Volunteering as a family offers benefits today and tomorrow

In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, many parents are looking for meaningful opportunities to spend quality time with their children. Volunteering as a family can be rewarding and enjoyable but don’t be surprised if your kids don’t immediately embrace the concept of giving back. Seeing it as just another chore, children may sometimes reject the idea of volunteer work, but persistence can really pay off.

Volunteering as a family is a great way to teach kids the value of kindness, empathy and compassion and studies show that adults who began volunteering as youth are twice as likely to volunteer as those who did not volunteer when they were younger¹. What’s more, those who volunteered as youth and whose parents also volunteered became the most generous in terms of giving their time as adults².

It might take some time to find the right fit for your family but with some research and patience, you will find a volunteer activity that works for all of you. Here are some tips to get started:

Choose volunteer activities based on your child’s interests – When first introduced to the concept of volunteering, many kids assume it will be boring so try to choose an activity that is tied to their interests. For example, if they love animals, helping out at a local shelter might get them excited about giving back.

Make it fun – What kid doesn’t like to get dirty? Time will fly by if you spend time planting trees or creating a community garden. Communities and municipalities often hold clean-up days which can involve all members of the family.

Involve kids in the decision – Scan volunteer opportunities with your kids and let them help choose what you’ll do. Even better, ask them to come up with their own volunteer idea and then go online to find a match. For volunteer opportunities in your area, visit volunteermatch.org

Make it age-appropriate – Kids may get frustrated if they can’t complete the tasks involved so choose something that works for each age. Young children can practice their sorting and counting skills at a food bank while older ones can have conversations with residents at a seniors’ home.

Be realistic – Follow through on volunteer commitments so you don’t send mixed signals to your kids. Be realistic about your schedule and what your family can handle and even if you only volunteer once a year during the holidays, do it with passion.

Unplug from technology – Parents are the main role models for their children so make sure you’re fully engaged when you volunteer. Turn off electronic devices and enjoy some tech-free volunteer time with your kids.

It might take a while to get your perfect family volunteering activity up and running but even if you have a bumpy start, you will prepare your kids for a lifetime of giving.

1Engaging Youth in Lifelong Service: Findings and Recommendations for Encouraging a Tradition of Voluntary Action Among America’s Youth, 2002
2Study – Youth Helping America, November 2005

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Louise Armstrong

Louise Armstrong is a Toronto-based freelance writer and content manager who blogs about life and work at www.louisearmstrong.com