Volunteering as a family is a fun, rewarding experience. You want to show your preschooler the importance of helping others. Plus, kids enjoy helping others and feeling useful, especially on “big kid” tasks. Preschoolers are naturally curious, creative and energetic, qualities that can make for a fun volunteering experience!
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Volunteering benefits the people receiving help and the volunteers themselves. For young kids, volunteering helps connect them to their community. Also, volunteering builds empathy, boosts self-confidence and provides them with a sense of accomplishment. And volunteering regularly as a family also shows preschoolers the importance of contributing to their community throughout their lives. Instilling a lifelong habit of giving back. Not to mention, volunteering also creates fun memories you and your child will cherish.
Finding meaningful volunteer opportunities for preschoolers in the community can feel challenging since many organizations have age restrictions but there are definitely opportunities for even the littlest in your family. Focus on what your preschooler enjoys. By using your preschooler’s natural curiosity, the more they are interested and care about who you are helping or what you are doing, the more fun the experience for everyone.
Here are six different volunteer opportunities that appeal to preschoolers.
1. Participate in a Community Clean Up: Does your preschooler love nature, animals or playing at the park? Getting involved in a community event to clean up local parks may be the perfect volunteer experience for them! Many communities have a special day to clean up local parks. In the United States, neighborhood and park clean up events often occur near Earth Day. During the event, groups, families and organizations work together at different local areas to help pick up trash. There may also be fun activities geared toward kids in a central location. Check with your local town or city to find out about events.
But you don’t have to wait for a special event! You and your preschooler can pick up at your favorite park anytime. If you’re part of a playdate group, see about hosting a clean up the park playdate. After picking up trash, everyone can have a picnic and play.
To keep your pick up event fun and safe, be sure to have plenty of adults supervising so kids don’t up anything dangerous (e.g., sharp objects, glass, nails, band-aids). Bring gloves and trash bags to make cleaning up easy and safe.
2. Bake Cookies and Draw Pictures for Your Community Helpers: Preschoolers are fascinated by community helpers such as firefighters, the police, veterinarians, doctors and nurses. Put your child’s artistic and creative skills to use by creating a picture for their favorite community helper group. You can buy or bake treats together to take as well.
Be sure to deliver the artwork and treats with your child so they can see and hear the reaction from the community helpers. This can also be a fun group project for a playdate group.
3. Visit an Assisted Living Facility or Retirement Community: Getting children and older adults together can be beneficial to both groups. Children gain the opportunity to improve their social and emotional skills and learn from older adults. This gives older adults a chance to help others, share their knowledge and skills and connect with the younger generation. Call a facility near you first to see if they have an established volunteer program for young children. If the facility doesn’t, ask if your child can come and meet with interested residents.
To help ensure a fun experience, consider bringing a few of your child’s favorite books, a puzzle or a game. In the beginning, you may need to help facilitate some of the conversations, especially if your child is shy. Before you go, talk with your preschooler about assistive devices (e.g., wheelchair, walker, portable oxygen machine) if they aren’t used to them.
4. Read to Animals at the Local Animal Shelter: Does your child love animals? Then consider volunteering to read at a local animal shelter. Reading to the animals helps them feel more at ease and less anxious, which can help them become more adoptable. It also helps them get used to people. Even if your child is not yet a reader, bring your child’s favorite picture book and have your child show and describe the pictures to the animals. Be sure to call your local animal shelter ahead of time to make sure they allow young children to read to the animals.
5. Make Cards for Other Children, the Elderly or Servicemen and Women: Harness your preschooler’s creative spirit and work together to make homemade cards for others. Get your preschooler involved by letting them pick who the cards are for and the type of card that they make. Some ideas include:
get well soon cards for children in the hospital,
thank you cards for servicemen and women,
birthday cards for children that can be donated to domestic violence shelters or homeless shelters,
thinking of you cards for older adults in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
You can talk with your preschooler about how it feels to receive cards to increase their empathy and kindness towards others.
6. Donate your Unwanted Items to Charity or Nonperishable Food to a Food Bank: Do you have unwanted household items, toys or clothes? Then get the whole family involved in gathering gently used items for charity! Identify a few local charities that you can donate to and let your preschooler choose the organization. If possible, deliver the items to the charity with your preschooler, so they experience the whole process. Lastly, let them know how the items will help the charity. While you are going through your household items, don’t forget the pantry! Donate nonperishable food you won’t be using to a local food pantry.
Build a Sense of Community Service Even If You Can’t Volunteer
Life with a preschooler gets hectic. Plus, sometimes a preschooler might not be able to go somewhere to volunteer, for instance, if they are easily overstimulated or have trouble with groups of people.
You can introduce the concepts of volunteering and the benefits of giving back by harnessing your child’s imagination.
Put on a puppet show for your child showing children helping others—the elderly, animals, cleaning a park. You can show how joyful the situation can be for both groups.
Read children’s books about volunteering together.
Share your volunteer experiences, as a child or as an adult, with your preschooler.
Play together with toys that are community helper themed—policemen, police cars, firefighters, veterinarians, doctors, nurses. Show in play how these groups help others and how that makes them and the person (or animal) helped feel.
Contact your local firefighter or police station to schedule a tour if possible.
Discuss ways your child has helped others to highlight how they are helpers. Your preschooler might help pick up at home, been kind or helped another child or helped you at home. Letting them know you appreciate and notice what they do to help makes them feel good about themselves.
Making Volunteering a Lifelong Habit
Volunteering in the community helps preschoolers (and all of us!) feel good and connected to our community. Instilling a love of volunteering from a young age helps set a positive lifelong habit for your child.
Letting them pick the types of volunteering tasks they do keeps it fun and helps them learn more about the world around them. Discussing each step and how their actions make a difference builds their self-confidence, strengthens their compassion for others and provides a sense of accomplishment.
Volunteering regularly as a family will help you raise a child who values helping others.
Please share your experiences volunteering with your preschooler below so everyone can benefit!