The holidays inspire joy, cheer, and community. It’s a time where we celebrate giving back. And it’s a time where we look for educational and fun activities to keep our kids busy during their winter break. So, it’s the perfect time of year to teach children about service to others, being respectful citizens, and bringing joy to people in need.

Here are some simple, meaningful things you can do with your children to give back this season and throughout 2013:

1. Write letters to those serving in the military. Get out the crafts and crayons to say thank you to the men, women, and families for their service to our country. Or visit A Million Thanks (or similar sites) to join others in granting wishes for soldiers or funding scholars. Note: They’re currently sending Valentine’s Day Cards overseas to arrive in a timely manner. 

2. Consider volunteering at a nursing home. Call the center in advance, tell them your plan, and see what is most appreciated—baked treats, homemade cards, a donation of fun games, or even warm socks may be good options. This holiday season, we had a great time decorating a gingerbread house that we delivered to our local senior center. It brought holiday cheer to dear people who may not have family nearby to celebrate with them.

3. Take time as a family to volunteer together at a local charity. Because giving back doesn’t have to be limited to the holidays, you can make it a monthly tradition to participate in a philanthropic project that is kid-friendly and excites your little ones—whether it’s delivering groceries they pick out to a food bank, taking care of a community garden, or fostering animals. Volunteer Match is a great resource for finding opportunities in your neighborhood. 

4. Young children understand caring for other kids and neighbors, so encourage them to brainstorm ways they can help and give back. For example, plan a visit to the pediatrics wing of a hospital and empower them to bring cards or simple gifts. Things like stickers and activity books are great for children. It’s also a wonderful gesture to include gift cards for a nearby coffee shop for the parents of the children in the hospital. Or have your little ones select everyday essentials like soap, shampoo, and toothpaste to donate to local shelters. Before stopping by, call your local hospital or shelter to learn the details about their volunteer programs and needs.

5. Older children can organize a drive or giving party for a charity of their choice by asking friends to contribute things like coats, sweaters, jeans, or canned food. Or when they host a birthday party, they can ask their guests to bring an item to donate in lieu of a present.

The holidays are the perfect time to plant the seed for lifelong giving and begin a tradition of family volunteerism. Taking selfless actions that benefit others is something families can do in simple ways—random acts of kindness, one-time volunteer projects that reflect your children’s interests, or making a long-term committment to a cause. By giving back as a family, your children will learn about compassion, social responsibility, and transforming the world for the better.

~ Kate Brightbill of Style Smaller