My family volunteered last weekend at a local garden. Okay, wait… the truth is that I volunteered my family to work at a local garden. The garden is this lovely place that grows 100% of its produce to give to the food insecure. Saturday morning, after I announced their farming plans for the day, my kids threw fits, moaned, and tried to argue their way out of going.
I was shocked and disappointed. My kids aren’t afraid of work. They are amazing at pitching in around the house and often dig in our own garden. They are MOSTLY kind-hearted, but all three wanted to spend their Saturday morning in their pj’s reading books and hanging out on computers, not digging in the dirt.
Before my kids came into my life, I read a million parenting books on raising kind children.
Kindness might be the virtue I value most and try to instill in them. I had a million dreams of volunteering, giving back to the community, and basically being a family that thought outside of ourselves. And we are like this kind of family, some of the time; however, life keeps getting in the way. Now that my kids are older, and I no longer have complete control (as if I ever did!), cross country, dance, horseback riding, and other kid-centric activities have taken over. As a result, we have to schedule our volunteer time, and it doesn’t just happen organically very often. Of this, I am a bit ashamed.
I recently heard a beautiful story filled with kindness and inspiration that brought tears to my eyes. A dance teacher in Little Rock, AR has her three-year-old students hold hands in a circle after each dance class. Then she invites them to turn to the dancer next to them and say, “Thank you for dancing with me.” A simple “thank you” is all she is asking them to give, but in doing so, she is teaching gratitude in a toddler dance class. When I heard this story, my first thought was, maybe this small space of love will stick with those little dancers as they grow up. Maybe tiny steps are enough to begin the change.
Then I met my wonderful new neighbor, and I got inspired all over again.
She has like-minded values and an altruistic heart. Instead of feeling shame for not doing more, she took her passion and energy and created a non-profit to teach families how to serve. It’s called Pennies of Time. The premise is that giving doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, although it can be, but those huge endeavors often don’t happen because they are too overwhelming with our busy lives. Her belief is that it takes only small moments to make a change, to teach, and serve. You can start small and then begin to build upon those small acts.
My friend began little acts of service when her boys were very small. These acts turned into huge service events now that her boys are much older. They spend birthdays doing magic shows for the elderly, regularly pick up trash near a creek by the elementary school, and make boxes of essential items to give to those in need. The incredible thing to me about this family is that service became part of their lives because it mattered. It became part of who her children want to be.
Her son, at this very moment, is doing a Trash Me project. Only a fifth grader, he is walking around his school for 4 weeks covered in all the trash he creates in the hope that he will inspire awareness in the community. It is a project that is near and dear to my heart and will hopefully make positive ripples in our consumption-driven community.
Knowing this kindness exists in the world overwhelms me in a positive way.
It gives me hope, and it makes me want to try harder to teach my kids how to make a rewarding impact on the world. I know that it is not too late for my children to learn how to make a difference in their community. They can learn to think of others more often. They, too, can show small acts of gratitude. They can serve and be kind. We all can.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just ten minutes can make a difference. Ten minutes of picking up trash. Ten minutes helping an elderly neighbor rake leaves or digging in someone’s garden. Ten minutes visiting a nursing home. Set the timer if you have small children. Talk about how that little act of service was beneficial to the people you helped. Ask them how they feel after helping. Turn the act of service into a moment of teaching. That is the first step in raising kind children. At least I hope it is.
After our day of farming the garden in order to help others, I waited for the quiet. I waited for the opportunity to chat about their participation. I wanted to see what they thought of the entire experience. To my delight, I didn’t have to wait long. Instead of having to approach them, separately, my kids came to me. They all loved doing the work. All three felt good about helping others, and all three wanted to go back and help more. They didn’t leave with money in their pocket or some junky party gift; instead, they left with pride in their work and maybe, just maybe, a little bit more compassionate.
How do you teach your children to give back to the community?
Are you doing service in the name of kindness? I would love to hear more thoughts on this and share ideas. Maybe this is how we will change the world today, by sharing the kindness.
Check out: http://penniesoftime.com/
And the Trash me interview: https://www.facebook.com/RobGreenfield/videos/1347521115374963/?fref=mentions