Do you want to teach your children the importance of giving back and caring for others? A great way to do this, and spend quality time together, is through the act of volunteering as a family.
As you share your time and resources, you will not only be helping others in your community, but you will also find that volunteering together is an incredibly enriching experience for both young and old alike.
You might love the idea of serving together, but maybe you are unsure where to begin. Georgine Getty, executive director of Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen & Social Center in Cincinnati, shares some of the benefits of volunteering with children, as well as some tips on how to get started.
What are some of the benefits of volunteering with children?
The main job of a parent is to create healthy, happy, competent adults. I believe the empathy and understanding experienced through volunteering is a key component to every well-lived life. By volunteering as a family, not only are you leading by example, but you also create the space for deeper conversations about your values and why you should — and how you can — express those values in the world.
If parents are interested in volunteering as a family, how do they begin?
I would recommend starting with your child. What is important to them? What are the issues they are concerned about? How much experience do they have interacting with new situations? Especially if the children are young, it might be best to start with projects they can do at home, or in their school, like a canned food drive, craft projects, drawing or writing cards of support. Speak with them about who their project is benefiting.
As they get older, introduce them to on-site volunteering, such as helping in a soup kitchen, picking up litter, caring for animals at a shelter. Make sure to talk with your child before. What are they hoping to accomplish? What are they concerned or worried about? Continue the conversation after. What did they learn? What was different than they expected? What would they do differently next time? I would also recommend trying many different activities. Your child might be deeply concerned about one issue, but find another activity more fitting to their talent or personal sense of meaning.
Are there places you recommend families volunteer?
Start with the agencies or causes that are important to your family, and then do your research! Many agencies — my own included — have age limits due to liability issues. Most agencies will have clear guidelines on their websites. Again, if your child is not able to volunteer on-site, get creative and come up with activities that would benefit a cause off-site. Form a relationship with an agency — most of us are thrilled to discuss our needs and brainstorm ways that you and your child may be able to help.
What else should parents consider about volunteering?
Like everything in parenting, communication is key! Help your child understand what to expect from the experience, and manage their expectations. Please do not use non-profits to show your children “how good they have it.” While people do have different levels of privilege, it is more beneficial to your child — and less hurtful for those they are serving — to encourage your kid to look for the strength of the people they meet rather than the deficits. Remind them of times they have needed help with something and use this as a space to teach compassion over judgement.
Give your child the space to honestly discuss their experience after you have served. Remember: They are learning! They might have concerns that you can help them understand. Volunteering almost always touches on big, complicated and troubling issues, such as hunger, unsheltered animals, diseases, etcetera. This can be a great way for you to help guide your kids into a more complete sense of the complexity of the world, at the pace you know they’re comfortable with.