Helping Hands: Six Ways Young Children Can Volunteer During the Lockdown & Summer Break
Whether it was outside painting a house at summer camp in Kentucky or inside bagging kids’ lunches on a cold winter day in Michigan, I have always enjoyed volunteering in creative ways. Being indoors and having so much unstructured time presents a unique challenge for any volunteer, but where there is a will, there is a way! Most children want to help and do good. Helping others has also been proven to have a positive effect on our lives (Arches and Fleming, 2006; Drever, 2010; Low et al, 2007; NYA, 2007; Taylor et al, 2003). Research shows that there are many ways that volunteering is good for children:
Teaches valuable hard and soft skills
Helps children stay physically and mentally active
Can enhance self esteem and sense of purpose
Helps strengthen social networks to buffer stress and reduce risk of disease
Now is an opportune time to get those good feelings flowing and give back to others. If you are a parent with children at home, volunteering your time, talent, and treasures will model positive behavior that they will follow now and post-Covid19.
Consider these safe and thoughtful ways to reach out to help others:
1. For the Avid Writer
Several cities, universities, and organizations are collecting citizen accounts of Covid19 experiences to preserve for future generations. We are living through history! Encourage your child to keep a journal for his or her own personal record. Research your local area should you want to share a Covid19 account and make a historical contribution. Your writer can also make and mail postcards or cards to the sick and shut-in. Even a short and simple note can go a long way.
2. For the Conversationalist
The talkative child can become someone’s new conversation partner! There are those, especially the sick or elderly, who would love a phone call or a video chat with a youngster. Keeping someone company is a compassionate way to give back to those in isolation. Likewise, there are other learners who would love to do a tandem partnership with your child to practice their language skills. Share your knowledge and spread cultural understanding by pursuing tandem conversations. Use word of mouth or social media to find other like-minded kids who might want to have an adult-supervised chat. Why not explore sites such as Students of the World or Pen Pal World?
3. For the Generous Foodie
We don’t need to wait for the holidays to take a look in the pantry and donate food to those in need. Now is as good a time as any to see if there is anything on the shelf that no one is eating. If you can spare it, there is definitely someone out there who can use it! Put your child in charge: grab a bag, have him or her fill it up, and drop it off at your local food pantry. While they’re rummaging through the cupboard, let them get inspired by the ingredients. Why not experiment with new recipes and share any extra food with the neighbors and friends working from home or living alone? Whether you are lightening their load or just letting them know someone was thinking about them, they will be grateful for your tasty kindness!
4. For the Stylish Artist
Creativity knows no bounds. If your child’s artistic outlet is fashion, cleaning out that closest to donate old or outgrown clothes can turn into a fun project! Your child can create, organize, and label entire outfits for their future owners. Size 16 jeans and a medium T-shirt for summer can be matched with a long-sleeved shirt to wear underneath for fall and a jacket to wear over them for winter. Adding accessories makes it even more fun and is sure to bring joy to a kid in need of new clothes. If your child can knit/crochet/sew, throw in a handmade scarf or blanket! If your kiddo enjoys jewelry-making or creating duct-tape wallets, these can be great additions that will make someone’s day when they go to look for basic clothing at the local clothing closet or shelter. Likewise, selling such homemade art online can raise funds for your child’s favorite charity!
5. For the Exercise Enthusiast
Is your child active and bustling with energy? He or she might like the idea of doing a personal Walk-a-Thon or Bike-a-Thon! Let him or her pick a favorite cause and ask the adults in their life how much they would be willing to donate to a charity supporting that cause per mile walked or biked. (Tip: If your child is not so active, he or she could also do a personal Read-a-Thon or Math-a-Thon that raises money based on pages/problems read/completed).
If you can, go ahead and take your child to run errands for others who cannot get out; walk the neighbor’s dog or check off items on the quarantined friend’s grocery list. If you know someone who is at high-risk, you can protect their health by doing some of these things that they cannot currently do.
6. For the Environmentalist
Does your child love the great outdoors and aspire to be the next Jane Goodall? Get out there and plant some seeds! Planting trees in the forest or fruits and vegetables in the community garden is a great way to care for the environment and positively impact this generation and future ones. (Tip: If you don’t have or can’t buy seeds, try replanting your leftovers!) Another easy way to make an immediate and visible difference is to pick up litter that could be right outside your door/courtyard or local park. Unfortunately, it is common to see garbage on the side of the road or along sidewalks on our way to work or school. You can donate your free time now to collect it safely (with gloves and/or a trash picker stick) and put it in trash cans, recycling bins, or compost piles.
Remember to volunteer responsibly. Feel free to volunteer if you and your children are all safe and are not putting others at-risk. Continue to practice good hygiene while volunteering and follow the guidelines of washing hands and physical distancing regulations. Keep others informed of what you are doing and pace yourself by not taking on too much at once. Enjoy volunteering and feel good knowing that your children are making a difference!
About the author Erika Schmitt is a school psychologist intern at Linden Global Learning. She is committed to eliminating educational disparities, supporting vulnerable populations, and promoting social justice in schools. She holds a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Applied Statistics, and a M.S. in School Psychology with a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from Grand Valley State University. For the past 2 years, Erika has taught as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, training student-teachers at São Paulo State University and the Federal University of Paraná in Brazil. She has worked with children and adults in home, school, or community settings in the USA, Spain, and Brazil. Erika began her career as an English tutor and later a social worker for refugee youth from Central America. As a graduate assistant in the Campus Links program at Grand Valley State University, she helped students with autism advance their study and social skills in order to successfully navigate college life. After completing her M.S., she began working as a school psychologist intern at Muskegon Public Schools in Michigan. There she provided services for children with ADHD, autism, cognitive impairment, early developmental delay, learning disorder, speech and language impairment, and trauma. She also conducted assessments for the district’s English/Spanish two-way immersion program. In her work with youth and families, Erika takes a behavioral and ecological approach.