Cultivating Compassion in Children Through Giving

Child and adult hands reaching

Most of us want our children to understand the pain of others and work when they can to alleviate that pain. We want to encourage compassion in children. That is true whether in personal situations among their young friends or in helping them understand the needs of others far away.

One of the ways I help my children cultivate compassion is by encouraging them to give to charity. To keep the action from being too abstract, though, I try to help them understand the needs of others before they decide to give. Even if they give a very small amount, I want them to connect that gift and that feeling of giving with the need. It is in connecting with the needs of others where compassion grows.

We started charitable giving by giving to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, because we had read together the book that UNICEF published with Dorling Kindersley: Children Just Like Me. Just reading this book together to find out about the lives of children in other areas of the world helped my children to see a broader world than the one they saw everyday around them. That was part of our positive foundation.

When it came time to give, we looked at the projects UNICEF funded. Yes, I was guiding my children to give, but I left the decision to give to them. My daughter took her donation money to the post office to get a money order, then she mailed it with a note she wrote. Frankly, I’m sure it’s more difficult for any charity to process small donations that arrive by mail, but I think the concrete actions of the process were important in helping my daughter understand what charitable giving means.

Specifically talking about giving increases the likelihood even more than just modeling giving alone. A recent study, Women Give 2013, found that talking to children about charitable giving increases by 20% the likelihood of those children becoming donors.

Have you considered either donating to a charity with your children in order to cultivate their compassion and help those in your community?

There are about 165,000 charities in Canada. Whether you focus on charities that serve families and children or any other charities, please consider giving and helping your children learn to give.

Image © Irina Brinza |

5 Homemade Holiday Gifts Children Can Make

Child drawing

Homemade holiday gifts not only save money, but they help our children think of the personal act of giving rather than an abstract payment of money for stuff. If you are still looking for gifts your children can make, these are a few ideas my children have tried over the years.

Holiday soap. Grate a bar of unscented soap (like Ivory), add enough water that you can mix it to the consistency of cookie dough (about 1/4 cup), and add essential oils or herbs. What you add depends what you like. Citrus zest will give the soap a nice, zingy smell, but some of the more traditional winter holiday scents like bayberry will fit the season. Press the mixture into a cookie cutter or mold and leave it to dry overnight.

Personalized photo frame. Grandparents love more photos of the grandchildren. Make those extra special by adding your child’s artwork to the gift. You can just glue bits and pieces to the frame, but consider how to construct the masterpiece so it won’t either fall apart or gather so much dust that it will have to be put away. What to glue? Maple leaves, pine cones, beach glass, beautiful pebbles, or anything else you

Fridge magnets. Divert a few bottle caps from the recycling and glue a small magnet to the back (outside) and a photo to the front (inside). Easy!

Placemat. You will need to help a bit more with this one. Have your child create a colorful drawing then scan it on your computer and print it out on printable fabric. Some office supply stores carry this, but you may need to order it from a specialty store. Either sew your own base placemat, if you are quite handy, or buy a simple cotton placemat. Sew the drawing to the base placemat around the edges, and you have a great personalized gift.

Knitted Scarf. Even young children can learn to knit a simple scarf. I mentioned that my daughter has been busily knitting scarves since July. My son is younger, and he is also knitting scarves. I started knitting when I was three years old, and I think this is not uncommon with younger children. I have several little-kid-made scarves that I wear proudly to show them off. They aren’t always even or fashionable, but they can be a great gift of love. Just raid the yarn closet (and, if you are a knitter, I know you have one), help your child cast on, and let them knit about four feet of woolly goodness.

Are you wondering what gifts to get FOR your child? Don’t forget the 5 best toys of all time.

Image © Vasiliy Koval |

Give of Yourself in Community Service

Serving in a shelterThe week between Christmas and New Year tends to be family time without the frantic preparations of the week before. If parents are off work and looking for meaningful activities for the whole family, this is a great time for service projects and service learning.

Service projects encourage children to connect with people and learn that giving can mean giving of yourself just because you want to or just because someone else really needs you.

Spending our time serving others and modeling this service for our children is an important way to help them learn about real problems close to home. In the case of longer term projects, they might see problems solved. Even with one-time volunteering, they will see problems addressed. Either way, service learning gives children in particular a safe way to learn about their own community and actively contribute by serving others.

Where Can You Volunteer?

Winter can be an especially difficult time for those facing economic hardship. Even after the first big rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas, food banks and shelters still need your help. Families can collect, sort, and distribute food. Nursing homes will continue to welcome volunteer families as the residents’ own families finish their holiday visits. Goodwill and Salvation Army often need help sorting and preparing donations.

Smaller local charities need help as well. This week in particular, the last week of the year, charities are looking for your financial donations as they close out the year. This week is your last chance to get a tax deduction this year for your donation to a charitable nonprofit.

Service Learning

I find the movement that has grown up around service learning very intriguing. Service learning brings together experiential learning with community service. Because of the focus on education, a lot of the resources and support within the movement are focused on schools. Still, there are a lot of resources parents can use with their own children, particularly if they are homeschooling.

The Canadian Alliance for Community Service-Learning primarily supports and networks serving learning programs in colleges and universities. They focus on research, best practices, and making community service learning (CSL) more effective. It is also their goal to develop a uniquely Canadian model of CSL.

In the U.S., Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (NSLC) provides referrals, resources, and assistance for service-learning projects. Learn and Service America is a project of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a U.S. federal agency. They focus on integrating service-learning into curriculum. Though most of what they offer is for classroom learning they have a service learning guide for parents, and they also provide a listing of local opportunities at

There are a lot of smaller organizations providing service learning opportunities for children. I just want to mention one of them. Roots and Shoots, a project of The Jane Goodall Institute, is an international organization providing youth with a structure through which to identify and address community issues. Service-learning is their focus. For young people who want to build relationships with others interested in similar kinds of service, an organization like this can be a great way to build on their desire to serve.

Like Roots and Shoots, a lot of service learning organizations and projects that work with K-12 students emphasize youth voice and youth-led projects, encouraging young people to work together to determine the Why, What, and How of the projects they work on. They learn through every stage of the project.

Quick Volunteer Opportunities

If you are looking for a short-term volunteer opportunity rather than an ongoing project, try Volunteer Canada’s list of volunteer centres or’s search for local volunteer opportunities by zip code.

Image © Bob Denelzen |