Helping others is a habit that needs to be developed early, and grandparents can help. As much as they might like to, some parents don't have time to volunteer on a regular basis, which creates opportunities for grandparents. Volunteering with a grandchild provides bonding time for the two of you, reinforces your grandchild's better impulses and benefits your community. That's a win-win-win situation.
Exactly when it's appropriate to begin volunteering with kids depends on the child, but preschool children can understand the principle of helping others and can participate in simple tasks, with a few caveats. First, keep the time frame short. Second, be sure that the organization and other volunteers are okay with having a young volunteer involved, especially if the activity is indoors in a restricted area. Third, be vigilant. A young volunteer can do more damage than good if not carefully supervised.
When grandchildren reach school-age, don't be surprised if they come up with volunteer ideas on their own. By the time they are in high school, they probably will be taking on projects with their friends and schoolmates, but chances are that they will find a way to involve you.
How to Find A Volunteer Activity
Websites such as VolunteerMatch can show you opportunities in your area, but small operations may not be listed. For those, you'll need to check out the local newspaper or community bulletin board, either actual or virtual. Some experts advise looking at activities that interest you. If you are volunteering with a grandchild, you could look at interests that you share. On the other hand, volunteer work can also be a way to stretch horizons and find new interests. Just don't make a long-term commitment until you know how it is going to work out for both you and your grandchild.
Safety is also a legitimate concern with some volunteer activities. Be sure that the parents are fully informed about any risks involved. Always think ahead about ways to keep both yourself and your grandchild safe. For example, kids who are going to pick up litter should be warned never to pick up broken glass or syringes. They should wear heavy gloves, wear insect repellent and stay out of areas where snakes might hide.
Ideas for Volunteering With Kids
Here are some ideas for volunteer activities, beginning with ones that can be done at an early age.
- Participate in a walk, run or bike ride for charity.
- Visit a nursing home or assisted living facility.
- Work in a community garden.
- Participate in a drive for toys, food, school supplies, books or clothing.
- Organize a yard sale, with proceeds going to a chosen charity.
- Pick up litter at a park or trail. Roadsides are best left for adults.
- Participate in field gleaning with a group that donates gathered produce to charity.
- Participate in tree planting, or in planting marsh grass if you live near a wetland.
- Make crafts to donate to a charity bazaar.
- Work at a thrift shop.
When kids get considerably older, they may be able to volunteer at a library, homeless shelter, animal shelter, hospital or museum. When such facilities accept young volunteers, they usually have age restrictions in place and offer training programs for volunteers. Teenagers can participate in home repair or construction, or do yard work for someone elderly or disabled.
Another type of volunteer activity is helping with publicity for community events or non-profit organizations. Many teens have the skills needed to:
- Create and maintain websites.
- Make posters and flyers.
- Create and maintain Facebook and Twitter pages.
- Serve as event photographers.
Don't Stop There!
Never overlook an opportunity to educate your grandchildren and yourself about volunteer opportunities. Wherever you are, if you see a non-profit at work, stop and ask the workers about what they are doing. Take the grandchildren on a tour of an animal shelter or soup kitchen. When a natural disaster strikes, talk to your grandchildren about best ways to help. Show older children how to check out charitable organizations to be sure that they are worthy of their time and/or donation.
If you'd like to stretch the boundaries of your giving, consider taking a volunteering vacation--sometimes called Voluntourism--with a grandchild. Voluntourism isn't for everyone, though. Accommodations can be rustic. In fact, although you will be paying for your trip, a volunteering vacation may not be much of a vacation at all. Still, such vacations can provide amazing experiences, and, like most experiences, they are even better when shared with a grandchild.