I just want to start by saying: our family has never done a service project together. If you’re thinking, “me either,” that’s consoling, because maybe I’m not the only one. I’ll admit it has not been high on my priority list.
Sure, we’ve brought the occasional meal to a family friend welcoming a new baby, but otherwise, I have two-year-old triplets, and am expecting a fourth child in January, so I always just reasoned that nothing we could do would actually be helpful to anyone anyway.
I always imagined our family would volunteer in future years at soup kitchens, shelters, and many other organizations … but the visions in my head were always visions of teenagers. The idea of service projects was way on the back burner for me.
But on September 11, I saw on Instagram that a friend with three little ones, all under 4, took donuts to the fire station as a thank you to first responders. This quick little social media story shook up my visions of teenagers working in official service project capacities and really made me think.
Not only did their family make the firemen smile on that day — a tough and sad day for everyone — but she was able to show her kids, her still very little kids, the importance of saying thank you to those who work so hard for the safety of our community, and establish a family tradition of 9/11 remembrance.
When I saw that post, it hit me that being aware of our community needs as a family is really important, and it’s possible to help from a lot younger age than I had previously imagined. As Brene Brown said, “compassion is not a virtue, it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have — it’s something we choose to practice.”
I do know that I am about to have four little ones under 3, and that still leaves most organized service projects off the table for us for a little while (because in all honesty, most days I’m lucky if I get a shower in).
But the thing is, while our little kids might not be able to do big things, our little kids can do little things—and that’s equally as important.
Our little ones can learn to spread kindness and compassion through little acts of love and care for those around us, even from a very young age, no matter what our circumstances are in life. While organized service projects might have to wait, committing to practicing compassion can start any time.
While our little kids might not be able to do big things, our little kids can do little things—and that’s equally as important.
On further research, I was surprised that there are actually quite a few family service projects that can be done with kids 8 and under. Here are a few favorite candidates that I bookmarked that you might enjoy doing with your kids too:
- Put on gloves and pick up litter in your neighborhood. This is not only an opportunity to improve the place where you live, for yourself and for your neighbors, but to show kids the problem with littering…first hand. This doesn’t have to be an all day project — for a toddler, even picking up one piece of litter as you stumble across it, and making it a talking point, can go a long way.
- Create small care packages for the homeless. Next time you see someone asking for money on the street corner, pass them a little pre-made care package of a few necessities like warm socks, a water bottle, hand wipes, a protein bar. If your kids are old enough they can help you construct the little care bundle, and help you keep an eye on your backstock so you don’t run out.
- Visit nursing homes. Check in with the nursing home on scheduled times for visitors, or maybe even find a group you can tag along with for the first trip or two — but nothing brings a smile to a senior’s face like a conversation with a child. Besides, your child may learn about something new from someone older and wiser! This is especially a sweet thing to do during the Advent season—you could even bring a basket of candy canes for little ones to pass out.
- Donate baby items and toys to a women’s shelter or pregnancy crisis center. Your kids can help you select items to give to those have less right now — even if it’s just one item for each trip you take.
- Ask an elderly neighbor if you can help with raking, shoveling snow, or another yard project (or if you know them well enough and think this would go over well, do it secretly together one morning).
- Bring coffee or a card to your teacher, just because, just to say an extra thank you. Most of us aren’t recognized for our everyday tasks, but it’s really nice when someone goes out of their way to do something nice or acknowledge your hard work. And your child’s teacher almost certainly doesn’t hear “thank you” enough!
- Look for projects you can do that also connect with your child’s interests. Do your kids love animals? See if you can participate in a zoo clean-up day, or volunteer to walk an elderly neighbor’s (friendly) dog. Do they love cooking? Helping mom prepare dinner for the family is a type of service, but if your child is old enough, you can also consider signing up for a meal train and getting your child involved in the planning and prep. Crafty? Think about channeling that creativity to make beautiful cards to send to our soldiers, children in hospitals or seniors. Realizing that our passion and our interests can be used to help others is never a bad thing.
I know that these projects won’t go perfectly, that the cards will have mistakes and the sidewalk might have a few broken snowballs on it and the kids won’t want to pick up litter probably at all.
However, if any of our efforts bring a smile to someone’s face, and serve as an opportunity to learn about empathy, awareness, responsibility, and kindness, I’m on board. We might not be swooping in to solve any big world problems, but when it comes to kindness and compassion, every little bit helps.