There is a chant that goes up from little people all over the world. It is the song of bored children and it can drive overworked parents out of their gourds.
But there is a chorus to this song that the parents can share — service projects can bring harmony into the home, the neighborhood and the community.
Teaching children to add service to their list of good adult qualities they need to work toward can happen during summer vacation and can combat the whining and misery. Here are a few ideas to get them started, but encourage them to come up with some on their own as well.
In the home
Volunteering to serve family in the home is the best place to learn. Start the summer focusing on home. It begins with learning to look around with a scrutinizing eye and being able to see what needs to be done. Teach kids to be private investigators and look for clues around them. They can smell that dinner is almost ready, but see that the table is not yet set. They can feel the summer shower begin, but notice that the car windows are down. They can hear that their sibling is sick and see that their water glass is empty. Teach the little sleuths to pick up on clues and then jump in to save the day. At dinner, praise the good Samaritans on their keen ability to not only notice the clues, but to then jump in and solve the problem. For older children, skip the junior detective schtick and lay on the kudos. As you do so, they will likely continue in their good-deeding.
In the neighborhood
There is a very good chance that you have neighbors who are elderly, have small children, are disabled or living alone. There is nearly always someone close by that needs help, and this provides an opportunity for your children to begin thinking outside their own environment. As they master the home phase, broaden their circle of service by mentioning things you observe in your neighborhood. “I noticed Mrs. Wilson struggling to get her trash cans to the curb.” “With his wife in the hospital, I noticed that Mr. Smith seems a little overwhelmed with those little kids of his.” “I feel like baking some cookies. Who do you think might like a batch?” Allow them to pick up on the clues and if they offer, support them fully in their service. If they don’t offer, suggest and, again, lend your support.
In the community
Again, this is an opportunity to work together with your children to help them see the great needs that lie in a larger circle. Some ideas might be holding a yard sale to raise money for a good cause. They could clear out their rooms of things they no longer need and give toys, books and clothing to homeless shelters. They could donate time visiting children’s hospitals, animal shelters, nursing homes or other places where volunteers are needed. If there is a food bank, they could either donate some time or hold a food drive with friends from the neighborhood. Talking about the community and its needs as a family will get your kids thinking about something besides their own boredom.
Invest in your children’s happiness by sharing the opportunity to do service with them. It is best to do it before the boredom kicks in, and you reach the end of your rope, otherwise, it might feel like punishment. Show joy in serving along with them. Talk about it when the project is over, and share your feelings and invite them to share theirs. This will not only teach them to think of others, but will put them in that mindset of being able to notice needs on their own. It is also a great chance to work alongside them and share in those good feelings, bonding for the good of someone else.