It's funny how giving takes on two very distinct meanings during the holiday season. First, there's the giving that requires dipping into the college fund to buy Nerf Vortex Blasters and Hello Kitty walkie-talkies. (You know, the toys you find outside in March after the snow melts.) And then there's the giving that includes donating time or supplies to a charity.
Jennie Baird, a mom of two from Greenwich, CT, redefined giving a few years ago when her youngest was 5. On the last night of Hanukkah, she gave her kids $25 each, with one stipulation: They had to donate it. Choosing a charity was easy—a friend of Baird's is involved with the nonprofit Artists for Charity (artistsforcharity.org), which operates a home for HIV-positive orphans in Ethiopia. Baird's children were captivated with stories and pictures of children leading drastically different lives from their own: kids without parents, medicine, or education. Fast-forward a few holidays, and “that $25 is the gift they look forward to most,” reports Baird.
“Kids can learn to help others and the environment very early on, if you make the message age-appropriate,” says Ken Berger, president and CEO of charitynavigator.org, a website that grades philanthropies. Matching the charity to your kids' personalities is a great way to get (and keep) them involved.
Good news! Your kid can redirect her celeb crush toward a worthy cause, like the Jonas Brothers's organization Change for the Children (changeforthechildren.org). Got a hip-hop fan? She can make a donation to the G-Unity Foundation (50 Cent is on the board), which provides grants to groups that serve low-income areas.
Donors Choose (donorschoose.org) connects kids to classroom requests from public-school teachers: One class in Memphis, for instance, sought an alphabet puppet set to help teach reading. The payoff: For a donation of $50 or more, pictures and thank-you notes are sent from students.
Suggest your older kid organize a fund-raiser for his favorite charity, or rally pals to clean up a local park. He can put the money toward buying supplies for event posters or snacks for the volunteers. For inspiration, have him go to dosomething.org for tween-friendly community-service ideas.