Parents wouldn’t be parents if they didn’t have goals and dreams for their children. And for most parents, one of the many goals is to raise children who are kind and compassionate—individuals who care about the needs of others. But how to go about it?

Many parents these days make volunteering a priority in their lives, and they model this attitude for their children. But there are still many parents who feel unable to build volunteering into their routine, despite the fact that they care deeply about those in need. There are just too many responsibilities involved with running the household, raising children, and keeping up with work, and it can be difficult to imagine how volunteering could be squeezed into an already jam-packed schedule.

The good news? There are many worthwhile and important volunteering efforts that don’t require a lot of time, such as writing a “thank you” card to a soldier or drawing a picture for a family experiencing difficulty. And there are countless organizations with the specific mission of helping families help others. These organizations recognize the pressures and pulls on families today, and they make it easy (and enticing) for parents to get involved and bring their children along. In fact, there are quite a few organizations that are specifically geared toward children’s volunteer efforts.

Kids Care Clubs, of the HandsOn Network, is one such program developing the spirit of volunteering in elementary and middle school children. Kathy Saulitis, Senior Director of youth and family programs, says the key to children growing into engaged and responsible adults is that they understand the social issues in the world and develop compassion for the people affected by these issues. “This knowledge and empathy,” Saulitis says, “will motivate kids to take action in their communities and will start them on a lifelong path of service.”

Issues such as poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and the environment are regularly discussed among thoughtful adults, but not so much among children. “The kids of today will inherit these problems and must work toward solutions,” says Saulitis. “If kids are educated about these issues and begin to take action early in life, there is a high probability that solutions will come more quickly.”

Some parents worry, however, that their children are too young to know about the real tragedies in the world. How can parents involve their young children in civic action and volunteer efforts if the kids aren’t equipped intellectually and emotionally to deal with these issues? Joseph Buckhalt, Professor of Counseling Psychology and School Psychology at Auburn University, says most kids will take these things in stride. “In my experience, children have some deep human wisdom about them,” Buckhalt says. “There was an accidental drowning of a six year old at our club’s pool last week. My wife and I decided to discuss it, as we were certain our kids would hear about it at school. We discussed the circumstances with our kids and agreed that everyone needs to be careful and look out for each other at the pool.”

Buckhalt believes having children do something constructive is helpful. “Everyone feels helpless in the face of tragedy, and doing anything, making a contribution, writing a condolence card, discussing how some (but not all) tragedies can be prevented, are all helpful.”

There are endless ways parents can get their children involved in efforts to help others. Collecting toys and clothing to give to Goodwill is routine for many families, and a valid starting point to contributing. Research suggests, though, that parents should encourage their children to accompany them to Goodwill or the hospital and take part in distributing the items. It’s important for children to be hands-on and to get a visual of how their contributions affect others.

Kathy Saulitis says hands-on service projects are important for children. “Volunteering is a hands-on way for children to learn the values of kindness, compassion, tolerance, community responsibility, and good citizenship.”

Want some ideas to get started? The following organizations provide an excellent resource for parents looking to help their children make a difference: