So, your kids may be home for an extended period of time in the coming weeks. Perhaps they will be off for a planned Spring Break and your travel plans have changed. Or maybe schools will be canceled out of an abundance of caution over the spread of Covid-19. Maybe you live in a part of the country that is still waiting for the start of Spring and you are buried under a blanket of snow. Regardless of the circumstances, lots of downtime at home can lead to frustration and boredom. I’d like to suggest an addition to the usual line-up of books, homework sheets, games, craft projects and screen time: service

What if we all shifted our focus a bit and spent some time gazing outward toward people and organizations that could benefit from our kindness and outreach? While volunteering in the community may be impossible during these challenging days, there are lots of “Kitchen Table Kindness” activities that can keep children meaningfully engaged while spreading kindness to others whose struggles may have nothing to do with the spread of the coronavirus.

In my work as an advocate for family and youth service, I often recommend at-home service activities for families with children who might not be welcome to volunteer in the community because the kids are too young. However, all of the following projects can be done by children of all ages, and you likely have most of the supplies in your home (or can easily order them online for delivery).

1. Write letters and cards for children who are being treated in the hospital.  You can send them to Cards for Hospitalized Kids or Send Kids the World.  Send Kids the World allows you to search a database so you can direct your letter to a specific child. The Cards for Hospitalized Kids website includes important guidelines on appropriate language to use in your letters (for example, you never want to say “feel better”). The use of glitter and glue should be minimized. Construction paper and crayons or markers are all you need to work on this easy and meaningful project.

2. Similarly, your kids can make colorful birthday cards and send them to the Confetti Foundation which supplies birthday parties for hospitalized children.

3. Kids can decorate plain paper placemats with cheerful messages and drawings, and these can be donated to your local Meals On Wheels program. You can search the national Meals on Wheels website to find your local branch.

4. There are many ways that your family can support our active-duty military, their families and veterans.  Organizations like Soldiers Angels, Operation Gratitude, and Support Military Families collect cards, letters, hand-knit scarves, para-chord bracelets and others items for care packages that are shipped to our servicemen and women who are serving far from home, and to the home-front families who miss them.

5. Do you have some fleece fabric sitting around?  Consider making no-sew blankets for Project Linus, which provides hand-made blankets for children in need, or donate them to a local nursing home to be used as lap blankets. 

6. Fleece scraps can also be used to make chew toys or pet blankets for donation to your local ASPCA or animal shelter. Ideas and instructions can be found online.

7. Do your kids love to draw? Check out Color a Smile which distributes cheerful drawings to senior citizens, our troops overseas and anyone in need of a smile. You can download printable coloring sheets from the website and let your kids go wild.  Once you’ve collected a stack of beautiful drawings, send it along to Color a Smile which has given out over a million smiles over the last 25 years.

8. Order an arts and crafts kit from Stars of Hope. Stars of Hope is an organization that grew out of the tragedy of 9/11 which empowers people to share messages of love and hope through hand-painted wooden stars. Each “Box fo Hope” includes 15 wooden stars, paint, brushes and instructions. After your kids have painted the stars, you can box them up and send them to a community that is recovering from a natural disaster or other tragedy. 

9. Take a look around your own neighborhood. Is there an elderly, homebound or ill neighbor who might need some groceries, some help or just a phone call to check-in? Can your kids spend some time on the phone, Skype or Facetime with a far-away relative who hasn’t seen them in a while? Think about the people in your family who might appreciate hearing from you, who would enjoy sharing a laugh or a warm word of affection during an anxious time. 

10. Finally, if your kids are a little older and they are interested in learning more about a social justice issue—the environment, poverty, hunger, educational access for girls around the world, homelessness, etc.—sit with them and help them through some internet searches of reputable sources of information on these subjects.  Spend time talking about the work that is being done and how they might get involved. 

This is a particularly fraught time for everyone, especially parents who need to manage their own fears and anxiety while keeping children calm. If we are going to be stuck indoors together—and it is increasingly likely that this will happen to many Americans—perhaps we can use this time to spread joy and kindness. We can remind ourselves that as dire as our own situation may seem, someone, somewhere is likely having a more difficult experience. By helping our children to spend some of their time actively engaged in serving others, even from the confines of our own homes, we can find a glimmer of hope and optimism in challenging times.  

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