Helping Your Child Build a Volunteering Habit

With all the extra daylight hours, plus the nice weather that comes with summer, this could be a great time for your family to think about getting out into the world and making a difference. Children as young as 3 can pick up trash in the neighborhood, older kids can make sandwiches for a local homeless shelter, and teens can take on more complex, long-term projects with longer lasting effects on the world. Why is volunteering important for kids? Studies have shown that giving makes people happier from toddlers to adults. Plus, volunteering is at the heart of building great communities. It sets children up to look beyond themselves and understand the role they can play in their neighborhood and country. And like everything else, the more you practice showing empathy for others and respect for the environment, the more natural it becomes to behave this way.
If you are looking for a good way to get started, check out this great blog with lots of ideas to get kids of all ages involved in making the world a better place. If you opt to have your family take part in a community clean-up project, I would like to recommend you read an article like “Our Stream Team” which appeared in Click a few months ago. This article, which is narrated by 5-year-old Trevor, is a great way to explain to younger children why taking care of the local environment is important for the entire community. Studies like this one have shown that participants get much more out of the volunteer work they do if there is a forum to talk about and question the larger issues involved in the volunteer activity. In other words, while children naturally have a lot of empathy for other people, animals, and the planet, if you take the time to explain to your children the larger issues involved in why a community clean-up project is important, your children are more likely to be active participants during the project and are more likely to want to volunteer in the future.
So what are you waiting for? Read “Our Stream Team” and then get out there and make your community a cleaner, safer, and friendlier place for everyone. Remember, it’s never too early to build a volunteering habit.
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Our Stream Team

By Rachel Young

Photographs by August Kryger

Hi. My name is Trevor. I’m 5 years old, and I live in Missouri, near a river called the Jacks Fork. Before I was born, my grandpa Ted and grandma Pat decided they wanted to help keep the river clean. So they started a club called Stream Team 713. I like our other name better—the Jacks Fork River Rats.
The River Rats make sure the water is clean and healthy for fish and people. And now I’m big enough to help take care of the river too.

Picking up trash is sort of like a treasure hunt. My friends and I find bottlecaps, cans, candy wrappers, and all sorts of stuff. But there used to be even more garbage here.
In one weekend, my grandparents once picked up 6 tons of trash. That’s as much as an elephant weighs! That garbage wasn’t good for the river or the animals and plants that lived there. So the River Rats taught people who were fishing or canoeing on the river to take trash with them rather than throwing it in the water. Now there’s much less trash for us to pick up.
Now it’s time for my favorite job—looking for water bugs! The bugs like to burrow into the mud and rocks at the river bottom. So some big kids do a funny bug dance to stir up the rocks. My grandpa has a big net to catch the bugs as they float downriver.

Some bugs don’t care how dirty the water is, but other bugs can only live here if the water’s clean. If we find lots of bugs who need clean water, then we know the river is clean enough for fish and for us.
When we are done counting the bugs, we put them back in the water. We want there to be lots of bugs in the river, so the fish have something to eat.
I love taking care of the Jacks Fork River. We help make sure it’s a clean, safe place for me and my friends to play.