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January 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Pre-Schoolers

Introducing preschoolers to volunteering

Volunteering with your preschooler

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It’s never too early to introduce your preschooler to the concept of giving and serving others. From the age of 3 or 4, children begin to understand feelings and develop a sense of empathy, making it an ideal age for your child to start participating in activities and events to help others.

“The advantage of starting early is that giving back becomes an automatic and deeply embedded family habit,” says Jenny Friedman, executive director of the Doing Good Together foundation and author of “Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities.” “Plus, children learn that the world is simply a better place when we help out one another.”

Consider these six tips to get your preschooler into the spirit of giving.

Follow the fun

Your child will better remember and enjoy her first volunteer experiences if they’re tied to activities she loves. The next time your daughter wants to make cookies, whip up a couple of extra batches to donate to the bake sale at her older sibling’s school. Is your child an animal lover? Visit the local shelter together to learn how you can help.

According to Friedman, whose foundation created the Big Hearted Families initiative to encourage volunteering, “Engaging in service together as a family not only makes together time more meaningful, but also helps kids and strengthens families.”

Donate and learn

Whether you’re donating your time, money, or goods, discuss your family’s efforts with your preschooler. Explain that the coins she tossed into a donation box will help feed someone who is hungry. Talk about how the old clothes she helped bag up and drop off at a collection point will help keep someone her age warm in winter.

When discussing such issues with young children, a gentle approach is best. Be sure to explain that the families you are helping will be OK, especially if your preschooler voices concern for those in need.

Race away

Attend local charity races with your child, especially to cheer on friends and other family members who are participating in the event. Alternatively, register your child to walk a portion of a race with you or check locally for “kids only” fun runs and walks that benefit a range of causes.

During the past few years, Avery U., a mom of two, encouraged her young daughter to participate in an annual charity fun run held in memory of two children lost in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“At age 5, my daughter now clearly connects tsunamis and disaster with suffering,” she says. “I hope that doing the fun run again next spring will help her see that we can do something positive in response to suffering.”

Respond together

Identify how to help in your community or region, especially when a disaster or tragedy strikes close to home. Propose ways your family might help and let your child choose which ideas you’ll put into action. Empowering her to participate in the decision making, and to be a part of a community-wide effort, no matter how small, helps her see the gifts that volunteering can bring, both to those in need and those doing the giving.

Make it regular

One visit to the pet shelter no doubt makes for an exciting story your child may want to share with others. But monthly visits to help the animals add up to an increased interest in and commitment to an important cause — one that may stay with your child for years to come. Volunteering on a recurring basis also helps your preschooler see the fruits of her efforts over time, allowing her to develop beneficial relationships that help grow her confidence.

Caryn M. regularly took her two children to visit an orphanage when they were young. Reflecting on the experience today she says, “My hope is that as my children become better able to see beyond their own lives and into the lives of others, their early memories will serve as a foundation for compassion.”

Think global

Volunteering locally is a great place to start, but don’t forget about activities and events happening across the planet. Getting involved in initiatives such as ending hunger in Africa or preventing animal trafficking in Asia offers your child new perspectives and opportunities for learning. Grab a map and help your preschooler locate the part of the world where you plan to focus your volunteer efforts. Together, find photos online or in library books of the places and people you want to help.

Introducing the concept of giving to young children demonstrates that they each can truly make a difference. And along the way, they’ll learn the most important lesson — helping others helps us all.

Heather Van Deest is a freelance writer and mother to two aspiring volunteers.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 28, 2016
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