By Heath Reid
etting kids involved in a community through volunteering is a great way to raise caring and compassionate adults. Many adults find volunteer opportunities based on their own skills, but they often overlook the contributions that children can make as well. Kids of all ages can volunteer in several ways that will benefit everyone involved.
Volunteer Opportunities for Young Children
There is no rule on how old a child must be to begin volunteering. Even infants and toddlers can contribute to the community in unique ways. Finding the perfect way for your entire family to volunteer can include your young child.
For example, nursing homes and retirement centers often welcome visitors to bring smiles to the faces of those who live there. Who doesn’t love a cuddly infant snuggle? Toddlers can take small gifts to the elderly and practice social skills by engaging with those who live in the homes.
Young children love animals. Many dogs and cat shelters are in need of people to walk animals or simply play with them regularly. Preschool-aged children will greatly enjoy tossing a ball for a new litter of puppies or tickling kittens with feathers. The animals at the shelter will benefit from the socialization with children, and the kids will recognize needs in the community.
Volunteering in the outdoors is a great idea for young children as well. Parks and recreational areas often have seasonal clean-up days where people from the community are encouraged to bring bags and pick up trash. This benefits the environment as well as anyone who wants to use the facilities throughout the year.
It’s best to engage very young children in volunteer activities in which the whole family can take part. This teaches them that volunteering is a normal and natural part of life for everyone.
Elementary-Aged Children Often Enjoy Active Volunteer Engagements
Children ages 5 through 10 are just beginning to understand that volunteering benefits others as well as themselves. This is the perfect age to integrate volunteering into their lives as a habit. Emphasize the importance of helping others and doing something good for other people and the community as a whole.
Some of the best volunteer activities for children in kindergarten through sixth grade keep the kids active. Events like the Special Olympics frequently need child volunteers to help participants in their sporting events. Children can partner with the athletes to learn a new activity and assist the Olympian to reach the finish line. Volunteers will learn about themselves as well as other children at the same time.
Volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity can also provide 4an active engagement for elementary-aged children. This will give kids the opportunity to build houses for people who cannot afford to buy their own homes. Activities like this get kids moving and also give children perspective into a section of society that they might not otherwise see.
Elementary-aged children have so much energy that it is beneficial to give them an outlet through volunteering. Parents should ask children what types of activities they’d like to participate in and try to find opportunities that will keep kids’ interests.
Children in Middle School Want to Be Social While Volunteering
Youth aged 11 and 12 often want to be around their friends at all times. Parents can encourage volunteering by finding group activities for children and their friends.
For example, middle school-aged children can get together and help people in the community with yard work, painting or other household chores. This is often great for people who are disabled or elderly and don’t have the funds to hire someone for these often expensive tasks. Raking leaves, spreading mulch and planting flowers will give kids a sense of accomplishment when they can step back and see the results of their hard work.
Kids who are in middle school are developing a sense of independence and their own opinions. They benefit from being given opportunities to build their leadership skills. Parents might encourage them to teach technical skills to people who are younger or older than they are. Many people in the community have difficulty learning how to operate a computer, and kids aged 11 and 12 are the perfect age to sit down with them and walk them through the process.
Teens Volunteering Can Match Their Interests
Teens are so busy with school, friends and extracurricular activities that many kids ages 13 to 17 don’t think of volunteering as a worthwhile endeavor. However, parents can encourage volunteering that matches the interests of teens and their friends. Teens may even volunteer alongside their friends to promote social skills and to bond over positive activities.
For example, if a teen is interested in woodworking, they may be interested in building birdhouses for a local nature park. You can get in contact with wildlife personnel and ask if they have any tasks for a teen who is interested in using a hammer to create unique projects. Teens who are good with younger children may be encouraged to take part in programs that mentor kids younger than them. They might work with a school to tutor elementary children or teach kids how to play an instrument. Teens who begin working with children learn leadership skills and confidence that transfer into their adult lives.
Older Teens Can Volunteer Throughout the Community
Teens ages 18 and 19 have a plethora of volunteer opportunities throughout the community. They may be given additional responsibilities to guide younger volunteers as well.
Anyone aged 18 or older who wants to make a big difference in the life of a young child may opt to take part in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program. This program requires at least 12 hours of time per month for at least one year with a child—the little brother or little sister. Big brothers and big sisters often help younger children avoid difficult situations, serve as good role models and encourage their littles to take part in the community when they get older.
Kids of All Ages Should Be Encouraged to Volunteer
Volunteering is not limited by age. Literally, anyone can give their time to their community and people in need. Parents, teachers and other role models should not only encourage volunteering but also take part to lead by example