What to know before you adopt a pet
Are you thinking about adopting a new pet for Christmas? If you have little ones at home, be sure you choose a pet that is both safe and age appropriate for your children. With some research and careful planning, you can bring the right pet into your home.
Questions to ask before you adopt
Caring for an animal goes far beyond providing food, water and shelter. Knowing why you’re preparing to bring a pet home will help you to determine the species and breed that will fit your lifestyle. Ask yourself the following questions before you adopt:
- Is your family ready for a pet?
- Can you financially afford to care for your pet’s health and safety?
- Are you ready for a long-term commitment?
- Will you be able to spend quality time together?
- Are you educated about what caring for an animal entails?
Age-appropriate Pets for Kids
Here are some guidelines from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to help you choose a pet that will fit in with your family:
If your kids are still toddlers, consider waiting a few years before adopting. If you have a pet already when your baby is born, take common-sense precautions. Never leave the pet and baby alone together without supervision.
Guinea pigs are excellent first pets for children. Instead of a puppy, try a medium-sized dog over five months of age. Larger dogs often have more stable and patient temperaments and are less likely to be injured by a rambunctious toddler.
Ages 5 to 10
Elementary age kids do best with a small animal that doesn’t require a lot of care, such as a goldfish or a gerbil. Of course, you’ll still need to supervise the feeding, tank cleaning and maintenance of your newest family addition, unless you want to find poor Nemo floating upside down from lack of food.
Ages 10 to 13
The tween years are the prime time for your child to have a rabbit, dog or cat, or — if you can handle it — reptiles such as snakes or lizards. Your child can be responsible for feeding the pet, walking the dog, cleaning the rabbit cage and cleaning the cat litter. Ultimately, you will be the one responsible for making sure the animal is well cared for.
Ages 14 to 17
Odds are, your teen may become more interested in sports, extracurricular activities, and schoolwork and have little time for a pet. Consider the expected life-span of the pet, and make plans for that pet’s care when your teen leaves the home for college. Pets such as lizards and fish may be the perfect match for your teen and their busy, on-the-go lifestyle.
By Shirley Pennebaker, founder of Camp Academia and creator of Brainjogging®
How Important Is Sleep In Children?
Here are some important points about the importance of sleep:
- Sleep washes away toxins from the previous day.
- It consolidates the short-term and long-term memories.
- Why do children have problems sleeping? Is melatonin the answer? Here are the facts! Melatonin is made in the pineal gland and REGULATES sleep-wake cycles. Light decreases melatonin production and darkness increases production. We can help our children get better sleep naturally by turning off all electronics, dimming the lights in the house close to their routine bedtime and doing more calming activities such as reading bedtime stories, or listening to classical or soothing music. This helps the body produce more melatonin naturally at the right time!
- Sleeping pills and sedatives prevent the brain from carrying out important functioning and processing that normally takes place during sleep.
- A major indication of mental illness is interrupted sleeping patterns.
Camp Academia is an educational firm located in LaGrange, GA that targets learning disorders with the latest technology, including our patented Brainjogging computer software. For more information, please visit our website at www.campacademia.com.
55 Family Holiday traditions
The holidays are a wonderful time to build lifelong memories with your family. Some of my favorite memories include baking with my mom, attending performances of Handel’s “Messiah”, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve.
Now that my siblings and I are grown and married, we try to gather at Grandma and Grandpa’s house the Saturday before Christmas. With three generations (14 adults and 15 grandchildren), it feels like a carnival with lots of laughter, plenty of food and Christmas chaos. Getting everyone together to bless the food and sit down to eat is like herding cats—cats that all talk simultaneously. But the best part is knowing that our annual family gathering is a favorite tradition for my kids.
If you’re looking for a special way to bring your family closer this year, try one of these creative ideas.
Baking and Holiday Food Traditions
- Organize a cookie swap with your neighbors.
- Make the same entree or dessert for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day every year.
- Make and decorate cookies with your kids.
- Make a gingerbread house with your family.
- Make mulled cider in the crockpot.
Memory Making Traditions
- Make decorating the the tree a family event, serve hot chocolate and play Christmas music
- Attend a Christmas concert together.
- Get a handful of friends together and go caroling.
- See a local production of ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet.
- Take a Christmas Lights tour
- Have your picture made with Santa.
