Over the holidays, we become more aware of some of the material needs around us that often go unmet during other times of the year. In part, the weather turning cold makes us think about people experiencing homelessness or those too poor to afford heating or winter coats. In part, the gifting culture of the holidays makes us think of people who, for various reasons, won’t receive physical gifts.
For Christians, Thanksgiving and Christmas make us more keenly aware of the generosity of God and our debt of gratitude to him. When we remember all God has done for us, we want to say thank you, and we see a way to do that by extending some of that generosity to others.
I hear from parents with younger children that it can be challenging to find ways for their kids to serve and give. They want to offer them that experience, but their age or capacity limits them. To that end, here are 5 ideas to help kids be generous.
1. Have your kids sort through and select gently used toys they don’t use to donate.
These toys should still work, have all their parts, and be made of a material that cleans (no stuffed animals).
Some people argue that secondhand toys sends a message of secondhand status. I tend to think that having a conversation about offering good toys that a child either does not play with or is simply willing to part with can convey that the recipient of the toy deserves something good. I also think kids can discuss that they are not just cleaning out their closets to make room for more toys of their own. What do you think?
2. As one of their presents, let kids pick one thing from a non profit’s Gift Catalog.
Heifer International, World Vision, and others create great gift catalogs full of pictures and stories about how those gifts help others. Wrap the catalog, and when your child opens the gift, tell them that they can choose anything they want inside to give to a family around the world. They might pick their favorite animal, or a school uniform. Most of the ‘big ticket’ items can be purchased in part– a share of a clean water well or a share of a cow.
3. Collect change in a jar to give to a cause.
Since the goal is to help inspire generosity more than it is to give big amounts, a simple change jar can be a visual reminder to give just a little bit each day. You could pick a cause ahead of time or let them choose it once the jar is full–whichever they would enjoy more. If you’re crafty decorate the jar (I am not.) Help kids earn more for their jar by offering them the opportunity to do a chore. Or, let them make a trade; if they will drink water with dinner instead of juice, you’ll give them the juice money for their jar. Even better, make some trades yourself to show your support, like the money you would spend on a latte. Can give up the java? Match its price instead.
4.Build a shoebox together with Operation Christmas Child*.
These simple shoebox gifts are delivered to children around the world, and are often the only present they get. Boxes can include small toys as well as toiletries and be made for kids of all ages. You child might like making a box for a kid their same age and or gender, or they may like picking a different age or gender. But let them pick and go shopping with you to fill their box. Also, you can now track your box online and see where it goes!
*Because the boxes arrive for Christmas, they need to be made by mid November. If you miss the deadline, here’s a similar idea:
4b. Create goodie bags with toiletries for people experiencing hunger or homelessness.
Take your kids to shop for and assemble bags of travel sized toiletries. These bags can also include notes or drawings inside. (If you have ever been conflicted about what to give someone who is begging, and wanted to do something, this might be a good answer. It is practical and important, can be too expensive for that person to purchase, and does not take up much space in your car.) See this link for suggestions of what is helpful.
5. Buy a gift and gift card for a family with a child fighting cancer.
Admittedly, this is not as participatory for a child. But kids often connect with causes that effect other kids. There are families whose holiday season is colored by the disease their child has, by appointments and treatments and side effects. In they midst of that, a gift helps them know that they are remembered.
Kate’s Crazy Christmas, which celebrates Kate’s birthday on 12/26 and Christmastime together, is just one version, but a Google search will yield others. I recommend Kate’s Christmas because I know the gifts are responsibly managed.
6. Ok, this one takes work, so it’s a bonus for those who like this kind of thing. Turn a simple canned good donation into a Canstruction Contest!
Let kids build with canned goods that you’ll donate to your local food bank. They can google for ideas or create something all their own. A few things to note: many of the images on Google take a lot of cans, but could be done in miniature. Canned goods are also a great donation to food banks because they are heavy. Food banks often have access to items on discount, but they pay by weight. When you give cans, that frees them up to buy lighter items, like rice or dry beans, and get even more bang for their buck. Lastly, don’t take the labels off during construction; they’ll need to know what is in there!
What do you do at the holidays (or year round) to help kids learn about poverty, generosity, and helping others?