Our family volunteers with non-profit organizations about 3 days a week. We typically spend between 1-2 hours at any given place. At first, I was terrified of that prospect. I thought it might be a little much for two very active little girls (ages 2 & 4).
The reality, however, is that our girls usually enjoy the new environment and the hustle & bustle of completing a project.
Of course, things aren't exactly Utopian. We've learned to expect imperfection and to laugh at little snafus that come up.
We've also learned that these 4 things make volunteering with babies and toddlers MUCH easier.
1. Try your best to schedule volunteer projects when your kids are freshly fed and rested. After breakfast tends to be a good time for our young ones, but take your own child(ren)'s temperament and nap schedule into consideration.
2. Bring a backpack. Include diapers, wipes, extra clothes, extra underwear, a wet/dry bag, a snack, and/or a bottle of water. It's also a good idea to bring along a few coloring books and crayons in case you end up waiting for a project coordinator or instructions.
3. If possible, include your spouse or another adult (grandpa, grandma, your sister, etc). It's much easier if volunteering involves the entire family. The more adult hands, the more peaceful the project will be.
4. Understand what you are contributing. We recently put together boxes at Manna Food Bank. Our 2-year-old worked slowly, lifting the heavy cans with all her might. Our 4-year-old was a little more adept, but I found that I was supervising for most of our morning – making sure that no one got conked in the head or run over by other volunteers.
Would I say then that what we gave was insignificant? On the contrary!
Volunteering is much more than just completing small projects. It's awareness as you talk about the experience to friends. It's encouragement for the staff as they see young ones at work. And let us not forget the impact that service has on a child’s mind and heart. Your child may not remember the details, but the impression is sure to last a lifetime.
Stay tuned for practical ideas on how to volunteer from home!