- Go ice skating with your family.
- Start the ‘Elf on a Shelf’ tradition.
- Read holiday books before bed each night.
- Pose for a family picture.
- Pick out a new ornament for each child.
- Help your child write a letter to Santa. Take the letter to your nearest Macy’s and drop it in the special Red Believe letterbox. #MacysBelieve
- Watch the movie The Polar Express (IMAX 3D) at the National Infantry Museum.
- Make a festive tree garland with paper chains.
- Write an annual letter to your child.
- Light the Menorah together every night of Hanukkah.
- Find mistletoe, hang it in your house to kiss under.
- Draw names in your immediate family and make a gift for that person.
- Camp out in sleeping bags under your lighted Christmas tree.
- Learn about holiday traditions from around the globe.
- Use an Advent calendar to count down to Christmas.
- Set aside one night each week to watch a holiday movie or television special.
- Attend church as a family on the four Sundays before Christmas.
- Set up an Advent wreath in your home.
- Watch the movie The Nativity Story.
- Take your family to the Coca-Cola Space Science Center to watch the full-dome planetarium show “Mystery of the Christmas Star.”
- Celebrate St Nicholas Day by leaving your shoes out on the night of December 5th.
- Set out a Nativity set.
Acts of Kindness Traditions
- Take part in a community service project as a family.
- Drop a gift anonymously at someone’s doorstep.
- Find a Angle Tree that allows you to sponsor a family in need or purchase toys for children in need.
- Take dinner to a less fortunate family.
- Let your children pick out a charitable organization, then make a donation.
Christmas Eve Traditions
- Track Santa’s progress across the globe on NORAD.
- Take a picture of your sleeping kids every year the night before Christmas.
- Make reindeer food on Christmas Eve (oats and candy sprinkles) and toss it on the lawn for Santa’s team of reindeer.
- Read The Night Before Christmas before bedtime.
- Read the Christmas Story and remember the real reason we celebrate.
- Put out cookies and snacks out for Santa on Christmas Eve.
- Get matching pajamas for the kids to wear on Christmas Eve.
- Attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service.
- Start a gag gift tradition.
- Open one gift on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day Traditions
- Wait to open presents until after religious services or brunch.
- Hide a pickle ornament in your Christmas tree. The first person to find it gets to open the first present on Christmas morning.
- Celebrate Jesus’ birthday with a special birthday cake.
- Take a family walk on Christmas Day.
- Invite family, friends, and neighbors over Christmas evening for games and dessert.
After Christmas Traditions
- Surprise your neighbors with treats during the 12 Days of Christmas (December 25 to January 5.)
- Celebrate the “Feast of the Epiphany” or “Three Kings’ Day” on January 6.
6 Ideas for Practicing Gratitude Year Round
Is it possible to foster a spirit of gratitude in your kids — during the holidays and all year round? Of course! Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to teach your kids the habit of giving and to cultivate a thankful heart. Keep your eyes open for teachable moments. When kids can connect the concept of gratitude to a real-life situation, the lesson is more likely to stick.
Here are six ideas to help your whole family foster a grateful attitude all year round.
1. Model, Model, Model.
Expressing gratitude through words, writing, and small gifts or acts of reciprocity are all ways to teach children how to become grateful. There are countless opportunities to model gratitude before your kids — for example, thanking the waitress who serves your food, the cashier who rings you up at the grocery store, the teller at the bank who cashes your check. When our kids see us expressing sincere thanks all the time, they’ll be more inclined to do so as well.
2. Create a nightly routine.
At dinner or bedtime, have your family count their blessings by taking turns sharing the three best things about your day. Make it fun by clinking your glasses together. It can be little things, like a new friend, a shared snack or a good parking spot!
3. Volunteer together.
Serving others through volunteer work is a wonderful way to remind yourself to be thankful. Think food pantry or animal shelter, making cards for our troops, picking up trash at a local park. Try to make it a regular commitment year round — not just at the holidays.
4. Write thank-you notes.
In this age of instant messaging, the act of writing (and mailing) a thank you note may feel old fashioned. But thank you notes are a great way to help your child reflect on kindnesses both big and small. In addition to birthday and holiday presents, have your kids write thank you notes when someone does something special for them, such as a grandparent taking them to the amusement park.
