One day soon, the weather will start to cool even in the Deep South. Sweaters will come out of storage and the air will be filled with the smells of apples cooking and everything pumpkin spice. It’s also a great time to plan a few Fall themed service projects to do as a family.
Here are a few of our favorite ideas:
Go apple picking and share them with someone who is food insecure or can’t get to the orchards. Fresh fruit is a luxury for many families who are food insecure. Make sure the apples are handled gently, because any bruises will make them spoil more quickly.
Make pumpkin spice muffins and share them warm from the oven with shut-ins or anyone who needs encouragement. Mix a box of spice cake mix (you don’t need the other ingredients called for on the box), a regular sized can of puréed pumpkin and about ½ of that empty can filled with water in a bowl. Spoon into muffin cups and bake at 350* until firm to the touch. It’s an easy first recipe for kids to make and who wouldn’t appreciate some warm, freshly baked muffins?
Make fleece blankets and give them to those who can’t afford to heat their homes to a comfortable level. You can often find fleece blanket kits on sale at craft stores or you can make your own by layering two squares of fleece, cutting inch wide, four inch long fringe along all four sides and then tying the two squares together by tying all of the fringes. If your kids can tie their shoes, they can do this project and help someone stay warm this winter.
Sponsor a church or neighborhood warm clothing drive. Children often outgrow their clothes before the next year, so you should be able to collect plenty of gently worn sweaters and coats. Others may be interested in donating new socks, hats and gloves.
Rake leaves in secret. Can your family sneak onto the lawn of someone who is elderly or ill and rake and bag their leaves without getting caught? The added excitement can make the hard work seem more fun.
Make sure your family shares your faith as you serve others. Make a card with an encouraging scripture or leave a Bible or encouraging Christian book behind. Find ways for your family to be a light in the world this Fall.
Let’s be honest. COVID has been tough on everyone. For some people though, the extra stress and strain on their daily lives has been unrelenting. People in healthcare, those with jobs in the service industry (restaurants, retail, transportation, etc.) and those in ministry have not only had to deal with what everyone else has, their entire day is spent listening to and/or helping those who are upset, angry, depressed, starving, dying or dealing with any of a hundred other tough life issues. Many were just hoping to get a break soon when the latest surge started.
While your family can’t give them the break they so desperately need, you can reflect God’s love to them and perhaps give them the strength to serve and minister to others for a little longer. You can also use this activity to teach your kids about a tough time in the life of David in the Bible.
Gather your kids and tell them the stories of David’s life between killing Goliath and becoming king. You can find most of these stories in 1 Samuel. Point out to your children that David was running from Saul for 13 years! You may even want to share a few of the Psalms like chapters 56, 57, 59, 60 and 142. Explain that David must have had many of the same emotions they have had over the past eighteen months.
Ask your kids to think of people who have jobs helping people who have not only had to deal with their own difficulties during COVID, but have also helped a lot of other people every day. Once they have listed several occupations, think if anyone you know has one of them. Don’t forget ones that may not be as obvious like teachers or people in ministry.
Help your kids brainstorm ways to show those people love and encourage them to keep helping others or take a break to care for their own health. You might want to bake cookies and write notes or put together little goodie bags. Something as simple as a flower cut from your yard can cheer someone’s day. It’s important to remember even things that may seem insignificant to you and your kids can make a huge positive difference to those who are overwhelmed on a daily basis.
As you work together to serve these people, talk about how important it is for Christians to be the “helpers” in tough times for those around them. Encourage your kids to think of ways they can help and encourage others in good times and not so great times.
As excited as kids are for summer vacation to begin, they eventually reach a point where everything they could do with their time just seems boring. The kind of boredom that has caused more than one parent to suggest handing out extra chores to relieve it!
There is actually a fun activity your kids can do that should relieve their boredom and serve someone else in the process. Gather your bored children. Explain that the Bible talks about doing good things for others in secret. Their mission….should they choose to accept it…is to do as many acts of service for others as they can without getting caught.
The average child loves books like HarriettheSpy and the BoxcarChildren. There’s just not much call for children who solve mysteries in your average community. So the idea that they can sneak around and do some sleuthing and service will sound like an adventure if it is presented to them with enthusiasm.
Set whatever limits for safety and expenses you wish. Decide the time period over which the service projects should be executed. Encourage your kids to do some sleuthing to find out the ways they can best serve the people they choose without giving away the secret that they hope to do those things for that person. The age and maturity of your children will impact how involved you need to be in the process. The more they control the service projects though, the more fun they will have and the more they will learn.
Make sure to create some reflection time later. Talk about what they learned from the experience. What went well? What would they do differently next time? What did they learn about serving others and sharing their faith? Who knows? This could be an annual summer tradition for your family!
