Last Christmas I was trying to think of ways my 3 year old could give service and see the immediate results from it. I tried to convince Jeanine and Amy to put together a post sharing ideas of how young children can give service and help others but they turned around and convinced me to do it instead! I've been brainstorming some ideas and its been a great experience. Here are a few of the thoughts I've collected. Some of these ideas I can do with my kids now while they're young and others will be perfect for when they get a little older.
Service at Home
I really believe that our home is one of the best places we can teach our young children to serve.
Do you think it's a coincidence that my son received a talk assignment in church last Sunday with the topic "When I serve my family I serve God"? We had a great conversation together about what service is, ways we can serve, and how serving others is how we show Heavenly Father we love him. We talked about how serving and showing love is the most important thing about Christmas. I've been trying to point out those simple ways he can serve and already does serve!
As I was thinking about serving in our home I remembered a Christmas service star that I had made at church as a teenager. It's a pay it forward type of idea. You make/find a star and when you have completed an act of service for someone in your family you leave the star there and then that person has 24 hours to complete some service for someone else, and so on.
After a quick search on the internet I found this better explanation of it. I think it's definitely something young children will enjoy participating in and an act of service where they can see the results.
I also saw a similar idea in the book "Christ Centered Christmas" by Emily Freeman. She suggest keeping a bell in your pocket and when you hear it jingle it will remind you to be aware of ways you can serve. This might be a fun thing for smaller kids to do but you'll have to decide if your sanity can handle constant jingles before you start handing out bells!
Here are a few ideas of ways children can serve in the home:
Make someone's bed
Clean up your toys without being asked
Do dishes or make dinner
Make a card for someone
Give a hug
Complete someone else's chore for them
Share a toy
Hold the door open for someone
Share a treat
Wipe down the counters
Sweep the floor
Play a game with a younger sibling
Give a back rub
Say something nice to someone
Make a bookmark with a nice quote on it for someone
Listen to someone that is having a hard day
Give your mom or sister a manicure
Service in Your Community
I always enjoyed serving others as a family growing up. Some of the things we did as kids were:
- Caroling and bringing treats to neighbors at Christmas-time. This is what I looked forward to most growing up and can't wait to continue the tradition with my own kids.
- Sing at a retirement home. Growing up we always went to the Life Care Center. There are several around the country but I'm sure with a quick search you can find any type of retirement home near you. My sister-in-law did this one year and also brought around tissues to those she sang to.
- Write letters to missionaries. It's hard being away from friends and family during the holidays and a little note can make a big difference for someone. In our church congregation growing up big sheets of paper were set out at Christmas-time giving everyone an opportunity to write a message to those missionaries that were far from home. You can do this as a family as well.
- You can also write those that serve in the military. If you don't personally know someone in the military this is just one place you can go to contact those in the military to express your gratitude.
- Often during the month of December we would drop off a big box of food and presents to someone we know needed it. What was most fun about this activity was leaving the gifts on their doorstep, ringing the doorbell, and then running away before they could answer. It added a fun element of mystery and exhilaration.
- A few years ago we did a 12 days of Christmas for a neighbor. I've seen it done a lot of ways through the years. There's some ideas here and here and here.
- I randomly come across this subscription site called Crafting It Forward and fell in love with it. The basic idea is you subscribe, they send you a craft, your child makes it, enjoys it, and then mails it in a pre-addressed envelope to someone whose day it will brighten (a child in a hospital, a retirement home etc.) The only down side to this is that young children don't get to see where their gift ends up--but I still love the idea.
There are so many other ways we can serve those around us. I love these ideas at the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
There are even more service ideas here.
12 Months of Christmas
Last year when I was contemplating my service ideas I came across this idea from my great friend Angela. She is a single mom with young children (ages 1-7 years old).
Angela had a rough year and was so touched by the love and outpouring of support that was given to her she was inspired to give back. She started a new tradition with her children where they came up with a simple act of service at the beginning of each month. Once they completed the service they would each write (or draw depending on their age) about their experience and how they felt. They then place their experiences in a wrapped box. These acts of service are their gifts to the Savior. On Christmas Eve they get to open the box and reflect on their gifts. You can read more about her experience here.
I love how she placed the box in an open area where they have a physical reminder every day of the service they had given and a chance to reflect on the Savior. I love how this tradition focuses on the Savior and giving all year and I can't wait to start this in January with my family.
We're excited to have a month and year of service and hope you do too!