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Teaching kids to give back

Doing good can be as fun as playing Connect Four. Just ask Alex Kieselstein. Every week the eighth-grader from River Forest, IL, shares a passion for board games with a 9-year-old who lives at a nearby children's home.

"Encouraging your child to volunteer creates a lifelong habit of service," says Cathryn Berger Kaye, author of "The Complete Guide to Service Learning." By the time kids are 8 or 9, they have the emotional maturity for service projects, although it's usually best for you to take part, too.

Try to find volunteer opportunities that build on your child's interests. For instance:

  • A kid who loves to bake can make birthday cakes for kids in homeless shelters, who often don't get birthday parties.
  • Pet lovers can help out at animal shelters or wildlife centers.
  • Kids who want to save the planet or just like to be outside can volunteer to help clean up local parks.
  • If your child is a good reader, he can visit a retirement home and read newspapers or novels to seniors.
  • A kid who just knows how to have a good time can create "giggle bags," ¬†filled with such treasures as handmade joke books, marbles, or other small toys for kids in the hospital.