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8 Ways to Raise Compassionate Kids During Back-to-School Season

200403300-001In just over a week my son will start kindergarten. He’s been looking forward to this next chapter in his education since the day he began pre-K and found out what the “K” stood for. As for me, I’m just a bit emotional.

Starting a new school is something I became a bit of an expert at when I was a kid. My family moved around quite a lot and by the time I graduated high school, I had been the “new kid” at nearly 10 different schools. One of the many things I learned from being the frequent new kid was how to quickly make friends. I was loud, funny, inclusive, and gave a lot of kids the chance to start a fresh friendship with a person who had no idea about the horrible, awful thing they did in the second grade.

I also always had extra pencils.

Not just ANY pencils, I had cool pencils. One year they were scented, another year they had giant fruit-shaped erasers; they were special and I shared them easily to anyone who needed one. My family was not on the highest bracket of financial success — heck we were living in my grandparent’s basement for a while there as my mom worked two jobs AND put herself through law school. But I never lacked school supplies and as much as she was able to, mom liked being able to give me extra in case other kids didn’t have anything.

Isn’t that what we do as moms? Instinctively, we know who doesn’t have and we provide. What do we do before we head out to the playground? We toss an extra snack pack or two into our totes, just in case our kid has a friend who needs a snack.

Now that we are this close from school starting, I wanted to talk to W about being compassionate and sharing. I also wanted to share some ideas with you in case you were looking for simple ways to teach compassion to your kids as they head back to school. This list should be seen as a jumping off place, suggestions —  you probably are already doing many of them!

8 Ways to Raise Compassionate Kids During Back-to-School Season:

1. Donate outgrown clothes

Gather up all of the clothes your children outgrew last year and over the summer. (Don’t forget to gather any shoes that still have use to them!) You can donate these to a shelter, a community center or church, or your school may even have a need for clothes. If you can organize them by size, you will make someone on the receiving end very happy.

2. Donate old backpacks and lunch bags

A lot of families (ours included) have a tradition of getting a new backpack at the start of every year. Chances are the one our kids used last year still has a lot of use to it! Empty out the bag and wash it (according to the directions). These backpacks will be welcome in many places! Domestic violence and homeless shelters in your city will have children who will be thrilled to have these.

3. Buy sunscreen on sale

At the end of the summer many retailers significantly mark down sunscreen. If you are able to take advantage of a sale, coupons, or in-store rewards, consider purchasing sunscreen and donating it to your community center. Do remember that sunscreen has an expiration date, so if the date is swiftly approaching, it’s probably not a great idea to buy in bulk.

4. Look for “buy one, give one” sales

One of the best things to happen in philanthropic retail (I have no idea if that is a word, but I am going with it!) is the concept of a purchase equating the gift of a service or product to someone in need. Toms shoes has been doing this for years. I recently wrote about a cookbook for families on SNAP that also participates in buy one, give one. Cora is another company that you can look into that follows this model. When you purchase organic feminine hygiene products from them, they also send a month’s supply of sanitary pads to a girl in a developing country so that she can stay in school while she gets her period.

5. Find out where your school has accounts

My son’s preschool had an account with Scholastic Books and every once in a while, the parents would get together and sort of pass the hat and then make a donation directly to the classroom’s book fund. Many schools and classrooms have accounts set up at various vendors. Make a note to find out where some of these accounts are at your next (or first!) parent’s night.

6. When buying school supplies — buy more

Most of us are not in a position to buy out an entire school supplies store, but I know if my kid’s shopping list says “two glue sticks,” I can buy a pack of four. If his list says one box of crayons, I can buy a few more. So much of the supplies we buy for school goes towards the collective classroom and any chance I have to add a bit more into that I will do it. One day I may not be able to buy W a glue stick, and I will hope another family shopped the same way I did.

7.  Get the neighborhood involved

If you have a lot of kids in your neighborhood, there are some great opportunities to help out families. Consider doing a clothing or backpack swap. Consider setting up a carpool. Consider setting up a coupon club. Simply exchanging emergency phone numbers and getting to know who the school-aged children in your neighborhood are is a big deal. Find out if any of the neighbors need help with fall chores or getting ready for winter.

8. Let your child know there is no “normal”

For many kids, going to school for the first time is their introduction to a brand new world. What our children know about family and home may not be what other children know about family and home. Kids will ask questions, they will want to share information, they will strive to be normal. Before school starts, it is a great time to talk to your kids about diversity and different cultures. It is important they know about respect and kindness. One of the biggest statements of angst I keep hearing from a parent group I am in is, “I am so worried about what the other kids will say.”

We all want kids who are compassionate, with big hearts, who are able to help others. Making giving and thoughtfulness part of your back-to-school routine will have a domino effect on the entire school year. Your kid will see the world as a place he or she can be a part of actively — that’s empowering!

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