5. Make a record of your blessings.
If your family likes to do crafts, create a blessing jar or wreath to visually collect the many things, great and small, that make you thankful. You can also keep a Family Gratitude Journal. We like this Wreath of Plenty found on Parents.com.
To make the wreath:
Wrap a 12-inch Styrofoam wreath form with strips of fabric, securing them with ball-head straight pins. Cut leaf shapes from card stock. Crease each leaf in half to add dimension. To hang, pin a loop of string to the back of the wreath. Tip: Use light-colored gel pens to write on darker paper.
6. Practice Random Acts of Kindness.
Pay it forward with random acts of kindness. From smiling at a passing stranger to paying for someone’s order behind you at the drive-thru, small actions make a huge difference. It sounds cliché, but it really works. Random, yet simple, acts of kindness benefit both sides and you will feel better while helping others.
Each year we look forward to certain family traditions, like baking Granny’s gingerbread cookies or watching It’s a Wonderful Lifewith the kids. But not every holiday tradition is quite so fun. How about braving the airport? Or cooking for a crowd of 50? No thanks. If you no longer enjoy some of your annual traditions, or simply can’t afford them right now, it’s okay to change how you celebrate. It’s your holiday, after all. Here are seven holiday traditions that may be costing you more than they’re worth.
1. Annual Christmas Bash
If you’d rather not spend two precious weeks in December planning and prepping for your annual Christmas open house, then don’t. Forget the cheese ball, sherbet punch and mini gherkins, and just get together with a few close pals at a local restaurant. Split the check, and enjoy a simple, stress-free evening with your nearest and dearest. Let someone else handle the cooking and cleaning up.
2. Competitive Lights Display
Don’t let your Christmas-crazy neighbors guilt you into a lights display worthy of Rockefeller Center. If your family enjoys looking at lights, pack a thermos of hot chocolate and drive around town to admire the best of the over-the-top yards. It’s free, and you don’t have to freeze your tail off. Parent of the year!
3. Last-Minute Stockings
Stocking stuffers are a cute idea, but who really cares? They’re usually full of junk you don’t need, and dwarfed by all the stuff you actually wanted. Instead of wasting $20 on lip balm and silly putty, why not use that cash to buy a few small gifts for Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree? That’s a much more gratifying family tradition.
4. Black Friday Shopping
We like a good deal as much as the next person, but if your family is just shopping “for sport,” take a team timeout. Decide what you want to buy before you rush out after Thanksgiving lunch. And don’t grab stuff just because it’s on sale. You’ll end up overspending rather than saving. If you have that much energy to burn, try a family game of flag football. It’s much less dangerous (well, maybe).
5. Family Portrait Christmas Cards
Skip the hassle of scheduling a photographer, buying matching red-and-white outfits and ordering hundreds of glossy prints. Cards are a meaningful gesture, but don’t make them more difficult or more expensive than they have to be. To save, buy in bulk. Or have the kids help you craft some sweet cards with stamps and glitter. How fun is that?
6. Price-Inflated Plane Tickets
Instead of heading home for the holidays, why not visit your family in January or February when the prices have come down? You could even start a new tradition, like meeting your folks in a fun city between your two towns. Imagine a calm, post-holiday vacation for half the price and half the crowd. Now that’s peace on earth.
7. A (Sort of) Freshly Cut Tree
If you dread the drama of picking the perfect, overpriced tree from your local Boy Scouts, just use the garage-sale special in your attic — you know it’s there. A tree is just a tree. It’s how you decorate it (and who you decorate it with) that counts. And who knows? Fake may even begin to grow on you. As you budget for the holidays, don’t break the bank in the name of tradition. Decide which customs are important to you, and then see how they fit into your overall budget. If you want to make a few cuts, that’s okay. Usually, it’s the least expensive traditions that create the best memories. —Used with permission from daveramsey.com
Make your overnight guests feel at home
Do you have overnight guests coming for the Holidays? Pretend for a moment that you’re the guest. What makes you feel welcome and comfortable? What makes a room feel cozy and inviting? Just a few extra touches here and there can make your guests feel at home. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
- Vacuum the bedroom they will be sleeping in, and scrub the bathroom they will be using.
- Remove any clutter from the flat surfaces, including the knickknacks.
