of giving back, it became a memory.
4. Involve your children’s friends (and by extension, the parents) – If your kids are hesitant to participate in something new, try involving their friends. Participating in a walk or a ride can be more fun with a group! And if the kids are involved, their parents might get involved too, which means more people who can spread the word. When my son was six, he added a hand-written sentence at the bottom of his birthday party invitation. “Please bring two cans of soup for the hungry.” As his friends arrived, he happily loaded the cans into the back of our truck. The next day, we delivered several bags of soup to the local food bank. All because he was willing to ask.
5. Participate as a family – Find activities that allow you to participate together. My boys and I have hammered nails for a Habitat For Humanity house after Hurricane Katrina, we’ve shoveled mulch around trees at a national park, and we’ve worked an assembly line where each of us had the task of packing a specific food item into a box. Each of these events worked just fine, despite our age difference.
In writing, one of the golden rules is “show, don’t tell”. The same is true of community service. If you’re involved, they’ll get involved. And when you’re involved together….well, you’re together…and that can be a great thing.
Shannon Wiersbitzky is a published middle grade fiction author, teller of stories, and early morning writer (really early!). Her book, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, was a 2013 Walter Allen White Award nominee. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, three fish whose names she can never remember, and one quirky rescue dog named Benson. Connect with Shannon on Facebook, Twitter, and at shannonwiersbitzky.com.