With all the focus on presents, food and time off from school, it’s easy for children to forget that the holidays are actually about the pleasures of giving, not receiving. Instill a lifetime love of service in your kids by building a family tradition of philanthropy, which simply means giving your time, talent or treasure to help others.
You can begin by reinforcing the qualities that support philanthropy, like compassion and teamwork. Learn about those in your local community or across the world who are struggling with hunger and poverty and talk to your children about ways your family can help. Tap into your children’s natural interests, whether it’s in elephants or sports – donate to a zoo or volunteer at a youth sports league. And make time at Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa to highlight your family’s beliefs as they relate to giving to the broader community.
Here are 5 ways to teach your family about giving, then 7 ways you can help out – in December and beyond.
Lessons on giving:
1. Give thanks
At Thanksgiving, many families go around the table and list some of the things they’re grateful for, both large and small. Carry this spirit on throughout the year with a weekly dinner ritual. At the table, take a moment for each family member to fill in the blank: “This week, I’m thankful for______.” Another option: create a Thanksgiving countdown calendar and name a reason to be thankful as you check off the days.
2. Teach by example…
Inspire your children by reading to them about kids who actually have changed the world. Ana Dodson started Peruvian Hearts when she was 11; the organization now provides daily lunch and other support services for hundreds of poverty-stricken children in Peru. At the age of 4, Alex Scott held her first lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer research. Alex’s Lemonade Stand has raised millions of dollars for the cause since. These kids can become great role models for your children.
3. …And set an example
Just as it’s important to eat your own vegetables if you want your children to eat theirs, making time in your hectic life for volunteering demonstrates its value. Find a cause you’re passionate about and devote time to it – even if it’s just one day a year. If you have a little one, bring her along. Many volunteer opportunities, like sorting clothes at a clothing bank, can be done with a baby nestled in a sling.
4. Read a good book
Books have the power to impart memorable life lessons to your children. Smaller kids will enjoy picture books about generosity and community, such as The Mitten Tree, the classic Stone Soup or We Planted a Tree. If your children are reading chapter books, suggest the wonderful life stories of philanthropists, like Andrew Carnegie.
5. Make and bake
When you’re baking holiday treats, make some extra and bring them down the street to a neighbor, perhaps in a package wrapped with your toddler’s latest finger-painted masterpiece. Gestures like this – as well as shoveling a pregnant neighbor’s walk or raking an elderly neighbor’s leaves – build strong communities and help young children see the simple ways they, too, can help others.
How you can give:
1. Create a family philanthropy plan
Sit down as a family and ask your kids which issues are important to them, then search online for a nonprofit that supports those issues. (Charity Navigator and Guidestar are good places to start your search). Tell your children that you will earmark some of your annual charitable giving to support their areas of interest, perhaps by offering a matching grant – for each dollar they save for their charity of choice, you’ll match it with one dollar (or five).
2. Give meaningful gifts
This holiday, consider setting a family rule that all presents must do some good. Ten Thousand Villages offers dozens of fair-trade gifts, like these adorable candy-cane candles made in Honduras. You can also find presents that support museums, help women get out of poverty or put music education back in schools.
3. Host a volunteering play date
Instead of a group trip to the park or indoor play gym, host a play date with a community-focused, holiday-themed activity. Volunteering with other families is fun and gives kids a chance to bond over something other than Legos. Some ideas: Make paper snowflakes to decorate a local nursing home or put together kits of basic home healthcare supplies that can be sent overseas.
4. Give to a family in need
Shelters and emergency service providers across the country offer opportunities to sponsor needy families during the holidays. Take your kids on a special shopping trip and let them choose gifts for the family you’ll be helping out. As you wrap the presents, talk to your children about all the things your family is lucky to have. You can find participating shelters in your community through the National Coalition for the Homeless.
5. Organize a community food drive…
Gathering food for donation is a concrete introduction to giving that even young children can partake in. Go beyond simply cleaning out your pantry and host a food drive at your school or church. Invite families to donate healthy non-perishables – peanut butter and hearty soups are good choices – or ask for cash donations. Because food pantries buy in bulk, they can purchase significantly more food for a dollar than individuals can at a supermarket.
6. …Or organize a book drive
Conduct a book drive for a local literacy or Head Start program. Help young children sort through their books to find a few gently used ones to donate, then take a trip to the local bookstore to pick out some new ones. Older kids who want to take it one step further can volunteer to read aloud to preschoolers through organizations such as Reach Out and Read.
7. Support the troops
Being far away from family during the holidays is tough – but it’s especially difficult for servicemen and women overseas. Consider making a donation to the USO or sending a care package. You can also check out the Corporation for National and Community Service for ideas, such as organizing a holiday card drive for troops.