Family Service

On Matt’s thread, Jordon F. wrote, “I should add that I think children are particularly quick at grasping and enjoying the opportunity of rendering service as a family. “

I agree with him completely. But I’ve been stymied by how to perform meaningful service with three small kids (currently 9, 6, and 2.5). The one really wonderful experience we had was at a food bank putting together boxes of nonperishables for Thanksgiving dinner. But that was a one-shot deal and the regular food bank here has a minimum age of seven to volunteer. I honestly don’t know what we can do. Maybe I’m just not creative enough.

Anyway: What meaningful service projects have you done with your young children?

18 comments for “Family Service

  1. My oldest is two, so I haven’t done service with kids as a parent at all, really. One thing I do want to do is what a family I know did- They bought a few knitting looms and would make hats and scarves whenever the TV was on. The looms are very easy to use even for small children, and the clothes can be donated to a variety of causes in the US and elsewhere.
    A few that I know about are Afghans for Afghans, Newborns in need, and the Dulaan Project.

  2. DW involves the kids (close to your kids’ ages) when she makes meals for people in the ward, etc. The older two get an assignment relative to the meal, even if it’s small.

    It’s not earthshattering, but when you’ve got a toddler, there are practical limitations as to what you can do.

  3. What about the humanitarian kits? Probably even your 2 year old could help do the shopping and stuff the bags. The church website has detailed info about exactly what to put in each kit. Your two older ones will have no trouble imagining the kids their school kits might help.

  4. When we were younger my sisters and I would perform (Irish dance, specifically) at nursing homes, community centers and schools. Some were arranged through our dance school, but some we did on our own; my youngest sister was 6 or 7 years old when we started, and she mostly took care of hitting “play” and “stop” on the tape (later CD) player. And other peoples’ kids were far younger, at the school performances. We had a three-year-old girl who absolutely stole the show with her impromptu pre-show impressionistic dancing. And senior citizens in particular don’t seem to mind if you come several times in a month (we’d do two shows at two different time slots at the same location to accommodate residents’ schedules, but plenty of people ended out at both shows.)

    At church, I usually have the youngest kids draw pictures to include with our missionary letters. But I’ve never tried that with kids younger than 6. At my dad’s church, the youngest kids have the job of collecting food donations from the congregation each week before heading off to Religious Education (I was always scared to do that, but most kids seem to love it.) Helping decorate larger projects works well with younger kids, too — when our Primary made bags as a surprise for all the teachers, the Sunbeams got a serious kick out of putting their handprints on the bags with finger paint.

    And I think some of the projects at the at the LDS Foundation’s website are doable for toddlers to help out with. Certainly things like putting things into bags (don’t 2/3 year olds love sorting and stacking?) and stuffing teddy bears would be within the limits of their dexterity. ^_^ If nothing else, I bet toddlers would enjoy helping by picking out the fabrics to use, matching the fabric to a specific color thread, or, if you feel spectacularly daring, participating in the dying of fabrics to be used in a project. The t-shirt dresses (on the website) would be a fun tie-dye-then-sew project. And I’ve definitely seen 3-year-olds tie-dying, though perhaps they don’t quite have the sense of proportion that older children tend to, and quite a few end out stuck on one or two colors. (Note: I have absolutely no idea if it’s actually safe to let a toddler tie-dye things, I just know it’s been done in my presence. ^_^)

  5. Julie,

    Here are some some things we have done.

    1. Grow a garden together and give away a lot of the produce to the neighbors. Everybody likes to get a box of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes. Plus, our kids didn’t like to eat them when they were little, so they actually enjoyed giving them away.

    2. Go to a retirement center and play checkers with the residents, or read books to them. I was apprehensive about this at first (it was my wife’s idea), but it was a very positive, ongoing experience for our sons.

    3. For FHE, assemble school kits or hygiene kits and send them to the church for distribution. You can find instructions at the LDS Foundation’s website.

    4. Help older people in your ward with housework or yardwork. Several widows live within walking distance of our house, and in the fall, leaf-raking is a never ending job.

  6. Congratulations to Mark IV for making his link (which was my link, too ^_^) appear. This is why I should not post comments at 1am, though I’ve never had a link flat-out vanish before.

    Anyway, if you read my comment and wonder about the line “some of the projects at the are doable”, just stick his link between “the” and “are” and it’ll make sense. [Ed.-done]

  7. Sarah, I’m just now reading your comment # 4 and realizing that you had already made the same suggestion I did in my comment that immediately followed. Serves me right for not reading carefully. Oh well, you know what they say about great minds…

  8. I had never considered how much my daughter gives ntil this thread.

    geez, she is always offering to babysit on ward temple nights or to help a sister in need at the last minute.

    if she hears about a neighbors b-day, illness, or bad day she will fix up a plate of brownies and deliver it with a smile.

    she helps some of the younger mothers in the ward by watching the babies and helping with errands and chores–and doesn’t expect to be paid (i asked why she does this and she said it’s because she wants to help)

    I haven’t really considered the whys or the hows she wants to give of her time and talents but I am really grateful that my daughter is willing to help. ( I swear I had nothing to do with it)

    Folks. KEEP IT UP!. You are doing your kid a great service by teaching them young to put the needs of others on the priority list of their lives.

    Thanks Julie!

  9. I volunteer tutor in my community and my kids come with me to “entertain” younger siblings while I work so my tutoree and I are not interrupted (literally, my kids are pre-schoolers, so they are playing with age-mates, but it is a service!).

    My kids hlps me pick out or make treats for people who don’t feel well or need a visit.

    Assuming your kids are cold and flu free, many dialysis or chemo patients really light up at having kids to interact with (same goes for any hospital wards or nursing homes).

