This time of year, lots of classrooms and moms groups put together community-focused projects to coincide with Thanksgiving feasts or wintertime celebrations. For younger kids, the best charitable activities are those that connect with their everyday experiences or interests, from a love of animals to the understanding that everyone needs food to thrive.
My kids have gathered canned beans for food drives, planted at a community gardens, collected change for world hunger relief, and cleaned up a bike path. Trash pick up was the biggest hit; if only cleaning up their own toys was as much fun as a hunt for plastic bottles and candy wrappers!
Check out 7 easy ways for groups of kids to come together and support their community after the jump. (These projects could work for a preschool, playgroup, or kindergarten class.)
1. Fill the Cans
A canned food drive is a reliable community project. If you’re ready for something a little different this year, consider taking the next step: collect empty (rinsed out) cans, one per child. Take some time to talk, as a group, about people who are struggling to put food on the table. Then, ask each child to bring back the can with spare change inside of it. Local food pantries can often purchase over four times the food, per dollar, that you can at the supermarket, meaning each donation goes that much further to feeding the estimated one in six Americans who are food insecure. Once cans are full, stack them up so kids can see the meals that will be eaten because of their generosity.
Looking for a hunger relief group in your community? Visit Feeding America’s website.
2. Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere
Take an hour to spruce up a local park or trail. When my oldest kids were two and three, our family joined others for a volunteer day and helped clean up a section of a local bike path, then enjoyed a fall picnic. All the kids loved the trash treasure hunt so much that they fought over who got to use the grabbers to pick up trash. Just remember to ask everyone to bring a pair of gloves or mittens to keep their hands clean.
3. Warm Hands, Warm Hearts
Host a coat, gloves, and hats drive for a local homeless shelter. These may be gently used, or new. It’s also a great way to put that packed lost-and-found box to good use. As you collect the items, give each child a construction paper mitten to decorate as a symbol of their contribution.
4. Book Drive
Ask each child to bring a favorite book – new or gently used – to share with children who don’t have as many books at home. Books can then be donated to local Reach Out and Read affiliates, a national nonprofit that builds early literacy, or to a local homeless shelter that serves families.
5. International Awareness
If your group is ready for a longer-term, more in depth project, Heifer International offers a variety of resources designed to help kids build literacy, learn about where food comes from, and help out people around the world. Heifer’s popular gift catalog is another way to raise awareness about people who live on the other side of the globe.
6. Diaper Drive
Lots of toddlers and preschoolers are very interested in babies, and having a diaper drive is one way to capitalize on that interest. It provides an opportunity to talk about all the different ways we can help out our neighbors, from playing gently with baby siblings to sharing diapers with babies (and parents) who need them. Diapers are an item in high demand at many food pantries and shelters – they’re not covered by food stamps, and every parent knows the mind-boggling number of diapers one tiny baby can go through in a day.
7. The World’s Biggest Class Pet
For about $1 per classmate, your child’s class can be the proud parents of the largest class pet on earth: a blue whale. Or, if whales aren’t your style, most local zoos, such as the Denver Zoo, offer opportunities for groups of kids to adopt an animal, from warthogs to wolves. Print out a big picture of the chosen animal and cut it up into one piece per child. Then, put up a large poster on the wall with an outline of your new class buddy. As each child brings in a small contribution, give him or her a piece of the animal to paste up on the poster. Soon enough, you’ll have all the pieces in place, and have a new buddy to name – one that won’t have to be sent home with anyone over winter break.
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