We all know that volunteering can be good for the soul, but our busy lifestyles can make it easy to say, “I just don’t have the time.”
Between work, school, extracurricular activities, cleaning the house, keeping the kids fed and trying to carve out some quality family time, volunteering can fall to the bottom of the priority list. One solution can be combining your family time with volunteering at a local organization. Donating your time to others in need teaches children a plethora of important skills and life lessons.
“Volunteering offers many benefits,” says Katie Dodd, head of partnerships with Volunteer Connector, a free online platform that connects volunteers with their favorite causes.
“It teaches your family new skills, helps families connect and meet people from diverse backgrounds.” She adds that volunteering helps teach children the importance of creating bonds with both their family and community.
Katie says depending on the organization, children can start volunteering with their parents as young as 5 but most prefer that a child is at least 8 years old. By twelve years old, kids can start volunteering without a parent if they have parental permission.
“It helps parents teach their children important values and the importance of giving,” adds Katie. “It also provides children with the opportunity to feel gratification through giving.”
She adds that giving back does not have to be part of an organized effort and families can donate their time in a more informal way.
Engaging in volunteering opportunities like picking up litter, or helping with yard work for a neighbor, can include children of any age.
Volunteering can be the perfect opportunity to show (not just tell) your children the values you hold dear as a family.
They can also take ownership of the cause if you allow them to help choose what organization you give your time to. Do you have an animal lover in the family? The local shelter might be the best place to look for opportunities. Is one of your children an avid reader? You could reach out to your local library or Calgary Reads. Have an aspiring chef on your hands? Maybe the food bank is the place to give back.
Empathy is an imperative part of children’s development and volunteering for and with others who are different from them helps them understand others’ needs.
“Children who volunteer have an opportunity to learn… compassion, empathy, hard work, social skills, and responsibility,” says Katie.
It may also be helpful to teach children about the inequities in your community and why some people experience hardship while others do not, she adds.
“This will help them to have empathy for the people they serve in their communities without feeling superior.”
Showing up with an open mind and a willingness to support your community in ways that may be new or different to what you are used to is also an important factor to keep in mind when signing up for a volunteer gig.
Although we tend to associate volunteering with work, if you choose something you enjoy doing, your activity can be a lot of fun.
It is often challenging to find events that are enjoyable for the whole family (especially if the children are spread out in age).
Volunteering at an agreed upon organization can provide opportunities to spend quality time together while each member of the family shines in the area of their own strength.
Donating their time to others who are depending on them can help your children understand that committing to a cause and sticking with it is important.
“If you are going to volunteer as a family, try to make it a regular occurrence, not just something you do at Christmas time,” says Katie.
“This will teach your children that the needs in the community are constant. It also provides reliable support to the organization you are volunteering for.”
In addition to these 'soft skills,' volunteering opportunities can also teach your children a number of valuable hard skills like carpentry, technology and organization.
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