Want to serve others and share your faith as a family, but have young children? Many organizations don’t allow preschoolers and toddlers to participate in the service projects they may sponsor. It’s unfortunate, because starting kids serving others when they are young means it is more likely to be natural for them as they grow older.
Thankfully, there are some fun service projects that are just right for preschooler and in some cases, toddlers. Here are a few of our favorites.
Canned food drives. Little hands can safely handle a can of food and place it in a grocery bag to be donated. Of course, the more food your family is donating, the more fun this will be.
Growing food for others. Many who provide food to those who are food insecure don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Little hands are more than able with adult supervision to plant and water seeds and plants and pick produce to share with others.
Making cookies. With adult supervision, preschoolers can begin measuring and adding ingredients and shaping the raw dough into cookies. Decorating them might be a bit much if you want perfection, but those who could benefit from some cookies might also appreciate that children decorated them.
Artwork. Nothing cheers someone like the art of a child. For really young ones, you can take their scribbles or finger painting smears and cut them into the shape of a heart for the recipient.
Goodie bags. Preschoolers can help stuff goodie bags if the items are organized to make it easier for them. Think about goodies to thank servant leaders or community helpers, diaper changing sets for people who ask ministries for help or fun activity bags for pediatric patients or foster children.
Decorate collection bags. Sponsoring a church wide, ministry wide or neighborhood collection of food or clothing? Have little ones decorate paper grocery bags to give possible participants to serve as colorful reminders of the need for donations.
ASL. Many babies learn a few signs before they can speak. Although their motor skills are still developing, preschoolers learn languages quickly. Start teaching them some ASL signs and even a church song or two in ASL.
Cheering at Special Olympics. You don’t even have to sign up in advance. Check your local Special Olympics website for the time and location of their local games. Little ones love to cheer and Special Olympians love to be cheered as they compete.
Don’t wait until your kids are older to have them start serving others. Make it so much a part of their lives that they serve others naturally for their entire lives.
One of the basic tenants of Christianity is doing good works. The New Testament Christians weren’t know for just donating a portion of their excess to the poor and others….they shared everything they had – generously. That attitude is easier to have if you were raised in such a way that generosity is part of your identity.
Teaching your kids Bible stories like the Good Samaritan and the Widow’s Mite as well as the many scriptures about giving and serving will give them a strong foundation. There are some habits you can establish as a family that will also encourage your kids to have a generous heart and think of others before themselves.
Seasonal clothing. Kids grow overnight it seems. Often families have a habit of sorting through clothing at the end of every season. Get in the habit of donating the outgrown clothing to others. Have your children help launder and repair items so they are in top condition. Let them choose the ministry or charity to whom they donate. Want to up your game? Work together to earn the money to buy a couple of brand new seasonal items to donate as well.
Toys. Our family for several generations has had the rule that when new toys come into the home on birthdays and Christmas, old ones had to leave. Once again, have your children clean and repair toys. Let them choose the ministry or charity to which they donate the items (Check first as some only take new items.). I’m not a fan of making kids give up all of their birthday presents for charity, as I think it can backfire and cause resentment. There are always one or two gifts that are received that aren’t particularly popular with the recipient. Or they may get too many items. It can be one way to introduce the concept of tithing – giving a percentage of everything received back to God. Choosing one or two new items to donate from their birthday or Christmas “haul” may be a great way to encourage giving while not asking them to sacrifice every single present.
Food. If you’ve ever asked children to participate in a canned food drive, you are well aware you get boxes filled with canned beets and other unpopular foods! Why not encourage food sharing by letting your kids grow food and donate some or all of it? Many places that provide groceries to those who are food insecure don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Even a little will be welcomed. If you don’t have a yard, look into container gardening. You can grow quite a bit of produce in pots.
Time. It is a rare family that intentionally sets aside a certain number of hours that is the minimum time they will spend serving others each week. Doing so, however, can help your kids learn to be observant of the needs of others and encourage them to create margin in their schedules so they have the time to help those who need it. Find different ways to use that service time….sometimes serving your church and other times, the community or on a mission trip. Encourage your kids to suggest ways to use your service time each week….they may just surprise you!
Talents. Your kids may just be discovering and developing the gifts God gave them to serve others. They can still use them now in service – even if it is only helping someone with a similar gift work on a project. If you and your spouse don’t have a similar gift, find an adult in your church who would welcome the extra help and be willing to mentor your child who is similarly gifted by God.
Making these five things family habits that are repeated year after year for your kids’ entire childhood, will make them firmly engrained habits. They will become as much a part of their identity as their last name or your other family traditions. And what better family traditions and legacy to have?!