One of the best ways to bond as a family is to volunteer together, says Jenny Friedman, author of Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools and Communities.
Most of the giving that families do doesn’t involve the children, says Friedman, of Minneapolis. “Parents often write a check and they’re done,” she says.
While monetary donations always are needed, Friedman says serving others not only benefits the community but also can enrich family life and spark deep discussions. “Parents and kids talk about things they wouldn’t have talked about without the experience,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to discuss values and what’s important in life.”
Friedman suggests parents let kids take the lead when choosing a volunteer project. “If kids do something that matters to them, they will find more meaning in it and will be more likely to stick with it,” she says.
Here are some goodwill activities that families can do together:
- Make artwork or greeting cards and deliver them to a local nursing home or a children’s or veterans hospital.
- Organize a cereal drive for homeless shelters or drives for toys or baby items for women’s shelters.
- Make fleece blankets for Project Linus, an organization that distributes them to children’s hospitals.
- Walk dogs at an animal shelter or serve as a foster family for animals awaiting adoption.
- Hold a fundraiser such as a backyard carnival or a lemonade stand, and give the money to a charitable organization.
- Visit a nursing home or an assisted living center and have lunch with or read a book to a senior.
- Volunteer to clean up a local park, trail, stream or roadside.
- Organize a community garden and give the harvest to homeless shelters.
- Deliver food through a program such as Meals on Wheels; recipients often enjoy it when a child comes along.
A learning experience
Whatever you do, make sure you reflect with your child afterward. “Don’t consider this a task to be checked off your to-do list,” Friedman says. “Talk about who benefited, how you made a difference, why it mattered, and why part of life is giving back.”
She suggests that parents talk about being a giver and a receiver. “We all have something we can offer,” she says. “And we all need help sometimes. It’s good for kids to see and be part of both sides.”
Volunteering also can help dispel stereotypes. “Kids get a chance to spend time with people they might not interact with on a regular basis—people of a different age, ethnicity or income level,” Friedman says. “Through their experience, they often learn that deep down these people aren’t that different than they are. It’s a way to teach kids compassion, kindness and empathy for others.”
Volunteering as a family can have benefits for generations to come. “Kids who volunteer are more likely to become adults who volunteer,” Friedman says. “They learn that true happiness doesn’t come from that next thing they are going to buy. It comes from doing things that matter—and that’s a powerful lesson for us all.”