    I am sure your kids already Visit Teach with you on occassion.

  10. Julie,
    I haven’t done it yet (we keep moving), but the Hands On Network ( seems like a good place to get a start; I first heard about it through San Diego Cares, and the New York Cares. It’s basically a clearinghouse service group; you go to an orientation (the one I went to was at a local Borders), and then you can choose what service you do. If you want to do one hour a week, more power to you; if you want 20, that’s great, too. The nice thing is, the group has long-term projects, but can rotate people in and out. The hard thing about a lot of service projects is they need an ongoing time commitment.

    I didn’t have kids when I went to the orientation, but I remember their making clear that some projects were very family-appropriate. The site has links to all sorts of actual local organizations under their umbrella. I keep meaning to go to an orientation, so thanks for getting me motivated again. It seems like a great way to perform service in the greater community.

  11. I don’t have any suggestions, but I appreciate Julie’s practical approach to being of service. Thanks for being such a positive gathering place for good ideas and concrete goodness.

  12. We’ve made a pile of knit caps (as described in #1). 9-year-olds could do this. 6-year-olds could help wind yarn balls.

    When my daughter was 9 she did a neighborhood bake sale. She baked a bunch of different kinds of cookies and we all went with her to sell them to our neighbors. She used the $ to buy small distraction items for kids getting chemo treatments at our local hospital. We went as a family to pick out the items (the hospital gave us a list of suggestions) and deliver them to the hospital (we weren’t permitted to interact with the patients, because of infection concerns). The event was such a success that wedid it the next year (this time we bought toys for the family homeless shelter).

    We do “angel tree” gifts at Christmas–the kids do extra chores to earn $ for the gifts. One year my daughter sold cookie dough to raise $.

    We’ve done baby blankets for the Humanitarian Service Center–the kids pick out fabric and push the pedal on the sewing machine. (My older kids can sew seams as well).

    We have a mason jar on our kitchen windowsill where we collect change for a Guatamalan orphan boy. His picture is on the front. The kids are encouraged to contribute when they get their allowances.

    My kids 8 and older are encouraged to make small contributions to our family fast offering (they get their allowances on the Saturday before Fast Sunday, so this makes it easy).

    They’ve written their testimonies in copies of the Book of Mormon and have handed them out to teachers, etc.

  13. Thanks for all the ideas, everyone, I’ll try them out. My daughters would love the idea of preparing a show for a rest home (they’d enjoy the preparing much more than the performing).

    I’ve involved our kids in my own service projects, even if it amounts simply to their driving around with me.

    Two Costcos gave me all of the turkeys they hadn’t sold by December 23, plus all of the employee-gift turkeys the employees didn’t want. There were about 60 altogether. We gave some to local (non-Mormon) churches to distribute, and gathered addresses from extended family of people they knew who would appreciate a turkey. After several hours of driving around we still had at least 20 turkeys we hadn’t placed, we decided to go to a poorer part of Salt Lake, parking at a Big Lots, and asking the people leaving if they’d like a free Christmas turkey. Many of them were immigrants, and all of them expressed more appreciation than did the people we’d taken the turkeys to directly. My guess is that the people we’d taken the turkeys to directly felt a little embarrassed that we’d singled them out, whereas people leaving Big Lots didn’t feel like they were a charity case. Anyway, my kids thought it was fun to give stuff away, and learned that phone calls and leg work can put something together. Do it with your family! Call your Costco manager in November if you want to try it where you live. (Just don’t call the Salt Lake ones on 5300 and 10600 South. They’re mine!)

    Our kids have also received permission from their school teachers to place a box in the classroom and solicit donations from their classmates. (Stuffed animals in one case, school supplies in the other.) It was for Iraqi children, through Operation Give.

  14. Besides the humanitarian kits and other church humanitarian aid projects (my boys have long enjoyed stuffing those footballs), I’ve also had my children earn money to donate to the cause of their choice. I don’t care for them to solicit donations, but even when they were 3 they could earn a little money that went to humanitarian aid usually, or something else. We also did this with our 4- and 5-year-olds in our Primary class.

    I also like it when we live in a larger city with a more international population. We’ve volunteered (well, more befriended, it was nothing official) with refugee families to help them with English and will do that again in a few weeks when we finally live in a city where a few people don’t speak English. We will also be officially volunteering with international students. I also think it’s worthwhile for parents to do service projects on their own and let their children know what they are doing and that the children will be able to participate when they are older. In fact, volunteering in an orphanage was the only time I’ve ever had a regular babysitter take care of my children and I’d do it again.

    It is hard to find traditional places to volunteer with small children and you do have to be more creative.

  15. One year for my kid’s birthdays (they are both in late July) we asked for school supplies instead of gifts at their birthday party, and we made up 2 dozen of the school supplies bags through LDS Humanitarian and also had a box of other things to donate locally. Of course, some people still brought them presents…. but the idea is still a good one. Some years, after their birthday or christmas, I have them choose some of the toys to give away. Some people do this for the old toys before hand of course, but I’m all for getting rid of some of the new stuff as well, or else we’d drown in it.

  16. This won’t work for the really young ones, but when they’re old enough, give your kids a ‘charity allowance’ every month. Then help them investigate local groups and decide who they want to donate to. Investigating, choosing and actually seeing where the needs are is a great lesson in and of itself.

    FWIW — we’ve found that charities involving animals were especially popular for the young ones [i.e. buying doggie treats for the local shelter, etc.] You can expand the list to more complicated areas as they get older.

  17. that reminds me,

    if you have children that love dogs, go to a shelter and volunteer to walk them. A little cleanup help is good too.

    it’s fun and it gets the “wiggles” out.

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