I’m happy to welcome my friend, Janel and her practical, down-to-earth ideas as a part of our upstream parenting journey.
I confess to perhaps an excess amount of glee when my sweaty, flush-faced ten-year-old stepped into the kitchen last week, toting two large, discarded bags once filled with cement, but now overflowing with…
What was that?
“I picked up all the trash along the road, Mom!”
And that—despite all my other moments rubber-stamped MOM FAIL—I filed away in my brain as one of God’s little encouragements that at least some things were going right in our parenting. The kids and I had made trips through our neighborhood before together with trash bags in tow (poverty-stricken places can also be quite messy places). But this took things to the next level: both identifying a need, and taking personal ownership of it as his brother’s keeper.
So much of teaching our kids to serve is to impart the eyes of a servant and a heart of humility. Honestly, that’s even more important to me than soccer practice or chess club at this moment in time.
Raising kids who come not to be served but to serve is unquestionably a priority for a lot of us. In honor of Kristen’s sweet new book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, I’ve compiled a can-do list of easy ways for our kids to serve, whether alongside us or all on their own.
Though service does work against the grain of our selfishness, we also want our kids to “catch the bug” of serving, and discover how fulfilling it can be. So create enthusiasm (not false enthusiasm) and occasionally rewards (“Let’s go out for ice cream afterwards!”). Use discernment to think through how much to push your kids, or whether to simply to direct them to a project they naturally enjoy more.
Talk with your kids to discover the causes they’re passionate about, and help them design an activity they could do: a baby clothing drive for the pregnancy center, cooking relief meals for parents performing foster care, finding a missionary kid pen pal, playing a pickup game of basketball with a kid whose parents are in the middle of a divorce…your child’s imagination (um, and your resources) are the limit!
For ideas for kids to work with organizations already making a difference (like making a fleece blanket with Project Linus), click here.
- Volunteer as a Sunday school, VBS, or church nursery assistant.
- Babysit for a date night for a young couple, a single mom, or a family enduring a rough patch.
- Make a meal (or even just a pan of muffins) for a family whose father is deployed, who are sick, have experienced a loss, etc.
- Sort baby clothes or other volunteer work for a local pregnancy center.
- Sign up for a regular monthly night to serve food and/or lead a devotion at the local rescue mission.
- When a neighbor travels, volunteer to water plants or care for a pet.
- Shovel snow or rake leaves for the neighbors. Or, if they’re not overly picky about their lawn, when your child mows yours, have them mow the neighbor’s portion too (you might need to have them ask first).
- Pick up trash along your street.
- Don’t forget service projects for Dad. Honor him with a coupon book the kids think up: Will mow the lawn free, without complaining. Will rake leaves. Will start and scrape the car one cold morning before work. Will make one batch of cookies. Younger kids can do it, too: Will get you one hot or cold beverage, or snack of your choice.
- Visit and bring a plate of cookies to an elderly member of your church or family.
- Tutor a younger child after school, or play with one who might need some extra love.
- When another mom or couple comes over, your child can watch and/or entertain their children while you chat.
- Make a cake for someone whose birthday might be overlooked, or for someone celebrating a milestone (a new job, a great report card).
- Write notes (you can even make the cards yourself!) for people who could use a little affirmation and/or encouragement. (E-mail works in a pinch!)
- Prepare a missionary care package (don’t forget notes from your kids, and prayer for the missionaries!) or Samaritan’s Purse shoebox Click here for 40 Ideas to Raise Globally-Minded Kids.
- Research and prepare small packs of supplies for the homeless you see while driving in your city.
- Ask your church if there is something you could do for a family who’s having a difficult time right now.
- Together, clean the house of someone who might have a difficult time on their own, like the elderly or handicapped.
- Hold a car wash, bake sale, lemonade stand, or garage sale to raise funds for a cause you all care about.
- Make fun nametags for the doors of a local nursing home, and pop in for conversation with those who don’t get many visitors. You could bring board games, nail polish, lotion to rub hands or feet, or other ideas to pass the time with them.
- Visit and/or construct a “care basket” for a kid who’s in the hospital. Alternatively, call (or have your child call) the children’s ward of a local hospital and see what you might be able to do to brighten the days of some sick kids.
- When a sibling is having a bad day, put your heads together make a plan to encourage them. (Click here for some fun ideas.)
- Your child can write a note or e-mail of appreciation to your pastor, a youth pastor, kids’ ministry personnel, Sunday school teachers, school teachers, and others who pour into his or her life.
- Go through your used books, clothing, and toys together, and think of creative places to donate them: the church nursery, a pregnancy center, or simply Goodwill. Talk to your kids about the philosophy of living a simpler life with less stuff, and decide together to give away a few things that are a little difficult.
- Adopt a family (without making them feel like a project): Pray and talk together about a family who could use some extra love right now. What will your strategy be? What are their true needs (as opposed to what you guess they might want), and how can you help them in a sustainable way?
Janel has a resume that would impress anyone. We met one day for a couple of hours and it felt like we’d known each other forever. She writes about discovering God’s undeserved, indescribable favor–grace–that has turned her life on its head. She lives in Africa with her family and her writing will inspire you!