I don’t think we give kids enough credit. Sure, they love their games and toys and electronics. They don’t always like to share (I’m looking at you, 2-year olds!). But they can also have an empathy for other kids that we don’t recognize. I see it when we’re clearing out some of our toys here. I know a lot of people will tell you to get rid of your kids’ toys when they’re not around to object, but when I explain to my kids that those toys will be going to other children who don’t have any — they end up donating more than I would have. I don’t think my kids are exceptional in this. I think many kids would do the same if they were given the chance.
This is why I love the idea of charitable birthdays. What better way to celebrate your child’s life than by making a difference in someone else’s? I’ve heard of a ton of great ways to do this, but here are a few:
1. Skip the school cupcakes.
My mom is a retired kindergarten teacher. In her classroom, instead of cupcakes or treats, kids brought a new book to donate to the class. They picked out one of their favorites (check with the teacher to make sure she doesn’t already have it), wrote a little note on the inside front cover and glued a wallet-sized school picture of themselves in it. And the class had it to read from then on. It’s a fun way to get kids involved in thinking about what someone else would like to read…and frankly, with allergies and school nutrition requirements and other rules, a lot of schools no longer allow kids to bring in homemade treats anyway. This is a good alternative.
2. Have a party activity that gives back
Our local pet shelter takes donations of handmade cat blankets — fleece blankets you simply cut and tie (you can find instructions here). It would be a simple, fun party activity for kids to make the blankets to donate. Or check with your favorite charity to see about other homemade items they need. We also have local shelters that take hand-knit items, and our local senior center loves handmade cards for their residents — there are lots of crafty things you could make at a party to donate.
3. Skip the party favors and give away the money
Um. Speaking as a mom of four whose kids seem to have an endless supply of little plastic toys and weirdly colored gum that ends up in someone’s hair — I’m begging you, can we skip party favors anyway? Pleeeeease? Instead, take that money and help throw a birthday party for a child at an orphanage. Many of them don’t actually know their own birthdays and have never had a party. You could be the one who gives them a great party, with a new set of clothes and a brand-new toy, but most importantly, an opportunity to be celebrated and know they are special. In return, you get a picture of your sponsored child with their new presents (and of course it’s tax deductible). Maybe even donate a few days before your child’s birthday, and you could display the picture at their birthday party? Two parties — one at your house and one across the world! That gives me chills.
4. Ask for donations instead of presents
This one is harder, and perhaps not every kid would be up for it. But I’d say talk to your child and get their thoughts. Again, I think they may surprise you. If you throw a fun party, they could be okay skipping the presents. Or, if they can’t quit presents cold-turkey, maybe a compromise? Have the guests bring their presents, but Mom & Dad do not and donate that money. Or if Grandma usually sends birthday money, donate some of that. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing sacrifice.
Do you involve your kids in helping charities? What do you do? I’d love to hear your ideas!