It’s Christmas, and the easiest way to get into the holiday spirit is a little goodwill-sharing. But finding ways to teach kids about giving—and convince them giving is more important than getting—can be like finding a parking space on Black Friday: next to impossible.
I know many moms are like me: We definitely want our children to understand concepts like gratitude and appreciation for the lives they have—at Christmas for sure, but throughout the year, too. We want to raise kind, compassionate, giving adults.
But we are swamped and overwhelmed. (And still looking for a parking space.)
I’ve compiled a few ideas to make teaching kids about giving easy. Here’s a list of things parents can do to encourage these values and bring a little joy to the world—at Christmas and throughout the year.
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Nothing says “It’s Christmas!” like your 17th trip to store. And whether you’re in the toy aisle or the grocery store, picking out a few extra items can teach kids about the importance of giving to others.
Let the kiddos take the lead on choosing a toy to donate to Toys for Tots, an organization that collects gifts for children in need. Many stores have large collection boxes so you can drop them off on your way out. Easy-peasy!
If your budget allows for more than a toy or two, consider “adopting” an entire family through a local nonprofit, school or church.
Laundry soap pods and dryer sheets
Spend an hour filling baggies with one of each (toss in quarters if you wanna), while talking to your kids about what they think it would be like to not have a washer and dryer at home. Make a quick stop at the laundromat over a few Saturdays (the busiest day for these businesses) to surprise launderers with these “loads of love.”
Nonperishable food items
Let the kids choose favorite cereals, pastas or canned goods to donate. You can take the goods to a local food pantry or—our favorite—stock up the nearest Little Free Pantry.
Give each child an exact amount to spend on groceries, and they’ll learn a little bit about family budgeting and put their math skills to the test.
My girls’ school requests that children bring a healthy snack each day—
but this isn’t feasible for many families receiving free or reduced lunch, or simply struggling to make ends meet. I often pick up a bulk box of granola bars or crackers to give the teacher to have on hand for classmates in need.
School social workers can provide you with specific needs, such as coats, gloves and bedding, that will directly help students and families they serve.
Toiletries and slippers
Purchase a small gift for a senior citizen who may not otherwise receive anything for Christmas. Find a collection near you at Be a Santa to a Senior. And have the kids write a holiday wish or draw a picture to go with it.
A collection drive takes more planning and time, but it also makes a big impact. Getting kids involved (and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles…) teaches them about giving and the process of planning, collecting and distributing.
Here are a few drives we’ve participated in:
Partner with your school’s parent-teacher organization to collect filled stockings. Take your children shopping to fill stockings with small toys, toiletries, socks, gift cards, candy, etc. Then, donate them to your county’s family services division to be distributed to children in foster care.
- Older kids in foster care are often overlooked, so items for them are a big plus.
- Give a prize to the classroom or club that collects the most stockings. Even just a pizza or cupcake “party” will excite the kids and entice them to donate more.
This is an easy one to do with a sports team, school group, scout troop or slumber party. Have each child bring goods that could be useful to a homeless person. Common items include:
- Soft snack or breakfast bars
- Small bottles of water
- Lip balm
- Hand warmers
- Hats and gloves
- Travel-size toiletries
- $5 gift cards for fast food restaurants
Provide gallon-size zipper bags and make an assembly line to fill “blessing bags” with the goodies. Each child takes a few to keep in the family car and hand out when they see someone in need.
A more personal way to get kids involved is asking them to write a note to include in the bag. Simple, handwritten messages like “Hope you have a great day!” can go a long way in lifting someone’s Christmas spirit.
Feminine hygiene products
This is one of the most requested and greatest needs for many shelters and outreach programs. Things we typically just throw in our shopping carts are budget-breakers for many women in need.
Recently, I heard about the great need for these items in my area—both for our local women’s shelter and for the high school girls in a nearby school district.
I talked to my daughters about this need and how important it was, then asked them to help me make “wish lists” on Amazon and Target websites. Our lists included lots of pads and tampons, but also individually wrapped personal wipes and deodorant.
Then, I just posted links to the wish lists on my social media pages (made public for sharing) with a note about why we were collecting.
Over the next few weeks, donations were delivered to my home daily. My girls got so excited to see boxes on our porch after school!
It was a great way to keep them involved—my girls sorted and inventoried the donations and wrote thank-you notes to those who donated. And of course, they went with me when we dropped off the goods.
A friend whose children attend uniform-required schools put out a simple Facebook message (and shared it on her school’s parent-teacher social media) that she’d gladly take any gently used uniform pants and shirts at the end of the school year.
She put the word out and quickly ended up with hundreds of useful uniform pieces. After a quick email to a school counselor, her family delivered them to a uniform-required public school. The school was thrilled to help their students in need, and the donating families were glad to see their children’s outgrown clothing be put to good use.
Many public schools in low-income districts require uniforms. To find one near you, start by asking around or simply reaching out to schools you think might have a need.
Out with the old to make room for the new! The kids are on a break from school and the house is likely full of evidence Santa stopped by…what better time to turn them into mini-minimalists and donate things they’ve outgrown? Ask for children’s help finding items to give, like:
- Books: Gently used books are always welcome at your local Little Free Library.
- Formal dresses and shoes: Help young girls who don’t have the financial means to buy a prom dress. We love Becca’s Closet.
- Coats, hats and gloves: These are always needed at shelters, especially in large men’s sizes.
- Business attire: Find your local Dress for Success. They provide gently used, professional attire for women hoping to achieve economic independence and employment.
- Blankets and towels: Animal shelters can always use nice, clean bedding.
If your family is Jewish, a tzedakah box is the perfect way to introduce kids to charitable giving. Tzedakah, which is most commonly translated as “charity,” has its roots in the word “justice”: Giving money and resources to those in need is understood to be an act of justice.
Jewish tradition teaches that giving tzedakah is a religious obligation, even for those who have little to give. It’s customary to place money in a tzedakah box just prior to Shabbat, holidays and other special occasions. Let the kiddos help decide where the collected money should be donated and why.
Exposing kids to volunteerism is a great way to open conversations (and hearts!) about what it really means to be grateful and compassionate. It’s also a fun, impactful way to spend time together as a family—invite grandparents along! Teach them to give their time by involving them in decisions about where to volunteer.
A few places to start:
• Local animal shelter
• Food banks
• Clothing banks
• Soup kitchens or Meals on Wheels
• Thrift stores (especially smaller, church- or nonprofit-run stores)
Or check VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org or AllForGood.org to find opportunities that match your family’s interests, passions or skills.
Got a kid who loves to read? Set him up to read to homebound seniors. One who loves building things? Get her to Habitat for Humanity. Got a crocheter? Painter? Photographer? Encourage them to donate their time and talent to create things for others.
Christmas is such a magical time—and what better way to add to it than by sharing our blessings? Here’s hoping that teaching my girls’ about giving means their favorite holiday memories are a wondrous mix of cookies, carols…and kindness.