What is the difference between adults who are helpers in the community and those who never volunteer to help those less fortunate? The answer often lies in what they were taught as children. Children who learn that helping others makes the community a better place for everyone usually commit themselves to a lifetime of community service. Just think about the impact your children can make in their community and the world! The following suggestions are easy to incorporate into your program and are sure to plant the seeds of community activism.
1. Draw a Welcome Mural. Welcome visitors to your program by hanging a colorful mural in your lobby. To begin, use a large sheet of butcher roll paper and tape to the floor. At the top of the paper write, “Welcome to ______”. Then invite the children to decorate. Make sure you provide the children with different colors of paint, markers, crayons, glue, and collage materials.
2. Plant a Flowerbed at Your Entrance. Nothing says, “Welcome” like a bed or border of well-tended flowers and plants. Before purchasing any plants, however, check with your local greenhouse for a list of plants that are easy for children to care for and grow well in your area. The children will have a great sense of pride in not only planting the flowers, but also caring for them as they grow into beautiful flowering plants.
3. Support Your Local Humane Shelter. Organize a “Help Our Animal Friends” drive by encouraging the parents in your program and members of your community to donate pet food, supplies, and toys. After the items have been gathered, take the class on a field trip to deliver the supplies. The children will love seeing the animals, and the shelter will greatly appreciate your donation. In addition, encourage your parents to check with your local shelter prior to purchasing an animal from a pet store and teach responsible pet care by educating them on appropriate pets for young children.
4. Design Your Own Greeting Cards. Send a letter home to parents asking them to save and bring in used greeting cards. After you’ve collected enough cards, have the children cut away the pictures and verses. Then paste onto colorful construction paper to make new cards. Help the children write a special message on their card. Deliver the cards to a nearby nursing home or residential care facility.
5. Collect Non-perishable Food Items. Homeless shelters need non-perishable food items during the entire year, not just during the holiday season. Encourage the children to participate in a food drive by asking members of the community and local businesses to donate basic food items such as rice, dry beans, canned foods, flour, and sugar.
6. Create a Special Trashcan. Teach children the importance of depositing litter in appropriate places by creating a trashcan mascot for the classroom. Draw facial features on the trashcan and create a contest to give the can a name. Place a container indoors and one on the playground. You’ll be surprised at the enthusiasm children will show for taking out the trash! This is a great idea to share with parents as well.
7. Collect Second-hand Women’s Purses. Fill the purses with samples of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, and other toilet items. Then deliver to a women’s shelter.
8. Bank for a Cause. Each month, set aside a glass jar or piggy bank for the children to fill with pennies, nickels, and dimes. Select a community project or fundraiser, such as a person needing a rare or expensive surgery or a family whose house was destroyed by fire, to receive the funds.
9. Plan a Coat Drive. Hundreds of underprivileged children need warm winter clothing each year. Encourage parents to donate clean, used coats, hats, scarves, and gloves that their children have outgrown. Contact a social service agency in your area for delivery.
10. Include Character Building Activities in Your Curriculum. Use every opportunity to teach children responsibility, integrity, honesty, loyalty, and faithfulness. Talk to the children about the value of friendship and why it is important to help others. Connect your parents to school activities by sending home parent newsletters with character-building activities.
Carolyn Ross Tomlin is a former Assistant Professor of Education at Union University in Jackson, TN. She writes for numerous magazines in the area of early childhood education.