As we dutifully shepherd our children through school work, healthy sports activities, educational art and music activities, social learning through play dates and clubs, teaching good manners, and spending quality family time together, the kids can be forgiven for thinking that the world is all about them.
Shifting that perspective doesn’t have to undermine parents’ hard work to give their children opportunities. Just try volunteerism. Volunteering as a family can serve a dual purpose: modeling community service for your children while also teaching them how to become participants in their community’s health.
At a Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful Great American Clean Up event in April, the dozens of volunteers cleaning up trash around Cypress Point Park included several families sharing the common purpose of improving their environment.
“I want [my son] to grow up to help people, to make the world a better place,” says Lindsey North, who volunteered with her fourth-grader -. “I want to instill it early.”
Tushalee Shah brought her first-grade daughter. “I just wanted to show her that there’s more to the world than her own little world. These things are just as important as school and learning.”
Karen Barreto also attended the Cypress Park clean up event. She has two children in elementary and middle school at Roland Park IB Magnet program. Service learning is a component of IB education, Barreto says, and opportunities to volunteer as a family are something the school’s families have embraced. Through the school’s PTSA, she seeks out opportunities for families to volunteer together; 20-30 families on average participate in these community service events.
“I just really want to promote the idea that one person can make a difference and offer ways families can do service together,” Barretto says.
However, finding ways to participate in service projects with your children can sometimes be a challenge.
“I think there is a barrier to opportunities for children to volunteer,” says Anne Lenz, a pediatrician with two elementary-age children. Lenz coordinates her kids’ school’s PTA Community Outreach efforts, and prioritizes creating opportunities for children to volunteer alongside their parents. “Having our children be visible volunteering makes our community realize they are part of a volunteer work force that can really contribute.”
What did the kids have to say about their volunteer experience at the Great American Clean Up?
“It was fun talking with friends and finding cool things,” says Grady Burnett (10). His brother Toby (10), added, “It helps the environment and the community.”
“I wanted [my sons] to do something that’s not all about them,” says their mother, Trang Burnett. “I do a lot of volunteering and they see it, but they need to do it themselves.”
Whether you volunteer as a family or as part of larger group, like a PTA or service club, here are some starting places for including volunteerism in your child’s social and emotional learning: