Inside: 8 simple ways to make volunteering with kids more impactful, more fun, and more of a habit.
I finally did what I kept saying I would do.
I found a food pantry near me that served our local community, signed up to get trained, got trained, and started volunteering every other week.
I came home after my three-hour shift physically exhausted but mentally lifted up.
My kids wanted to know what I did while I was gone so I explained all the different jobs I did for them. Most of my time is spent in the back refrigerator, organizing and separating fresh vegetables into grocery bags so families could have a variety of veggies to take home.
And they immediately wanted to sign up to come with me. I guess I made the veggie sorting sound exciting.
My food pantry opened up a day for kids to volunteer on we jumped at the chance…all five of us signed up for an hour on a Saturday.
We were in charge of taking boxes and boxes of thousands of tiny jam packets that were donated into small baggies so they could easily be added to every family’s box of food.
So there we stood, packing up the grape and strawberry and orange marmalade and my family had a blast. We filled up all the jam bins, ready for the next set of volunteers to easily grab them when needed.
My kids left, begging to come back and volunteer again.
We had set them up to enjoy their time doing community service and because of that to want to volunteer more often.
And that’s the magic in teaching our kids to make volunteering and being helpful a habit.
Why Volunteering with Kids is Important
We spend a lot of time building up positive sibling relationships to reduce sibling rivalry and jealousy and we turn being kind literally into a game.
All of these things help set them up to want to be kind by showing them the positive impact of their kindness.
Related: How to Raise Kids Who are Helpers
We also set them up to volunteer and volunteer often. All three of our kids are scouts so they get opportunities to volunteer. We’ve participated in food drives and school supply drives and planted native species in a State Park. We’ve done beach clean-ups and nature preserve clean-ups and volunteered at a special needs playdate.
But we also want to volunteer as a family because we want to ensure that giving back and volunteering becomes a habit…something that feels normal to do.
We try to volunteer with our kids once every month with fun, family-friendly service projects like these in our 12 Months Family Volunteer Challenge.
It’s incredible if you can volunteer once.
But kids who volunteer often in their childhoods are much more likely to continue volunteering as adults and then share the habit with their own kids.
It will become a legacy of volunteering and a family tradition that everyone feels good about.
How to Make Volunteering as a Family More Impactful
1. Ask them how they want to volunteer or who they want to help.
Having them decide to volunteer and where to give their time is one of the fastest ways for kids to “buy in” to volunteering.
Guide them to choose a cause near and dear to your family or support something they’re interested in, like animals or reading.
Not sure where to start? Here is our list of the Best Family Volunteering Ideas to help you choose how to help.
2. Read about Volunteering
Read books about volunteering and helping different types of people and organizations.
If you want to volunteer in a food bank, read books about families who are food insecure.
If you want to volunteer at an animal shelter, read books about shelter pets.
If you want to volunteer at a nursing home, read books about relationships with elderly community members.
3. Talk about it before you go
Talk to your kids about why you’re volunteering and who you’re helping.
Ask them why it’s so important that your family is spending this time doing this when you could be doing other things. Ask them to predict how they think it’ll go and if they’ll like it.
It’s also a good time to set clear expectations about behavior. (Do they need to be quiet or respectful or serious or keep the hairnet and gloves on the whole time?)
We also use this time to talk to our kids about work ethic and the importance of working hard, taking breaks when you need to, but then getting right back to the job at hand, whatever that might be.
4. Keep it Short
Volunteering with kids shouldn’t be an all-day event. They don’t have the stamina for it and the magic of volunteering will quickly wear away if it’s more time than they can handle.
Young kids under 8 can volunteer for about 30 minutes before the magic is gone.
An hour to an hour and a half is the magic zone for 8-13 kids, and teens can handle two hours if they’re just starting to volunteer.
It’s better to leave wanting to do more and signing up to come back, than staying too long and your kids dread returning.
5. Have fun while you’re volunteering
If you’re volunteering in a situation that can quickly become monotonous or boring, like filling thousands of jams into baggies, have fun while you do it. Turn on music if you can, or chat and joke as you work.
You can also make it into a game and race each other or challenge each other. And if they’re “bored,” and you see no easy way to make it fun, remind them of how helpful they’re being and that it’s okay if they’re bored for a little bit.
6. Debrief on the way home/after you’re done
After you’re done volunteering, ask them how it went. Tap into the emotional connection of volunteering with these kinds of questions:
How did it feel to volunteer?
Was it as hard/boring/depressing/dirty (whatever they thought it would be before they volunteered) as you thought?
How does it feel knowing you’re helping someone?
Why is it important to volunteer and help with ______?
Who do you think benefits from us volunteering?
7. Keep a Volunteering Journal for More Reflection
To further make connections between how good it feels to help others and volunteering, ask your kids to write a few sentences about their volunteering experience. It’s a chance to reflect on their time volunteering and connect to the positive emotions that come with volunteering and making a difference.
You can use these printable volunteer journal pages (download them below). There is a version for older kids:
And there’s a version for our younger kids. If your kids can’t write yet, they can draw a picture and dictate to you their words for you to write down.
8. Volunteer Again
To make volunteering a habit, we have to volunteer often with our kids. And I know schedules are busy with sports and school and social commitments.
So to ensure we make time in our calendar for volunteering, we book it and protect the time on our calendar like we would a big game or a performance.
Decide as a family where you want to volunteer next, or if you want to return to the same place to volunteer again, and get it on the calendar. Then let your kids know it’s booked and how excited you are to volunteer with them again.
Use positive words to describe it and their experience, and then volunteering with stay positive.
And your kids will love things like putting jam packets into baggies and filling the shelves at a food bank.