Despite their reputation for being self-centered creatures, young children are actually quite capable of showing compassion to those who are needy and vulnerable. Isn't it the very young, after all, who cheer the loudest when their heroes inevitably triumph over evil? And isn't it spectacular when our kids surprise us with their kindness and empathy, even when, just a few minutes prior, they were glaring and whining and stomping the floor? Yes, even the littlest children, no matter how boisterously they might howl for toys and gum and ice cream, understand, at least fundamentally, that there are others out there who are needier than they. Which is why community service, while not typically associated with youngsters, is a great way to foster kids' innate compassion. How better to encourage kids to think beyond themselves than by providing them with easy-to-understand, age-appropriate opportunities to give back to their communities? Not sure where to start? Why not try these five simple, kid-friendly community service suggestions, all focused on collecting and giving to those in need?
Collect and donate non-perishables to your local food bank or pantry
Find out, before you start collecting, the kinds of goods your local food pantry needs, and then begin by doing some inventory among your own shelves and cabinets. Then, once you've raided your own kitchen, you and your kids can ask friends, family members and neighbors if they have any non-perishable foods that they'd like to donate. Encourage your child, if she feels comfortable, to do most of the talking to potential donators, as she'll probably feel a surge of pride as she describes what she is doing. Imagine, too, how proud she'll feel when you drop off all of that much-needed food to the pantry.
Gather and give baby/kid stuff to a homeless shelter
Homeless shelters are often in desperate need of kids' clothes, diapers, formula and bottles, not to mention less-basic and less-considered items like board books, bikes and stacking toys. Kids generally feel pretty good about helping other kids, so encourage your child to consider the needs of a homeless child or baby, and then raid the toy box, the closet and the bookshelf. Start by donating gently used hand-me-downs (though some shelters, you should know, only accept new stuff) of your child's selection, and then consider doing a little shopping. For just a few dollars, you can snag a little baby food, a pack of underwear, and a couple of boxes of crayons -all things that will be very much appreciated by some little guys in need.
Give food and toys to an animal shelter
Animal-love is almost universal among children, which is why most kids so adore helping at-risk dogs and cats. Needs vary from shelter to shelter, but food, leashes, litter and treats are appreciated nearly everywhere. Allow your child-within reason-to choose how he'd like to help, and then begin collecting from stores and friends and anyone you can think of who'd like to contribute to the welfare of needy animals.
Donate beloved books to a hospital's pediatric unit
An easy, inexpensive way to help the needy is to empty the old bookshelf of retired books. Skip over books that have been scribbled or chewed on, and consider parting ways with a few old favorites. And if the hospital allows it, and if your child feels comfortable, maybe sit and share some stories with the young recipients. The patients will enjoy the attention and diversion, and your child (and you) will enjoy the feeling of brightening what might otherwise have been a sad and difficult day.
Provide school supplies to a local Head Start program
While all schools are often in need of supplies, Head Start programs, which generally serve the most economically vulnerable children, arguably need supplies more than anyone. Contact a Head Start program of your choice, and find out what, exactly, they need for the year. Then, when you go school supply shopping for your own child, buy a little extra for a kid in need. Encourage parents of other children to do the same, and, before long, you'll have a bundle of much-needed stuff to donate to the Head Start. As always, keep your child closely involved with your purchases and donations, so that she'll feel as if she's making a difference.
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