As a mom, one of the most valuable gifts I can give my children is to teach them to serve others. But how do we serve with young children? Most organizations have age limits for their volunteers, and while donating money is a legitimate way to help, a more tangible lesson often sticks better with kids. A few years ago, I found myself in this exact dilemma. My kids were 7, 5, and 2. They were exhibiting signs of the entitlement culture that surrounds us. I wanted to find ways to build a stronger family and stronger character in my children, but I couldn’t find a volunteer organization that would let my kids serve with me and my husband.
Our solution was to create our own ways to serve. I sat down with my kids and encouraged them to think of ways they could help others. Before I knew it, we had almost a full page of ideas, and we began looking for opportunities to put them into action. We have loved using our list—sometimes by planning a day of service in advance, sometimes just by seeing an opportunity and seizing it. If you’re looking for ways to serve with your children, here are just a few ideas to get you started.
1. Begin within the family
If you want your child to value and serve others, they need to start with the others in their own home. It can be as simple as treating each other with respect. Our attitudes, words, and actions affect the people around us, for better or worse. Show them how a family can work together for the benefit of everyone—setting the table together gets dinner ready faster, saying kind words and having a good attitude makes the others in their family happy and builds relationships. You can even challenge them to do random acts of kindness for others in the family!
2. Bake cookies
Cookies can be delivered to your local police or fire department, a pastor or mentor, a neighbor, or a friend. You can even deliver them without leaving your home by giving them to the mailman, garbage workers, or other service workers who visit your home. Throw in a handwritten note, and you have definitely made someone’s day!
3. Gift cards
One day, my family and I decided to forego eating out for a while, and, instead, we bought a stack of $5 gift cards to McDonald’s. Then while we were running errands, I would let the kids look for someone they wanted to bless with a gift card. People were amazed at the sweetness of my 5-year-old telling them, “We’d really like to bring a smile to your face today, so this is a gift card to my favorite restaurant.” Truly, I saw more than one tear that day.
4. Pick up the tab
While at a restaurant, pick another table whose bill you’d like to pay (anonymously). The kids will love choosing just the right person/family/couple, and it teaches them doing good can feel good even when you don’t get a “thank you.” And if a meal is too big for the current budget, this blessing works just as well in the Starbucks drive-through.
5. Toys for kids in need
Operation Christmas Child is one of our favorite partners, and it’s a great project families can do together at home or church that teaches the power of giving. To learn more about OCC and how to participate before National Collection Day, you can find information here. Take your kids to the dollar store and let them pick out toys and/or coloring books, then pack them in a shoe box and send to kids in third world countries. You could also deliver toys to a local children’s hospital or child services department (to be given to children entering foster care).
6. Homemade pictures/cards
This idea is simple, but people are absolutely touched by a handmade gift from a child. Drop them in the mail or hand-deliver them to neighbors, loved ones, or even strangers in the grocery store!
7. Visit a nursing home
Throw a deck of cards or board game into your purse, and pick a spot in the lobby of a local assisted living facility or nursing home. Your children—and more importantly, your time—will be a tremendous blessing to the residents, and chances are they will be a blessing to you, too.
8. Ask your kids
Every single idea on this list came from my own children! Kids are a wealth of ideas, and they will take more ownership if they are given input into the plan.
The lessons learned by serving are priceless: hard work, putting someone else’s needs first, even truly seeing someone enough to know what their needs are. And as if that weren’t enough, serving together builds relationships in a way that no evening of board games, movies, or other quality family time ever could.
What are some of your favorite ways to serve with your kids?
Katy Epling is a writer and speaker who loves to share about motherhood, special needs parenting, faith, and more. She and her husband Jon live in northeast Ohio with their three wonderful children.