School is out for the summer, but helping others doesn’t need to take a break. Summer is a great time to take advantage of those rare free moments to help out around your neighborhood. While your summer calendar may be filled with vacations, camps, sports, and trips to the pool, it is also the perfect time to start (or continue) volunteering as a family. Volunteering not only benefits the community you are serving, it strengthens family bonds and builds empathy in children. And, once you start the habit of volunteering, it will be easier to stick with for the rest of the year.
Non-profits and organizations are in need of volunteers now more than ever. According to AmeriCorps, “the rate of formal volunteering through organizations dropped by seven percentage points, from 30 percent in 2019 to 23.2 percent in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic.” However, the good news is that 51 percent of the population reports informally helping others during that same time period.
Why is volunteering with kids important?
Children who volunteer encounter situations and cultures they may not typically experience, which helps them develop compassion towards others. They learn to appreciate the privileges they have themselves and become more understanding of others.
And, perhaps most importantly, kids who start volunteering at a young age are much more likely to continue the practice into adulthood, helping them to become kind and caring adults.
“If you want something to be important in a child’s life, you have to practice it. We help our kids practice their academics, their musical instruments, and their sports because we want to raise well-rounded kids. But, I know that, more than anything, parents want to raise kind kids, so I think it is most important to help our kids practice kindness and to emphasize service to the community,” says MiaLisa Millares, Executive Director of Doing Good Together (DGT), a Minnesota-based organization that works to make volunteering and service, along with daily kindness, easy for every family.
According to Millares, volunteering with your children allows you to pass on your values, spend time together, garner the health benefits of helping others, and make a meaningful and visible impact, all while making memories with your family.
Talking about what is important to your family can also help you decide which volunteer opportunities to choose. Need some help deciding what to focus on? Try kick-starting your conversation with DGT’s printable worksheets that will guide you in thinking about how best to use your family’s time, talents and resources.
Another benefit to volunteering is learning new skills. Whether it’s organizing an event, teaching others, raising money for a cause, or completing a craft project, your children will develop important lifelong expertise.
“By starting young, children learn to incorporate kindness into everyday life,” Millares says.
How to Get Started
Want to volunteer, but don’t know where to begin? Look no further than DGT’s Summer of Kindness Bucket List. There are two versions of this list: one for those new to volunteer projects and one for more experienced do-gooders. Projects on this list include everything from filling your neighborhood with sidewalk chalk drawings to volunteering to cook a meal at a shelter. There is something for everyone. Don’t feel pressure to complete every activity on this list; pick and choose what works for your family. There is space on the list to add your own ideas, as well.
If you are looking for opportunities at organizations in your community, start by subscribing to DGT’s free monthly listings of creative family-friendly volunteer projects. Don’t see something that fits your schedule? Check out these tips for finding family-friendly volunteer opportunities near you.
Want something even simpler? There are many projects that you can complete in your own home that will still help teach kids about helping others! Check out Doing Good Together’s Pick a Project page to find the perfect project for your family.
Read and Reflect
After you’ve completed your volunteer project, be sure to take some time to reflect with your family. This family time allows children to help process emotions that arise, discuss important social issues, and learn how to apply what they learned to future volunteer opportunities. Reading books is also a terrific way to teach children about why it is important to help others and about so many other important things!
No matter what volunteer opportunity you choose to do, you are helping your children become big-hearted, thoughtful, caring adults.