One of the best ways to find a valuable volunteering opportunity for your kid is to keep it simple: Ask what she cares about, and go from there. You don’t want your kid to see her act of charity as a chore or obligation. The goal of volunteering should be to foster a healthy appreciation for giving and encourage a sense of charity. While donating money to a worthy cause is a great form of giving back, for example, it doesn’t truly get your kid involved. Here are some creative, hands-on forms of volunteer work to suit every kind of kid:
The Chef in Training. For the kid who loves cooking, help her prepare food to give to friends, family members, neighbors, or to donate to a food bank or homeless shelter. Try something different than your standard cookies—granola, for example, is healthy, easy to make, and stays fresh for a long time.
The Talkative Kid. Set up a free hot chocolate and coffee stand, where your child can chat with a few strangers (under your supervision, of course) and help them through a cold winter day. To make it extra adventurous, set up in a downtown area or a highly trafficked street where you can to offer your warm refreshments to the homeless.
The Musician. The local senior center is always a good place for a kid to show off his musical talents. Caroling in a group is usually a crowd pleaser during the holidays, but don’t hesitate to let your kid bring his violin or guitar in to offer some cheerful melodies to the older generation.
The Tech Wizard. Kids often know their way around the Internet better than anyone else in their families. Encourage your techie to help older family members or folks at the senior center set up a Facebook account or solve whatever computer issues they may have. During the holiday season, helping Grandma connect with loved ones via social networking could be the best gift your child can give!
The Responsible Citizen. You don’t need to wait until Earth Day to do something good for the environment. Organize a clean-up effort of a local waterway or public park. Get in contact with city government or environmental groups to see what areas might need the most attention.
The Brainy Kid. If your kid’s a book lover, set up a time for her to read to a younger kid, such as at a daycare, library, or local learning center. For a student excelling in another subject, have her help young ones do their homework, or practice with worksheets and flashcards.
The Animal Lover. Get in contact with a local animal shelter to see if your kid can lend a helping hand. Tasks like tidying up the office or scrubbing animal cages can allow even younger children who don’t meet minimum age requirements to be around animals. For something low-key, offer to walk a neighbor’s dog. It might just free up that busy neighbor to do a little online shopping or gift wrapping.
The Go-Big Kid. To go above and beyond, and make an impact your kid can clearly see, sponsor a family! Charity organizations can match you up with a nearby family in the need. The family writes a list of things they need during the season, and you buy them. Chances are your kid will end up appreciating what she has year-round, and it’s a great way to put the season of expensive presents in perspective.
The Artist. If your child’s a bit too shy or too young to go face-to-face with strangers, she can exercise some generosity by crafting awesome artwork to give away. Christmas tree ornaments or blank greeting cards may be particularly appropriate gifts that keep on giving.
The Kid Who’s Out of Ideas. Looking a truly random act of kindness? Step 1: Take your kid to the grocery store and pick out some balloons and flowers. Step 2: Head down to a hospital or senior center. Step 3: Walk your kid from room to room dropping off a balloon or flower to each person. Step 4: Smile!
A word about timing. People who work with charities will tell you that they get lots of volunteer help around the holidays, but that it sharply drops off once the new year starts. Don’t feel you have to squeeze your family’s volunteer efforts into an already busy holiday season. Instead, make a family pledge to volunteer in the coming year, when charities and people in need could use the help even more.
There are so many ways to give back and too many charity organizations to list in a single article. Knowing where to start can be a challenge. If you’re stuck, try VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit that can conveniently connect you with a worthy cause in your area.