It is very important to my husband and I that our boys grow up learning how to give graciously, accept others and be nonjudgmental. I have big ideas of how our family can get involved in various organizations when they are older and able to contribute in a more productive manner. But how do you get a toddler and preschooler involved in a service project?!!?
First, start with modeling and being intentional with demonstrating the values that you want them to demonstrate. I think values start early. Values start at home and a lot can be done by simply modeling those values we want our boys to exhibit. When we are growing up we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older.
I wanted to take teaching values a step further by getting them involved. This was a little tricky since my boys are 4.5 yrs and 2 yrs. We take regular trips to the Cincinnati Zoo which is positioned near not-so-great neighborhoods. Inevitably, we see panhandlers almost every trip to the zoo. My older son started to ask what the people were doing on the side of the road. He got upset when one of the men on the exit ramp was trying to ask for money and I didn’t roll down the window. This caused me to think about modeling those values.
My 4.5 year old and I talked about homelessness. My 4.5 year old son asked valid questions such as, “If they don’t have a bed, where do they sleep?” and “Why can’t they just sleep at their Mommy’s house?” and “Are we ever going to be homeless?” and my favorite, “Mommy, can you buy them a house so they have a house to sleep in?” He understood more than I thought he would and seemed genuinely concerned. I’m not sure if I gave him all the right answers but I tried. Some tips for talking to kids about homelessness can be found here.
I had heard of blessing bags so I did some research- on Pinterest of course! I found several resources which gave suggestions for filling the bags with items that would help the homeless. I put my couponing skills to work and asked my brother to help and we were off and running on our first family service project.
Each bag we put together had:
- small Gatorade
- mini lotion
- mini deodorant
- 2 hand wipes
- 2 bandaids
- small sleeve of crackers
- small peanut butter
- bag of peanut butter crackers
- cup of applesauce
- granola bar
- small beef jerkey stick
We were able to put together 24 bags. Both of my boys, my brother, my dad and stepmom helped in assembling the bags. I think both of my boys even had fun assembling the bags. My older son thought it was fantastic and was so excited to hand them out. After we put them together, we went to the same exit as the zoo and were able to give 2 panhandlers a blessing bag and they appeared to be very appreciative.
My 4.5 year old son taught me that he can understand and can show genuine concern and action! Homelessness is not a crime, but it is a problem. In discussion, attitude and behavior, parents model the empathy on which our society depends.
For those of you with young kids, how do you encourage a giving spirit?