5 Ways to Introduce Kids to Volunteering
By Ginny Figlar, KEEN word geek and mom
Growing up, my dad volunteered one workday a month, offering dental care to folks in need. Seeing him give his time to others made an impression on me. We never volunteered together as a family, but now that I am a parent, I really want to give my kids that experience so they learn more about their community and the world around them. So I often look for ways to include them when volunteering. And, to be honest, because of them (and working at KEEN!) I have learned so much about how to give back and be a better earthling and citizen.
Looking for ways to get started and donate your time as a family? Use our Volunteer Finder to search for volunteering opportunities near you. Here are some of the ways I’ve volunteered with my kids if you’re looking for some kid-friendly ideas:
Sorting food at a food bank
As a Girl Scout co-leader, I took my daughter and her troop to the Oregon Food Bank to sort dry goods and saw what a fun activity it was to do together. It was her first time volunteering, and mine, too! We weighed and bagged up dry beans, and each person played a role in the process. Some people weighed the beans while others tied up the bags and boxed them up, or restocked supplies. It was like a conveyor belt of doing good, and the kids loved owning their tasks. Since then we have been back several times with her younger brother.
What I loved: At the end of our shift, the staff told us how much food we sorted and how many people we helped feed. We learned that 1 in 4 people in Oregon, including kids, experience food insecurity, and that startling statistic made a lasting impression on all of us. I think being there and hearing about the problem made it much more real to them, and they bring it up often.
Making crafts to donate to a cause
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, we wanted to help any way we could — especially since my father-in-law grew up there, and we still have family members there. We came up with the idea of making and selling holiday dreamcatcher ornaments and donating the money to recovery efforts as a way to send “dreams to Puerto Rico.” Since then, my kids have also made cat toys that they’ve donated to the local animal shelter.
What I loved: In addition to raising $400, the kids learned more about their heritage and learned that anyone — even kids with pretty empty piggybanks — can help a cause by being creative and taking action.
Every summer, I use my KEEN service hours to work with The Crest at Willow Witt, a non-profit located on a working farm in the Cascade-Siskiyou Wilderness. This summer, my 10-year-old son and I camped there for a week and spent a day planting red-twigged dogwood and willow seedlings to help restore a wetland (previous owners used it for cattle grazing). My son loved pounding the tree stems with a mallet to loosen the bark for a more successful rooting.
What I loved: It was my first time planting trees, and it felt so good to give back to a corner of the world that means a lot to my family — and to make a lasting impact that we’ll see every time we go back. It’s like this special place will always have a piece of us there.
Creating hygiene kits for folks in need
One day my then-5th-grader came home with an assignment to create care kits for homeless members of the community. My son was inspired to participate, and both kids were excited to help collect items we already had and purchase supplemental supplies to create our kits. My daughter also wrote heartwarming handwritten notes for each one.
What I loved: My daughter handed one of her kits to a family with two very small children. We all simultaneously felt very good for helping them in this small way, but it was also painful to see children younger than them who were struggling to have basic things like food, shelter and hygiene supplies. It definitely made an impact on all of us.
Picking up litter
I learned about the #5minutebeachcleanup movement several years ago and thought it could be an enriching activity when taking day trips to the Oregon coast. While in Bandon, we also visited Washed Ashore, a nonprofit that turns plastic collected from the beach into amazing sculptures to raise awareness about plastic pollution. It inspired all of us to do something. If we didn’t have the foresight to pack cleanup bags, we would use an empty snack bag we found or brought on the trip. (I’ve learned to keep spare bags in the car!) One beach day, we picked up 100 cigarette butts. When we’re not at the beach, we bring a grabber tool while walking to school to help clean up our neighborhood.
What I loved: For kids, it’s like a treasure hunt for trash, and it’s a great way to get kids moving and engaged if they’re bored. In the process, they learn to leave places better than they found them and become more aware of the local ecosystem.
Giving back feels so good. Giving back while spending quality family time making memories with the future do-gooders of the world feels even better. Everyone wins when volunteering together!