- Make sure the bed is made with fresh, clean sheets — and extra blankets, in case a guest becomes a little chilly.
- Clean out the dresser drawers and closet, in case they’d like to unpack their suitcase and get comfy. (Have several wooden hangers available.)
- Leave a little basket with snacks and water bottles, or a tray with a pitcher of water and a water glass. (Add several slices of lemon to the pitcher for a special touch.)
- Put a box of tissue and a decorative bowl to contain keys, jewelry, pocket change on the night stand.
- Remove personal items from the bathroom, and make sure there is extra toilet paper and plenty of fluffy towels available.
- Put a waste bin and a laundry hamper in the closet for dirty clothes.
- Provide ample lighting with lamps on end tables by the bed and small lights throughout the house, so guests can find their way around at night.
- Plug in a night light. (For a festive touch, drape a strand of white Christmas lights over the window or a piece of furniture.)
$25 or Less
- Leave a basket in the bathroom counter with sample bottles of shampoo, hairspray, mouthwash, shower gels, disposable razors, toothbrushes, hair clips, soap, and a hair dryer.
- Put a decorative holiday pillow on the bed for a festive touch.
- Get a simple tray for the bed. Stack with books and magazines.
- Purchase a fluffy white towel and washcloth set, and leave it on your guest’s bed.
- Make sure your room has a reading light or table lamp.
- If there is room, put a chair in the corner for your guest’s comfort.
- A clock is a must have!
- Buy hypo-allergenic pillow and mattress covers. Your allergy-prone guests will thank you.
- Put fresh flowers in a vase.
- Add a spritz of linen spray on the bed sheets to make the room smell inviting.
$50 or Less
- Buy new linens. Purchase cotton sheets with a high thread count for a luxurious feel.
- Story an ironing board and iron in the closet.
- Put a luggage rack or small ottoman at the end of the bed for your guest’s luggage.
- Hang a fluffy XL robe in the bathroom.
- Purchase new hypoallergenic pillows. (Your allergy-prone guests will thank you.)
- Buy a spa basket filled with bubble bath, scented lotions, a loofa sponge, and more.
- A down blanket or comforter.
- New curtains.
- A new mattress. (If you wouldn’t want to sleep on the guest bed, it’s time to splurge.)
- A television and DVD player.
Select what works in your own holiday inn. Then remember your guests are not coming to inspect your home; they are coming to spend time with you and to celebrate the holidays.
No Room in the Inn?
Even if your “guest room” is occupied by a child or by your office furniture, you still can create a space that is warm and welcoming. Here’s how:
- Arrange one of your children’s rooms as a temporary guest room. Your child can bunk with another sibling or on a pallet in your room.
- If you have a sleeper sofa, turn your den into a guest haven.
- If good friends are away for the holidays, inquire about having your guests stay in their home.
- If you don’t have a sleeper sofa, air mattresses are comfortable and can turn almost any room into an instant bedroom.
Sources: HomeLife Magazine, RealSimple.com and SouthernLiving.com
Photo Credit: DollarPhotoClub.com
Celebrate the season with a cozy family movie night. From old school classics to recent releases, here are 10 holiday movies that will put your family in the holiday spirit.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
A perennial fave that addresses the material and spiritual aspects of the holiday season. Cartoonist Charles Schulz first brought his soulful Peanuts comic strip to life in this divine television special, a clever skewering of Christmas commercialization and a heartfelt celebration of holiday holiness, all set to Vince Guaraldi’s iconic jazz piano.
Run time: 30 min. Not rated. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
2. Original Christmas Classics
This is a “must have” collection, including seven holiday faves like the classic stop-motion animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (narrated by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman), Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Special, Frosty the Snowman (narrated by Jimmy Durante), Frosty Returns, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, The Little Drummer Boy and Cricket on the Hearth. Your kids are sure to love them all!
Run time: 275 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
3. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Every Who down in Who-ville likes Christmas a lot, but the Grinch who lived just north of Who-ville did NOT! So the cuddly as a cactus Grinch (with termites in his smile and garlic in his soul) tries to wipe out Christmas for the cheerful Who-villians, only to discover: Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more! Narrated by Boris Karloff and animated by cartoon legend Chuck Jones!
Run time: 26 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 4 and up.
4. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Jim Henson’s lovable menagerie puts its own spin on the classic Charles Dickens tale. Michael Caine is a straight-faced Scrooge amid the slapstick charm of the renowned puppets. Even better casting: Kermit as Bob Cratchit—and his nephew Robin as Tiny Tim. God bless them, everyone!
Run time: 85 minutes. Rated G. Recommended for ages 5 and up.
5. The Santa Clause (1994)
Scott Calvin is a divorced father whose strained relationship with his son, Charlie, begins to mend only after a bizarre twist of fate transforms him into the new Santa. When the current Mr. Clause falls off the roof on Christmas Eve, Scott dons Santa’s suit, and he and his son are whisked off to the North Pole. There he finds out about the Clause, a contract stating that whoever puts on the Santa suit must also take on all the responsibilities that go with the position. Scott isn’t too thrilled about his sudden career change. Charlie, however, is overjoyed.
Run time: 97 minutes. Rated PG. Recommended for ages 5 and up.
6. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Is that bearded fella really Santa Claus? Macy’s hires Kris Kringle to be its department store St. Nick, but his commitment to the job (as well as insistence on being the genuine article) has all the kids in awe and sets off a media firestorm that ends up in a court of law. It’s a classic that continues to appeal to kids generation after generation.
Run time: 96 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
7. The Polar Express (2004)
Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book about a train headed for Santa’s workshop becomes a computer-generated spectacle in this holiday film. This heart-warming film is filled with adventure, including lots of roller coaster thrills. The Express roars, speeds, and skids on its perilous journey to the North Pole. Sometimes out of control, sometimes racing against dangers and obstacles in its path, it’s filled with suspense almost from beginning to end.
Run time: 100 minutes. Rated G. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
8. Home Alone (1990)
Macaulay Culkin holds down the fort against bumbling burglars while his family accidentally flies to Paris without him in this massive hit that’s every kid’s fantasy—and nightmare. While his Rube Goldberg booby traps and Edvard Munch–inspired visage deliver the laughs, it’s the warmer moments with negligent parents (as well as a mysterious shut-in neighbor) that give heart to this comic evergreen.
Run time: 103 minutes. Rated PG. Recommended for ages 7 and up.
9. White Christmas
This 1954 musical is yet another true holiday classic. Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. The quartet resolve to entertain former military troopers with a memorable and heartwarming holiday show. Featuring the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas.” The ending is pure magic.
Run time: 120 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
10. It’s a Wonderful Life
This beloved classic (offered in black and white and color in this set) is still popular more 60 years after its release. The reigning king of Christmas movies, Frank Capra’s poignant fable stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man with big ambitions (and a bigger heart) who defers his dream of leaving small-town Bedford Falls, but makes personal sacrifices that create a staggering ripple effect of inspirational goodwill on earth—a great message for young viewers watching at home. He even helps an angel get his wings.
Run time: 130 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 9 and up.
What holiday movie would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!
Guest post by Michelle DeRamus, Ph.D., Phenix City Children’s
To Brush their Teeth
To Ride a Bike
To Be Thankful?
I usually refrain from listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. But, this year, I found myself already turning the radio station to the familiar jingles and carols early in November. Perhaps I am swept up in my husband’s enthusiastic anticipation of buying our 2-year old daughter, Emily, all of the new and shiny presents that her small heart could desire and seeing her face light up as she unwraps each package. Maybe I am just ready to decorate our Christmas tree and to enjoy our upcoming celebrations with cherished family and friends. However, despite this impending excitement and joy, I am making it a priority to slow down and enjoy Thanksgiving first.
This holiday, which occurs almost strategically before all of the gift-giving associated with Christmas, is centered upon gratitude.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives (both tangible and intangible). It is also an acknowledgement of the goodness inherent in our lives, which is at least partially attributed to sources greater than ourselves. Gratitude often serves as an outward link to people, nature, or a higher power.
When I was a child, my parents modeled gratitude all year long. I learned to say thank you for small everyday things, such as getting a cookie after dinner. I was also encouraged to budget my allowance so that I would have enough left over to help families in need, especially around the holidays. Through these tangible actions, I learned to enjoy helping others, partly because of the good feeling that came every time I did something charitable. I later learned that this wasn’t just a childish feeling of goodwill. In fact, in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and repeatedly associated with greater happiness.
