The concept of helping others and compassion can be taught to children from kindergarten age and older. Volunteering can become a new project within your home, branching out into the community. Be careful not to coerce a child into volunteering for something she is not interested in. Instead, present children with a variety of potential activities. Here are a few to try.
Give away discards
Whether the circumstances involve a natural disaster or helping your local homeless shelter, people are always in need of clothing, household items, and toys. Involve your children in choosing what clothing to keep and what to discard in their own closets. The same goes for toys. Let them help in boxing and taking the discarded items to the collection posts. Discuss how some children are not as fortunate to have these things and how we can help them with our outgrown discards. Do the same in the kitchen with extra canned goods for a food bank.
Visit the elderly in nursing homes
Gather your children and their friends for an art session at your home to make homemade cards, and then let them distribute the cards and sing a few songs to the elderly. Another project is making “pet rocks.” The children can use felt scraps, yarn pieces, pipe cleaners, feathers, fake fur, and such to turn a smooth stone into a little critter. These can be used as small gifts that the elders can cherish. There are many items that the children can make and leave to cheer the residents. Find a neighborhood nursing home where you can adopt these residents as surrogate abuelos and abuelas.
Grow a family garden
Some Latina families grow gardens each year. Teach the children how valuable the earth’s soil, sun, and rain are in growing food. Encourage them to participate in the chores of gardening, like weeding and watering. During harvest time, share the extra fruit and vegetables with a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
Treat the birds
Let children make bird treats by using pine cones or empty toilet paper tubes. Invite the children to spread peanut butter all over the cone or tube using a plastic spoon or knife. Then roll this feeder in birdseed. Attach strings to these feeders as hangers and place them on limbs of trees or bushes. Contact a local aviary to see if it would like donations of the bird feeders.
Encourage donations from a child’s allowance
Discuss with your family how charitable donations help good causes. If your child is willing, ask her to write a letter to accompany each contribution. For example, one child might write, “Please use this money to help save the whales” sent to Greenpeace or “Please use this money to help children with Leukemia” sent to the Leukemia Society of America. Most charities will send thank-you notes back to the child, and this will reinforce the lessons in giving.
It’s never too early to teach children about helping others. To find additional volunteer opportunities, contact local churches, synagogues, schools, youth clubs, or your local government.