The activism of young people following a tragic event impresses me over an over again. Every time I read another story about how kids are organizing themselves into a powerful movement—from the teenagers turned gun-control activists in Parkland Florida to the young women and girls powerfully protesting in Iran—I hope my own kids will also show up as a force for good in the world.
I am the mother of a 3-year-old little girl and often wonder, what can I do with my preschooler to start fostering that mindset now? It’s never too early to start. There are so many opportunities to get involved once kids become teens and young adults, but what can you do to inspire them before they’ve even hit kindergarten so that they grow up already experienced with volunteerism and social engagement?
Here are eight ways to start building this mindset with your kids.
1. Engage them in the civic process
With midterm election season happening, bring kids along when you vote and take the time to talk to them about the issues they may comprehend. Get them involved if you are writing to or calling your congressman or other government leaders and explain why it’s important.
2. Donate your time together
Find age-appropriate volunteer activities that you can do with your kids. Some ideas include spending time at a nursing home, delivering meals, or providing transportation to medical appointments. There may be a lot of volunteer activities that little kids can’t help with yet, like unloading heavy donations or tutoring or handling money, but there are plenty of options for small children and their parents to do together.
3. Foster community spirit
Make sure your kids get to know your neighbors. Teach them about helping out in the neighborhood by asking a new kid to play outside, shoveling snow from a neighbor’s driveway, or picking up recycling bins on a windy day.
4. Read to them
Make it your mission to teach your kids about helping others, speaking up, and getting involved through the books you read to them. Some (of the numerous!) ideas include A is for Activist, Malala’s Magic Pencil, She Persisted, Skin Again, and I Dissent.
5. Donate your stuff together
Involve your kids when you are cleaning out the house for items in good condition to donate. Task them with cleaning out their room and explain that the items they no longer use will be going to another kid that may not be as lucky to have so many toys.
6. Bring them along to community fundraisers
Bring them along to community fundraisers like the school spaghetti dinner or a pancake breakfast. Talk to them about how the money you are paying to attend the fun event is going to a good cause. Depending on their age, you can go a step further and explain what the organization does.
7. Donate money to charity
When I was little, my parents gave us $5 a week for the chores we did around the house. We then divided up our allowance between $2 to savings, $2 to spend, and $1 to charity. We could donate the money to our charity fund to a place of our choice. This is a good opportunity to let kids make a decision based on interests they’ve already developed, like donating money to an animal shelter or the library.
8. Shop for donations together
Take them shopping for items to donate, such as school supplies for Operation Backpack, Christmas presents for Toys for Tots, toiletries for local foster children, or canned goods for a food drive. Talk to them about who the donation is going to and why it will help.
This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for timeliness.