Teaching children to volunteer

NORTH COUNTY – Volunteering is a great way for people to give back to their communities. It’s also a great way for parents to instill character in their children.

When kids volunteer, they learn lessons about responsibility while also learning how enjoyable it can be to help the less fortunate. Kids who volunteer early in life are more likely to do so throughout their lives, and that lifetime of service can be invaluable.

The right volunteering opportunity for a child often depends on the child’s age, as some opportunities are better suited to younger children while others are tailor-made for teenagers.

The following are a few age-appropriate ideas that can help get kids excited about volunteering and giving back to their neighborhoods.

Elementary school children When kids reach elementary school, parents should introduce them to volunteering. Volunteering activities for school-aged kids should be simple, such as accompanying their parents to food banks where kids can help feed the homeless and less fortunate. Kids with grandparents living in assisted living facilities can read to residents at the facility or bring them homemade arts and crafts or even foods they helped prepare (just be sure to clear any items with the facility’s medical staff before distributing). These tasks are simple, and kids won’t feel nervous when accompanied by Mom and Dad.

Middle school children When kids reach middle school, they might not feel it’s necessary for Mom and Dad to tag along as much. This is perfectly alright, and it’s a great time for kids to branch out and choose some volunteer activities of their own. Instead of accompanying kids to the food bank, let them work a shift on their own. Kids who have been volunteering since early childhood might have some volunteering goals of their own by the time they reach middle school, so don’t insist they continue with current activities if there’s something else sparking their interest. Kids might want to help an elderly neighbor around the house, such as shopping for groceries or taking care of their property. Encourage such ideas, and expect kids to want to exercise some independence when they reach middle school.

High school students High school students tend to have busy schedules, but those who have been volunteering since childhood will likely find a way to continue doing so. Teenagers tend to have more specific interests than younger children, and parents can encourage teens to incorporate those interests into their volunteering. For example, kids who love sports might be able to work with the local sports and recreation center to coach younger athletes. Or kids who excel in the classroom can tutor younger students.

Volunteering can look good on a high school student’s resume when the time comes to apply for college, but parents should be careful that their high school-aged children don’t stretch themselves too thin with extracurricular activities. Encourage volunteering but not at the expense of schoolwork.

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