Volunteering: A learning opportunity

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Learning opportunities can be found not only at school but also within the family and community. Parents and caregivers can promote learning experiences by volunteering with their children. When individuals volunteer, they use their skills in real life experiences. This means that family-based learning through volunteerism has a great potential. It's valuable for family members to volunteer together to socialize, bond, learn, and serve together.

Why volunteer?

Volunteering enhances family interactions, improves personal skills, and enriches the lives of individuals. Each family member interacts with others and finds opportunities to reflect. They also engage in active learning and build a sense of civic responsibility

Volunteering is an activity that families often find worthwhile when they do it together.  The can spend "quality time" with each other while doing something good for others. You get to know your children in new ways, and they get to know a different side of you as well. Demonstrating skills and learning new ones provides the chance to work toward the same goals, and talk it about together.

Youth and children are more likely to volunteer when their friends and parents volunteer. Family volunteering options include:

  • The whole family
  • By one parent and one child as a special "twosome" project
  • Siblings or extended family may volunteer together.

The recipient of your volunteer services benefits by having more helpers at one time.

How to get started

If volunteering together is new to your family, here is a way to start:

  • Take time as a family to consider volunteering. Include even young children in this discussion.
  • Discuss what community problems concern other family members. If some ideas intrigue the whole family, explore organizations working on these issues. Use the phone book, local library, churches, or youth organizations to gather ideas.
  • Discuss the different organizations in your area that are looking for volunteers. You may already know one or more organizations looking for volunteers. Think about your area church, school/college, park/recreation department, larger non-profits (The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, etc.), and smaller non-profits (women’s shelters, senior living facilities, etc.).
  • Consider what types of activities everyone wants to do. Include things you already know how to do or would like to learn how to do. This is a great chance to acknowledge the talents of each family member. It is also a chance for youth to try out a future career prospect or interest. Volunteering helps with job and college applications. It's also a chance to expand their world.
  • Discuss the proposed plan for volunteering. Do you want a one-time event over a specific time frame or are you looking for an ongoing commitment?
  • Contact organizations to check out your options. You may want to begin with a one-time activity. This way you can test the water to see how everyone likes volunteering together.

Once you have committed to a project, take it seriously. Show your children that volunteer work is important and meaningful. Plan ahead to do it, even when things get hectic. Some projects may introduce you and your children to new ideas. You may meet people different from yourselves. It’s a wonderful opportunity to pass along your values and ethics. But, make sure you take the time to talk about everyone's feelings and reactions.

Benefits of volunteering

When asked about the benefits of volunteering together as a family, the participants identified:

  • Brings the family closer together.
  • Value system strengthened by volunteering; children see parents are involved.
  • Builds extended family among youth and other youth as well as youth and adults.
  • Get something back from volunteering; self-satisfaction; makes you feel good.
  • Strength in numbers; family gets more done than individual.
  • Increases family members’ self- esteem, skills acquisition, and opportunities to give back.
  • Promotes exposure to real world experiences and career information.
  • Provides access to social, physical, and financial resources.
  • Fun; social; gives children/youth something to do.

Holidays are ideal occasions to emphasize the spirit of volunteering with your children. Volunteering as a family extends the gift of giving time as well as the contribution of helping hands and hearts. Volunteering as a family helps strengthen family bonds and communication. It also sends a message to your children that you're all in it together!

Enjoy what your children will learn from your active example. You will teach them how to be well-rounded kids now, and responsible young people and adults later on.

Kathleen A. Olson, Extension educator in family relations

Revised by Silvia Alvarez de Davila, Extension educator in family resiliency

Reviewed in 2018

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