What are the Benefits?
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, explains that being thankful has psychological, social, and even physical effects. Grateful people have higher levels of positive emotions, are more forgiving, more outgoing, feel less lonely, have less frequent periods of depression, feel more alert and alive, sleep longer, and have stronger immune systems, according to Emmons’ research.
How Do I Teach Gratitude to My Children?
Teaching gratitude to children can be as easy as keeping a gratitude journal, where you sit down together and write out a list of the things you are thankful for each week. Younger children may list items such as a stuffed animal or favorite book, but older children should be encouraged to think beyond their corner of the world. Encourage them to consider what they love about their school, their community, their country, and the world as a whole. Over the holidays especially, it is customary to go around the table and count your blessings verbally, or to pray together before eating. Other families may express gratitude by baking homemade treats for the neighbors or as thank you gifts for teachers at school.
The key to teaching gratitude is modeling the behavior. Rather than dropping your high school student off at the local soup kitchen to get community service hours for a sports team, go in with him/her and volunteer. I enjoy taking my daughter shopping to buy Christmas presents for another little girl, about her age. I let her pick out the items and then carefully explain that we are going to give them away. By helping me to pick the gifts that she would enjoy, Emily is engaged in the giving process.
Younger children will also learn gratitude from handing out gifts to older relatives, helping to put the bows and ribbons on presents or simply expressing to Grandma when receiving a scratchy wool scarf for the fifth Christmas in a row. In our office this season, we are working to put up a “Wall of Thankfulness.” When patients come in, they are given a piece of construction paper and a crayon. We ask them to draw pictures of all of the things and people that they are thankful for and then add them to a collective board of drawings for other patients to see.
When families come for psychology sessions, they often feel overwhelmed with the negative situation they are experiencing, which could include behavior problems, troubles at school or other issues. Rather than focus on the missing elements, or negatives, I encourage them to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. Even in the most challenging of circumstances, it is possible to peel back the layers of bitterness, anger, regret and anxiety and to find things to be thankful for.
By fostering gratitude in children at an early age, a thankful attitude is ingrained in them throughout the entire year- long after the turkey has been eaten. Such attitudes of gratefulness are paramount to society, as grateful children grow up to become grateful adults.
Teach your kids gratitude now; they will thank you later.
Dr. DeRamus is a child psychologist who specializes in autism. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama and currently works at Phenix City Children’s.
Emmons, R. (2010, November 16). Why gratitude is good.
Harvard Health Publications. (2011, November). In praise of gratitude.
Miller, M. (2013, August 27). The mental health benefits of gratitude.
Photo Credit: Graphicleftovers.com
By Kelly Palmatier, CompassionateKids.com
Volunteering with children is a great way to help them learn about giving back. Children learn valuable skills while “on the job.” Homeschooled students, who may have more time available for volunteering, could also enjoy the additional socialization opportunities presented through volunteering. Another benefit of volunteering is children learn about the concerns of the organization and what need it fills in the community. Consequently, the children also have an opportunity to remember what they have to be thankful for.
It’s important to work side-by-side with your child, since leading by example has been shown to be the most effective form of teaching. Children who see their parents volunteering are much more likely to believe in the value of working to help others.
Naturally, working side-by-side with your child will allow you to assist him/her when necessary, ensuring the child’s presence is a help, not a hindrance to the organization’s staff and other volunteers.
An additional benefit of working with your child as a volunteer is the bonding that occurs when people work together as a team. Also, when people are focused on a task, it sometimes fosters deep conversations that may not have occurred with more direct eye contact.
Consider the Right Opportunity
When choosing a volunteer opportunity, it’s important to consider the following:
- Your Child’s Interests
- Your Interests
- Your Child’s Abilities
- Your Abilities
- Location, Frequency, & Duration
- Staff Attitude
Your Child’s Interests
If your child is clearly interested in a subject, it may be possible to use that interest as a springboard into volunteering: Children who construct a lot of forts or buildings with blocks may enjoy helping out a construction organization such as Habitat for Humanity; children who love animals my enjoy helping animal organizations such as the Humane Society.
It’s also important to consider your own interests. Children look to their parents to help them discern how to respond to new stimuli. If you are bored while volunteering, your child will associate boredom with volunteering. Alternately, if you are passionate about your actions, your child will respond to that passion.
