The Road Less Traveled: Lending a Helping Hand – Getting Children Started in Volunteering


Children of almost any age can start to understand the value of helping others through volunteering. Not only is volunteering an invaluable teaching tool for parents, it gives children a sense of value and belonging in both their family and their community.

Take Chloe, age 6, as an example of the power of volunteering. While enjoying a bike ride around town with her dad, she noticed a homeless man sitting alongside a building. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t have clean clothes or a place to live. “He looked so sad and I just wanted him to be happy,” Chloe shared with me during a recent Character Clubs class. “I just wanted to help him.”

And help she did. With the support of her family, Chloe learned that she could volunteer her time and efforts to collect food items, blankets and clothes for a local homeless shelter. Today, Chloe, now 10, continues to volunteer and loves every minute of it. She’s not alone. Many kids (and their parents) are finding out that they really enjoy volunteering.

Volunteer experiences expose them to new people, situations and environments that they may not come across in “regular” life, giving them an opportunity to see their life in new ways. Performing acts of service can bring kids in touch with people of different backgrounds, abilities, ethnicities, ages, and education and income levels.

Through volunteering, children learn that even the most diverse individuals can be connected by common values. It also gives them an opportunity to change lives, including their own.

Getting Children Started in Volunteering

#1: Model the importance of service – When children see you helping others, they will learn to copy that behavior. Soon, service will become a habit for them (and you)!

#2: Incorporate volunteer work into things you are already doing – Does your child love to draw? Ask them to create artwork for hospital patients. Do they enjoy singing or dancing? He or she could perform at a local eldercare facility. Is cooking your child’s passion? Perhaps she could bake cookies for her teachers or even help deliver meals for organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

#3: Let your child lead – If there is something that they are interested in, then find a way they can get involved and help. My children love horses, dogs and nature, so we have found ways to volunteer in each of those areas. Getting your children excited about helping others is easiest when it is something they are already excited about.

#4: Remember that everyone makes a difference – Even the smallest child (with adult supervision) can pick up garbage at the park, playground, or beach. You don’t even have to be part of a big effort to do this. Get your family together, find some garbage bags, and head out.

The opportunities to volunteer are endless and the benefits are limitless. Volunteering truly is an important step in building a better family, community and world. More than that, though, volunteering can be one of the most satisfying, fun and memorable experiences of growing up for your child. So, get involved and start making memories today!

Interested in starting a conversation of character in your home? Check out Julie Watson Smith’s workbook, Karmic Acts of Character.


About Author

Julie Smith, adolescent and family counselor and parent educator, specializes in improving the parent-tween/teen relationships. She helps parents and educators understand tweens-to-teens, so they, in turn, can help these kids understand themselves. Every day, Julie shares tween-to-teen perspectives, insights and answers questions from parents in in the Flipside of Parenting community. For more information or to Meet your Tween, visit


  1. This is a great article! From our experience I can tell you it really does catch on with the kids- they have alot of fun with the concept of volunteering and making a difference. It is one of those qualities we can possibly loose as we age and get bogged down with work and obligations, but we need to hold onto the concept of helping others and pass it along to our children, after all isn’t that what makes a civilized society..civilized!

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