Volunteering is something I’ve always had good intentions about. I feel it’s important. I recall my mom having me volunteer at the food bank as a kid. She went out of her way to take me to regular shifts. In a way, we were both volunteering our time, and for a cause bigger than the immediate task.
I grew up with a social conscience. I’ve always cared about justice. That might be a result of the activities I was exposed to.
We also benefit from giving. We get the helper’s high. We feel a sense of purpose. We develop connections and grow skills. It’s good all around.
Which is why I agree with my mom that introducing contribution to kids at a young age is a good idea. This is especially important if children are growing up in a privileged situation.
How can we expect younger generations to help solve our society’s challenges if they aren’t exposed to them?
How to introduce your children to giving back before they can walk
Design your own intergenerational program
When my oldest daughter was 2 and my second daughter was 2 months, we started volunteering at a long-term care home. I did this for a few reasons — mostly self-serving:
- I wanted to expose them to volunteering.
- I wanted another free activity we could do that had the potential to help shape them into great humans.
- I wanted to volunteer myself, get out of the house and leave my comfort zone. I hadn’t spent a lot of time around older adults with cognitive decline so I knew I’d grow from the experience.
I expected there to be benefits, and there have been all around. I’ve also noticed my children are comfortable interacting with people of various ages and physical and mental abilities. This is important to me and might be related to our volunteer work. They understand they are able to share joy simply by visiting and connecting with people.
My older daughter now helps come up with the activities we bring and she and I have talked about aging and how everyone ages. It’s provided opportunities for discussions about life.
Personally, I have learned more about caregiving and our systems, and have a deeper respect for people of all ages. Plus, as I started freelancing, I ended up working with an organization that focuses on supporting people as they approach retirement and live their journey after retirement. I’ve written about ageism and social isolation, as well as interviewed a number of people who are smashing aging stereotypes. The universe seems to be aligned around this topic for me.
There’s a notable impact for the residents while we’re there. They’re enthralled with the kids. My understanding from the staff is they don’t have much interaction with children and babies. There’s one woman who opened up in a way the staff hadn’t seen before. Many of the residents enjoy playing with the toys or colouring. Sometimes if they’re lucky, they’ll get a hug from one of the kids. My youngest has even given a few kisses.
Here are the steps I followed to create our program:
- I looked up the closest long-term care home to us and contacted the volunteer coordinator. I picked long-term care because in Ontario it’s non-profit rather than a business (like a retirement residence) and I expected there might be more need for activities.
- I completed the interview and my criminal record check, which took about a month.
- We decided we’d come every two weeks for one hour and meet with residents in a common space. I’d bring toys and activities.
- At first, I packed a bag and brought our double stroller. It was a bit of a mission, but totally worth it.
- Now we go weekly and it’s slightly easier because both kids can walk.
A few challenges we faced:
- I have to keep an eye on the kids to make sure they’re not getting in the way of anyone because they could be a trip hazard. They’ve also learned to be careful too.
- We can’t attend if any of us are sick, including just a runny nose.
- It’s an effort to pull it off — packing the toys, lugging the kids — it all takes work. The adventure is much more than the hour we are actually there.
- We have done one visit in the secure ward, which is the area with residents with cognitive decline that’s progressed. My oldest daughter was a bit frightened in this area because some people were shouting. That said, I also saw a significant impact from our presence — people’s faces lit up when they saw the children. We may try it again.
This is just one idea for introducing young children to contribution. We also donate food, as well as money to different causes and we talk about that. And we’ve cleaned up the neighbourhood with the kids. There are teachable moments about our shared humanity and responsibility all around us if we pay attention.
Have you done volunteering with your kids? Share your experience in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.