Your Child’s Abilities
If your child is very young, it can be challenging to choose a volunteer opportunity that he/she can actually help with. Fortunately, there are opportunities available that even very young children can do with a little parental guidance.
I started volunteering with my children when they were three and six years old. My older child could follow basic directions well with a small amount of supervision. However, my three-year-old was an energetic little boy with a young child’s motor skills and attention span.
We were able to successfully volunteer at a local food pantry, where his sorting and counting skills worked quite well with close supervision and direction from me. I gave simple tasks such as taking two boxes of macaroni & cheese from a shelf and putting them in each grocery bag. He was able to complete these tasks easily, while I added all the remaining groceries.
Just as your child will learn from your passion for volunteering, he/she will benefit from seeing you work well in your element. For example, if you are especially skilled at home renovations, you may find a community restoration project to work on. This would allow you to share your skills while demonstrating the relevance volunteering has to many different careers and interests.
Location, Frequency, & Duration
Of course, it’s important to consider the basic logistics of any volunteer opportunity. If the opportunity is close by, a commitment to help out on a weekly basis may be fine. If it’s farther away, you may need to commit to helping on a monthly basis instead. It’s fine to increase your volunteering later, after you’ve tried it out and you know it works well for you, but be careful not to over-commit initially. Remember your child is already learning work ethics from this experience. You’ll want to ensure you arrive in a timely manner when you’re expected, only canceling or rescheduling when you truly have valid reasons and can give plenty of notice.
Consider, too, the duration of each volunteer session. Older children may be fine with a few hours or more. However, younger children may need sessions to be kept short.
We found our one-hour volunteer session at the food pantry each week worked well during the first 30 to 45 minutes of fast-paced grocery bag-filling. However, the remaining 15 to 30 minutes of shelf-restocking were slow-paced enough that the three-year-old had trouble staying focused. It was an invitation for chaos. We handled it by simply leaving earlier until he was a little older and better-able to handle a full hour of volunteer work at a time.
The last item to consider is the attitude of other volunteers and the organization’s staff. Most people will appreciate your instilling a volunteer ethic in children at a young age, but you may find a few “sour apples” who focus more on the decibel level or other potential distractions. (In fact, many organizations may prohibit children under a certain age.)
To some extent, the mission you’re on is more important than any individuals who may not appreciate your child’s input. However, be sure to consider the effect others’ attitudes have on your child. If a child feels like a hindrance, volunteering will end up seeming like a chore rather than a joy.
Resources for Finding Volunteer Opportunities
There are many ways you can learn about volunteer opportunities, including the following:
- Check with Keep America Beautiful or other local organizations for community clean-up days.
- Consider raising vegetables or starting a canned food drive for your local food pantry.
- Check with local nursing homes for “toddler days.”
- Take on home baking projects for fundraising bake sales or meal delivery services.
- Ask your local Chamber of Commerce for information about local organizations that may have volunteer opportunities.
- Call non-profit organizations you like and ask what you can do. They may have needs/volunteer opportunities that you haven’t even thought of.
- Check for opportunities listed in national volunteer website databases such as VolunteerMatch.org (has a designation for kid-friendly opportunities) or Idealist.org (has designations for teen opportunities and under-age-12 opportunities).
As with most parental/educational pursuits, there are many factors to consider regarding volunteering with children, but a little effort can provide a lifetime of benefit for both the kids involved and for society.
Election Trivia: how many do you know?
The first Tuesday in November is Election Day. How well do you know the voting process? Take this Election Trivia quiz and see how well you did!
- How old do you need to be to legally vote in the United States?
- Which amendment gives African Americans the right to vote?
- True or False: It is not important that each citizen of age vote in a democratic election.
- What are the two main political parties in the United States today?
- What is another word that means having the right to vote?
- The first political party in the United States was called the ____ Party?
- Americans can vote by mail by submitting ____ ballots.
- What is the name of the group of people that determine who will be president?
- The term of a U.S. senator is ___ years.
- To serve as President of the United States, a candidate must be at least ___ years old
Election Trivia Answers:
(1) 18 (2) 15th (3) False (4) Democrats and Republicans (5) suffrage (6) Federalist (7) absentee (8) The Electoral College (9) six (10) 35