For many children, the holiday season is a time of blissful ignorance filled with delicious food and a plethora of toys. No Scrooge-style rants here: Your kids deserve some holiday magic. All children do—and helping your kids create a little magic for the less fortunate is a huge gift for everyone involved. Finding an appropriate giving project presents a challenge, especially in an age when many charities implore people to donate money rather than items or time. Forget the grand gestures and work with your kids on a few small holiday give-backs:
1. Send holiday cards to those serving in the military.
Through the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, kids can "Give Something That Means Something" by sending cards to active servicemembers, veterans and their families. Unlike in previous years, there's no national Holiday Mail for Heroes Post Office Box to send cards to. Instead, the Red Cross is using community-based events for making, signing, sorting and delivering cards to fellow members of the community. Contact your local chapter for information on participating.
2. Provide a hands-on experience in fighting hunger and helping other kids.
The popular volunteering activity of preparing and serving food at a soup kitchen poses safety risks for young kids due to the hot surfaces and sharp knives. Find an age-appropriate opportunity instead, such as contacting a local shelter or food bank about assembling and packaging sandwiches or other portable meals. Or, let kids bake away hunger through Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar's Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry. Remember to consider your kids' abilities before providing them with kid-friendly baking tools and sending them on their way.
3. Help furry friends by making homemade dog biscuits or toys for shelter dogs.
For treats, try a seasonal variety, such as Rachael Ray's "Pupkin" dog treats, which require only four ingredients and 40 minutes. Toys can be made simply by braiding socks (new ones!) or T-shirts.
4. Show children how to share their love of sports.
Young athletes outgrow equipment quickly. Have your kids gather up their old but still usable gear and donate it to an organization such as Sports Gift, which collects and distributes used equipment to kids in need throughout the world.
5. Teach your child the importance of earning and giving.
Assign your kids chores, pay them a small amount and tell them that half of their earnings will go to the charity of their choice, even if it's not one you would choose.
6. Explore micro-volunteering through "quick acts of kindness."
Doing Good Together, a Minnesota-based nonprofit dedicated to making volunteering accessible to families, created the 30 Days of Kindness Challenge, which lists many ideas. Some include creating uplifting sidewalk chalk messages and leaving thank-you notes for trash removers and mail carriers to show appreciation.
7. Organize a pajama drive for kids at homeless shelters.
8. Help a child rediscover the lost art of letter writing.
Sending a handwritten note to someone in need of a pick-me-up beats email every time.
9. Have fun while doing good.
Do your kids want to be Santa's elves? Fun, silly things sometimes get the giggles going and make kids feel great about what they're doing. A couple simple ideas to get you thinking: tape quarters to a soft drink machine for the next person who uses it, or pop some extra change in a soon-to-expire parking meter. Elf hats are optional.
10. Shine a happy light.
Encourage kids to smile, hold doors open for others and wish people "Happy Holidays" while out shopping. Sometimes, a holiday gift can come in the form of a courteous child.
11. Let kids connect with elderly friends or relatives who live alone.
Invite one to dinner and let the children help cook the meal, or have the kids deliver a package of goodies to the friend's home.
12. Play some games.
Taylor Anderson is a marketing manager for Tailor Made, Crisp and Curious Chef products. Curious Chef inspires the love of cooking in kids by providing fun, safe, easy-to-use and appropriately sized kitchen tools for children ages 5 and older.