Making the Perfect Match
"Even if your child doesn't fully understand the impact of the work he's doing and how he's helping, it's important that he has a positive experience with his first volunteer job," says Rosenthal. "A good initial impression is what keeps kids coming back." However, finding the right opportunity -- meaning one that's both safe and age-appropriate -- may take a little bit of work on your part.
Start Small, Stay Local "Our experience has taught us that simple neighborhood projects always seem to make the most sense for this age group," says Aimee Stone Munsell, mother of two and cofounder of Real World Super-Heroes, an after-school program in New York City for 5- to 8-year-olds. "We will literally walk the kids around the neighborhood so we can see for ourselves what needs improving and who looks like they could use our help." When you do find a project, don't overcommit yourself or your kid. "For a 7- to 8-year-old, about four hours a month is realistic," advises Stone Munsell.
Choose Something Your Child Likes Doing The best way to keep kids engaged in an activity is to find a project that dovetails with their particular passion. For example, if your child loves the outdoors she can rake mulch for a community garden or bag leaves. If she likes crafts, she can make paper flowers for a senior-citizen center. If pets are more her thing, perhaps an animal shelter could use some blankets and extra food.
Make the Results Tangible The acts that resonate the most with kids are the ones where they can actually witness how they've helped someone. "I always tell parents that if their child wants to set up a lemonade stand and donate the money he makes to charity, they shouldn't just write a check and send it off in the mail," says Stone Munsell. "Instead, deliver the money directly to a local shelter with your kid so he can witness the people's appreciation for himself."