I am a firm believer in starting good habits as early as possible. This should especially apply to starting the habits of living a godly life. One of the easiest, most enjoyable godly habits to start with your child is teaching them to serve others.
Our daughter was just over a year old when she actively participated in her first service project. Our church had collected cans of food to take to another congregation in town who served the poor in our city from their building. Our daughter would take cans of food off the shelves and put them in the bags or boxes we were taking downtown. At other times she would reverse the project and take cans people had donated and place them on the lower shelves. She was also able to hand them to me to place on higher shelves.
I know, as someone who probably has a million things to accomplish on any given day, your first thought is that it would make the process take a lot longer to complete. It does, but it is so worth the effort. As she helped me, we talked about what it meant to be poor and what it might be like to not have enough to eat. We talked about Jesus and His teachings about helping the poor. She even went with us to deliver the food.
Did she understand everything we discussed? Probably not, but as the years progressed the work load for her got heavier and the discussions deeper. As a teenager, she is fully capable of executing a large food collection, including organizing and delivering it.
Toddlers are great helpers with many other service projects, if you are willing to take the time to let them help. They can help you sort their old clothes to give to the homeless shelter. They can sort their toys and pick which ones they want to give to children who may have no toys. Basically any service project that requires sorting or moving objects can use a toddler’s help.
Growing things to give to others is also a great service project for very young children. Even the youngest of children can place seeds in the ground or push dirt over the roots of a plant. They can help water and sometimes even pick the resulting produce or flowers. Put a few vegetable plants in your yard and give the produce to people in your neighborhood or church who could use a little extra help. Some food banks even want fresh produce. If you grow flowers, cut some and take them to a resident of an assisted living home or a shut-in from your church.
Older people especially love art projects produced by toddlers. Some will love the scribbles as they are created. If you are concerned, there are a lot of ways to incorporate the scribbles into a larger work of art. When our daughter was little, I stripped her down to her diapers and put her in the bathtub with paper and fingerpaint. After she made a mess, it was easy to give her a bath. I took her “painting” and cut it into the shape of a heart, which I then pasted to card stock and made a larger picture. You can even have your artist “sign” his artwork (you can write the name in “English” below it.) Take or mail the finished project to someone who needs a little joy in her life.
Perhaps the best service project for a toddler is just their presence. At that age, our daughter was generally very wary of people she didn’t know well. For some reason, she would warm up to people in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. I don’t know if she sensed that the people loved her or she really understood how they needed to give love to a small child, but she always rose to the occasion.
I know this may be scary for some, but I would also encourage you to take your child on a mission trip. It may be in your town or in another country. Many of us in our church have taken our children on mission trips to Mexico since they were toddlers and some were even babies. They can’t remember a time without the orphanage and its children in their lives. They know that for that week, the other children come first. They love those children as a part of their families and look forward to trips as the highlight of their year.
If your child is over a year old, it is time to teach them to serve others and show them God’s love. Have fun and be creative. Your patience will be rewarded by the joy your child gives others. Your child will also learn from their earliest memories to serve others with a loving heart. It really is a habit worth establishing early.