We know that education goals are important. But when it comes to intentional parenting and educating, the classroom and/or homework table isn’t everything.
Our children often “catch” the values we model. It’s important to remember that finding purpose through service, gratitude, and honesty can be learned values.
But inspiring gratitude and a desire to serve can be tough — especially if you are a busy, active family. So here are six ways you can encourage these practices as a family.
1. Financial giving can be a family activity. When you choose to donate to a charity or sponsor a child, spend a half-hour around the kitchen table talking with your children about three things: why you are giving, what that money will fund, and just as important, what you will give up in order to be financially generous.
It is important for children to see that generosity requires some level of sacrifice. But it’s equally as crucial to show what it means to others and how it gives you joy.
If you can, let your children shop with you for a sponsored child; invite them to give part of their allowance for a week; or give them money just to set aside for their own generosity. (Generosity begets generosity, and fueling them financially may encourage them — over time — to give of their own accord.)
2. Stay on top of local news and neighborhood needs. One of the barriers we hear often about serving with young children is that many nonprofit organizations don’t allow volunteers under the age of 16. A way to combat this is to look for opportunities to serve “in your own backyard.”
If you belong to Next Door, join your local neighborhood and see if anyone has needs. If no such needs are posted, you can always start a post explaining that you would like to serve someone who could use help in their yard, help with meals, or another form of service that you and your children can do together.
3. Make serving a regular practice. Some of our Learnwell families keep a monthly journal of service to remind them throughout the year to practice generosity and acts of kindness.
It can be simple or elaborate: baking cookies for a friend, calling a neighbor who is home-bound just to chat, delivering a meal to a family with a newborn, or collecting canned food for a local food drive.
Recording these acts of kindness requires setting aside time together as a family to update the journal. With all that pulls at a family’s time, you may wonder: Is it worth it? Does it take away from education goals? Absolutely not.
Let your elementary-age children practice handwriting skills by recording a list of supplies you used, made, or purchased in the act of service. Have your older child record how the act of kindness made him or her feel. Even the youngest children can draw pictures that remind them of how your family chose to serve together that month.
The simple act of writing down what your family does each month can bring you together and remind you of ways you’re encouraging a lifestyle of service.
4. Talk regularly around the dinner table. This may seem like an odd service idea, but when your conversations around the table are intentional, service ideas may come up naturally.
For example, a recent conversation around our table revealed that one of our children’s friends at school was going through a difficult time due to some family health issues. We decided to reach out to the family, see if they had any needs, and provide what was needed.
Without talking regularly around the table, these deeper needs may not have come up. We also ask our children regularly who made them smile or laugh, or how they made someone else smile or laugh. They will sometimes share that they saved a treat from their lunch to share with a friend or let a classmate go ahead of them in line.
Even these small things are acts of kindness to be encouraged.
5. Look for ways to serve together through volunteerism. Serving doesn’t have to involve a soup kitchen or a food pantry, although these are great ways to gather and serve.
A recent nonprofit sent a request for bell ringers in our area, and a family we know decided to help. They enlisted neighbors and other friends to take one-hour timeslots ringing a bell for a major nonprofit that needed help.
6. Remember those in your circles who may not reach out for help. This might include the single parent who is struggling to provide Christmas gifts or an Easter basket. Or it could be a family who just lost a loved one to cancer and could use an encouraging note and baked goods.
Not everyone who needs a listening ear or a kind word will ask for it. Teaching your children to keep an eye out for friends who are struggling is a great way to encourage intentional friendship and lessen their own struggles with anxiety, feeling down, etc.
When we take time to notice others, gratitude and thankfulness are natural byproducts. But for more on gratitude, follow us on Instagram.