As summer approaches, many families are looking for fun things for children to do during the break from school. Popular choices include reading, swimming, playing team sports and going on vacation. Another good option is to engage in simple service projects. It's never too early to teach children to look for ways to serve their community, and a summer project or two provides valuable learning opportunities.
You don't have to drive all the way across town to teach children how to notice needs and care for others. You can start right where you live. Begin by talking about their responsibilities within the family and encouraging them with how much their contribution around the home helps everyone. Then brainstorm ways that you can service the people who live within walking distance from you:
- Lawn care
- Car washes
- Dog walking
- Trash pickup
Looking for ways to make the lives of the people in close vicinity easier or your neighborhood more beautiful teaches kids how to be integral members of a community. It helps them learn to look outside themselves and their own immediate desires to see what others need. This early lesson will serve them well in the future as they incorporate it as part of who they are and it becomes a normal practice.
Another type of service project that is particularly useful during the summer is creation care. This project can start by learning to separate different recyclable items for delivery to the local processing center. Many cities have a curbside service, but it's typically in a single stream container, which can compromise the more porous items such as paper or cardboard and render them unable to be recycled. You can also encourage children to think of ways that you can reduce the amount of waste your family produces and incorporate their ideas into your regular practices.
Sustainability efforts are a good way to teach that the easy way of doing something is not always the best way. For example, it may be convenient to use disposable items, but how does that choice impact the planet? Learning about the effects of pollution on the earth can turn kids into environmental crusaders and teach them lasting habits for taking care of the world around them.
When organizations ask for volunteers, many of them are seeking adults. There are plenty of places that offer opportunities for younger people, though. Contact an assisted living facility to see how your whole family can get involved in caring for the residents by playing board games, reading with them or just hanging out and listening to the great stories they have to share. Serve dinner at a soup kitchen or volunteer to help organize donations at the food pantry. Collect donations for a local homeless shelter. The options are endless when it comes to finding people who rely on the help of the community.
There are so many people in need in your city, and a service project opens your children's eyes to some of the problems that ought to be addressed. It's also a chance to initiate conversations about larger societal issues such as poverty, hunger, ageism and other pervasive injustices. While it's important not to overwhelm children about everything that goes wrong in the world, having these talks teaches them empathy and the necessity of awareness.
Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, but there's no reason that some of the fun can't be centered in making your neighborhood, city and world a better place to live. Working with children to find service projects that are meaningful to them can teach them valuable lessons about how to make a difference in their community.