Wait! Didn’t children just go back to school? It appears that no sooner had we re-mastered the art of packed lunches, did the bell for the end of Term 2 sound. Once again, parents find themselves in a situation of keeping kids busy. Not only is it Winter, so beaches are out, but restrictions on numbers and social distancing is still in place. So, parents the country over are opting to put their kids time to good use, by helping others as a perfect activity.
We all saw communities rally to help and support each other during the bushfires and again during the pandemic, so why not use this time to get children and teens into volunteering and helping others. The most up to date data talks to the 2016 census showed that 3.6 million Australians had volunteered in their community in the previous year, which is 19% of the population. Nowadays, with so many people doing it tough or feeling isolated, volunteering in a safe space is the ultimate in help and allows us to feel connected to our community and make it a better place. So, getting your little ones involved in giving back helps to develop their compassion and enhance their emotional intelligence.
There are lots of volunteer opportunities and organisations in need and so you can look to match their interests. Do your kids love animals? Perhaps contact your local animal shelter. Are they interested in cooking? See if you can take them along to help in a local soup kitchen.
Naturally, some things need adult help, but there are some they can do on their own. For many organisations their insurance doesn’t cover volunteers under the age of 16, but it is never too early to learn the importance of giving back
Pick up litter
Children of all ages can help keep pollution out of waterways by collecting dropped litter and properly disposing of it. In fact, some kids can even create art from some of the items they find – although we fully understand if that’s a stretch too far. Regardless, there’s much fun in the prep with gloves and the right attire and of course there’s always the competitive nature in kids to see who has picked up more. And as a family, you can extend this idea by turning it into a family activity: a drive to a beach or national park and help make the great outdoors safer for wildlife and even more beautiful in the process.
Of course, there’s always the offer of washing a neighbour’s car, walking their dog or baking a cake.
Help an animal shelter
To be an RSPCA volunteer you will need to be over the age of 16, however in NSW there are special school holiday programs designed for young people https://www.rspcansw.org.au/what-we-do/education/school-holiday-program.
In Queensland the Animal Welfare League (AWLQ) has a volunteer program specifically for teens. They can spend time at the Rehoming Centre learning about the daily care routines for cats, dogs and small animals who are waiting for their forever homes https://www.awlqld.com.au/volunteering/teen-volunteering.
The most helpful thing to do is to contact a local shelter directly and find out what they need. Often animal shelters need donations of towels, food and old newspaper. You could help your child put together a plan to collect donations of these items from neighbours and friends. They could make a mailbox drop and email local family and friends, asking if they can help give any of the items required.
Get involved in Junior Landcare
Junior Landcare provides children the opportunity to play an active role in ensuring the safe future of their environment. There are active chapters and partners all over Australia who want to involve young people in caring for nature. Get involved in projects such as bush regeneration, planting trees and monitoring water quality https://juniorlandcare.org.au/.
Young people can also practice their bird watching to prepare for the annual Aussie Backyard Bird Count in October that helps researchers to understand more about the birds that live where people live https://aussiebirdcount.org.au/.
Volunteer at a fun run
Sporting events are often run entirely by volunteers and more hands are always appreciated. The free weekly community Park Runhttps://www.parkrun.com.au/ events operate in over 400 locations around Australia and each week there are a number of jobs that require help. These might include setting up the course, scanning or recording runners, time keeping and directing people along the way. At any sporting event extra hands are always appreciated at the end of the day to assist with the clean up.
Make a cash donation
What many charity and non-profit organisations need most of all is money. This helps organisations with their operational costs and to purchase the things they need to do the greatest amount of good.
Your children could hold a bake sale or a lemonade stand and sell their goods to others in the neighbourhood. They could collect bottles and cans where cash refunds are given on return.
Raising money for the purpose of donating it is a selfless act which helps teach children about both the value of money and the value of kindness.
Sign up for a volunteer program
There are structured organisations that create volunteer programs specifically for young people. Kids Giving Back is a registered charity that aims to “enable children and young people to undertake practical and meaningful activities to support the work of charities whilst at the same time assisting them to acquire empathy, experience altruism and achieve a sense of belonging.” Their programs include preparing food for people experiencing homelessness, helping to pack and sort clothes for people doing it tough and making puppets and activity packs for other kids going through a hard time. Kids Giving Back encourages kids and their families to have real life experiences where they can gain as much as they give
These are just some of the ways your kids can help out these school holidays. Volunteering makes us feel happier as we are actively helping others and contributing to the wider community. Showing your children how their actions can benefit others is a lesson best learnt first-hand.