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How to Teach Children to Give Back

By Larraine Roulston:

Every year the gap between the wealthy and the poor increases. During these harsh winter days, we are even more aware of the homeless as municipalities struggle to find extra shelter for them.

Children generally want to help. Parents, with a little effort, can aid them to become involved. Walking the downtown core of a large city, you and your children are apt to pass a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. Here is an opportunity to stop and say “hello” and offer a donation. Further conversation may ensue. This moment of contact will teach your child that a homeless person is very much like the adults they know. It may even lead to a further offering of a snack that your child has on hand. A friendly smile can be a safe and easy exchange of gratitude.

Residents in rural areas or small towns who do not venture into big cities are just as aware of homelessness due to community toy drives and food banks. While grocery shopping, allow your child to choose one or more healthy items to contribute to a food bank collection bin.

During the Christmas season, some banks, post offices, shop windows or community centers will have a Christmas tree decorated with homemade mittens, scarves and hats to be donated to a shelter. As a busy parent, you may not have time to knit; however, you might find an old sweater that can be upcycled. Using your child’s hand as a pattern, cut out a pair of mittens from the sweater and sew up the sides. Thanksgiving is another time when organizations collect gift boxes for families in need. You can include new socks, healthy snacks, and/or personal care products, as well as toys or books for your selected family.

You needn’t wait until next Christmas or Thanksgiving, nor limit yourself to just your family. Extend the charitable gift bag idea to a teacher, or have friends come to your home where you can assemble several bags. With Valentine’s Day approaching, why not make up gift bags of homemade cookies, organic fruits or foods that carry the fair-trade logo and take these to a shelter.

Children can exchange letters and pictures with those their age in a third world country, should you choose to acquire a foster child.

Engage your children in baking cookies or muffins for the homeless. It is best to contact a local shelter first to inquire about ingredients, as you may find that many individuals have dietary needs. If choosing organic products is important to you, doing the same for others will demonstrate that those in need are just as worthy.

Most children host birthday parties and receive lots of presents from invited friends. As well, gifts are given from family members. Ask your child to request that at least one of the family gifts be that of a charitable donation.

As our local communities face the needs of providing for the homeless, parents should strive to find comfortable ways in which their children can help participate. Teaching small acts of kindness will instill a foundation of compassion that will become a great attribute in forming future relationships.

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Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure stories on composting and pollinating. To order, visit www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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