Volunteering is a selfless act that has a tremendous impact on the community and also on the health of the volunteer. While volunteering is a social good that preserves the community, roughly only 25% of Americans dedicate their time to volunteering. Fewer people are volunteering every year. In fact, 15 years ago the percentage of Americans volunteering was nearly 30%. Still a small percent, but quite a bit larger than today’s participation. The most likely adults to volunteer are those who volunteered in childhood. Therefore, it is crucial to help find volunteer opportunities for kids and encourage them to give back at an early age.
When and Why Should Your Child Start Volunteering
While there is no legal age requirement for anyone to begin volunteering, kids will gain the most out of a project when they are able to understand the work they are doing and how it is making a difference in their community. Volunteering, especially at a young age, has an abundance of benefits on the mindset of the volunteer as well as their physical health.
Service opportunities teach kids essential skills like long-term planning, how to work with a group, how to interact with a diverse demographic, and an increased ability to define and solve complex problems. Children are the most influenced in infancy and early childhood, making it a very beneficial time for children to observe and take part in volunteering.
How to Introduce Your Kids to Volunteering
Volunteering should be introduced and practiced as a family activity until children are old enough to safely and effectively volunteer on their own. When volunteering is practiced as a family, the children are more likely to accept giving back as an important part of their lives. If you want your child to value volunteering at a later age, making the commitment to regularly volunteer as a family is an important key. Family volunteering ensures that your kids don’t feel singled out and prevents the activity from feeling like a punishment.
Decide if your family will volunteer for a one-time cause or a repeat organization. One-time projects allow children to discover what they enjoy and don’t enjoy doing whereas a repeat organization allows kids to establish a routine volunteering pattern. Inviting another family or your child’s friend to volunteer with you is another great way to make the volunteering more fun and meaningful. If you do not know where to volunteer, research local volunteering centers or programs in your community. If you describe your location, interests, and ages of your children the organization should direct you towards an optimal project.
Best Volunteer Opportunities for Kids
While there are countless ways our young children can give back to their communities, here are some easily accessible ideas:
- Donate to a Food Pantry. Have your child pick out one food item every time you go to the grocery store. After collecting a few items, take your child to a food pantry and allow them to donate their food.
- Walk to Fight Disease. Take your child to a walk that raises money and awareness for organizations and causes that raise money for disease research.
- Make and Distribute Gift Boxes or Care Packages. You and your child can fill boxes with snacks, candy, games or clothes and donate them to homeless shelters or children’s hospitals.
- Visit a Patient at a Nursing Home. Many elderly individuals are lonely and want a friend to keep them company. Your child will brighten their day and gain experience working with elderly individuals.
- Volunteer at an Animal Shelter. Your child can better the lives of abandoned cats or dogs while also learning how to interact with animals. For example, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay offers a “Paws for Literacy” program for kids ages 5-12 to help promote literacy while comforting homeless pets. The program allows kids to practice reading out loud to a safe audience, and the animals love the extra attention they receive from the young scholars. It’s a win-win!
- Deliver Meals on Wheels. Take your children around town delivering hot meals or care packages to the homeless or starving families.
- Clean Up Trash from Your Neighborhood or Local Park. Arguably the easiest way to volunteer. You and your child can go for a walk and remove any litter you see lying around the community.
Volunteering for Adolescents
As children grow, they are going to need and want to volunteer in more mature and meaningful ways. Adolescents need to find a volunteer project or organization that is meaningful to them, enjoyable and worthy of their time. The project or organization that your child volunteers with should have personal meaning. This will give purpose and reason to the work they are doing.
For example, teens with relatives or friends who have battled or are battling cancer may want to volunteer for an organization that raises awareness and funds for cancer research. The volunteer work your child chooses should peak their interests or hobbies. If your child is into arts and crafts or drawing, perhaps they would be interested in painting a mural for the community. Finally, the time your child gives needs to be worthwhile. If your child is unable to see any positive outcomes from how they are giving back, they may feel like they are wasting their time and become disinterested.
If you are new to volunteering and don’t know where to start, research and contact local volunteer organizations who should be able to give you direction. With over one and a half million registered nonprofit organizations in the U.S., there is bound to be a volunteer project for every age and every area of interest. Volunteering with your child is not only a great bonding experience, it will also encourage them to seek out volunteering opportunities throughout their lives.