Experts agree that instilling charitable behavior at a young age is a crucial step in raising empathetic children who may then become altruistic adults later in life. And kids this age are up to the task for several different reasons.
Their World Is Getting Bigger Through school and their friends, second- and third-graders are beginning to grasp that not everyone has the same things they have: Some kids go skiing in the winter, others have never even been on a plane; some have two cars, others don't have one; some have their own bedroom, others share a room with their siblings. "This is the age when they can really get the concept that 'we may not have everything, but we're fortunate to have what we do,'" says Wayne Fleisig, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Children's Hospital of Alabama. It's also the time when kids begin to understand the idea of injustice and unfairness in the world. Doing something for others can make them feel like they're helping, and that feeling is empowering.
They're Better Prepared Physically, 7- and 8-year-olds can do more things -- plant trees and flowers, rake leaves, carry boxes. Intellectually, they are capable of tasks that involve a little bit of thinking, like sorting clothes, packaging three cookies to a bag, or choosing items they've outgrown or will no longer wear to give away to Goodwill. And emotionally, they're beginning to yearn for independence. "Volunteering with an after-school group to paint a mural at a school or sort cans of food for a soup kitchen can feel like a very grown-up thing to do," says Dr. Fleisig. "Kids this age are also starting to become more comfortable around people who are different. Even compared with 5-year-olds, they have made some real strides in that area."
They Have No Ulterior Motive When children are in elementary school, the act of volunteering is all about doing good just to help others and be a good person, explains Robert Rosenthal, communications director for VolunteerMatch.org, an online resource that connects potential volunteers with organizations across the nation. As kids get older, philanthropy can turn into something that's more about getting course credit or getting into college than about the act itself.