A Volunteer’s a Volunteer, No Matter How Small: Children as Volunteers
Does the thought of designing volunteer opportunities for young children under the age of 12 make you nervous? Would accepting very young children as volunteers create extra stress for your already busy schedule? Would your staff be resistant to working with young children as volunteers? Fear not! This edition of Along the Web is designed to quell any fears or anxieties you may have while providing examples of volunteer activities by children, best practices for working with young volunteers, and special issues to consider
Incorporating young children into volunteer programs requires administrators to approach volunteer activities in a vastly different manner than working with adults. Young children need age-appropriate assignments and require more supervision than older volunteers, so the administrator must design projects with these dynamics in mind. One strategy is to recruit families with young children to volunteer as a unit; another strategy is to seek out existing youth groups – in schools, faith communities, social clubs, etc. -- and provide a project for the group to complete under the supervision of the group leader. Both approaches are different from the traditional method of training a single adult volunteer who will work independently within the agency.
Though young volunteers are not as independent as adolescents and adults, don’t assume that the time and cost of monitoring these youngsters are always greater than what you need to give to older volunteers. Several of the Web sites identified below illustrate the benefits of designing volunteer activities for young children. When entire families volunteer together for an agency, the overall number of agency volunteers increases. Collaborative volunteer projects with existing youth groups strengthens community support. In some cases, agency clients and participants can be encouraged to contribute time with their own families, which can build on the programs and services they are receiving.
"A person's a person, no matter how small." Dr. Seuss
This quote from American writer and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel embodies the theme of this edition of Along the Web. Perhaps the examples and advice here will encourage you to explore the potential of this underutilized group of talented “small” people. In keeping with the words of Dr. Seuss, let’s remember that a volunteer’s a volunteer, no matter how small.
Real Examples of Children as Volunteers
Little Helping Hands, Texas, USA
Little Helping Hands “facilitates family volunteering by creating and organizing monthly volunteer opportunities suitable for children as young as three years of age.” The organization has some great videos, including this introduction to their work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWBEIuFE1L8&feature=youtu.be.
Here’s another video in which young children and their families share, in their own words, how this agency has helped them learn about the benefits of volunteering as a family: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=12&v=UfTflMLSBOI.
“Big Family Day Out”- The National Trust, UK
The National Trust is the major conservation agency in the United Kingdom. To engage more families in their work (since families are a large portion of the visitors to their properties), The Trust created this family volunteering program. Note that they especially target businesses to encourage employees to bring their children to the project. Watch this video from the 2013 event and hear from the children themselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=87&v=9zroyavYHgM.
Twelve-year-old Aitan Grossman developed the Web site called KidEarth (http://www.kidearth.us/Site/KidEarth.html). Not only does his story illustrate the innovation associated with youth volunteering, he has inspired very young children to volunteer their time for his cause: reducing global warming. You can check out one of the videos young children created for Aitan’s project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWqNeja2teA.
Ten-year-old Eden Eskaros’ story is chronicled here. She was inspired to assist other children after a trip to Mexico. Upon returning home, she worked with her church to provide shoes to impoverished children. Hear her presentation to her church congregation: https://vimeo.com/26378759.
Tips and Advice:
“The Future of Volunteering: Children Under the age of 14 as Volunteers,” Gabina Torres, University of Texas at Austin, student paper posted on ServiceLeader: https://www.serviceleader.org/instructors/studentpaper7
Outlines the importance of children, ages 5 to 14, serving as volunteers; provides four models for how to engage children in service; and reviews management considerations for integrating children effectively into service delivery.
“Keeping it in the Family! An Information Sheet for Volunteer Involving Organisations on Family Volunteering,” VolunteerNow, Northern Ireland
VolunteerNow, a center for volunteering in Northern Ireland, provides this seven-page tip sheet for organizations considering family volunteering. Included are benefits to the agency and important considerations for administrators.
“Increasing Your Capacity to Engage Youth & Family Volunteers,” KidsCare, USA
This guide provides valuable information for volunteer administrators when working with children. Best practices and strategies for building an organization's capacity to engage in volunteer activities with children and families are also described. Just a few of the other areas include: modifying volunteer roles; preparing staff; and letting teens lead kids.
“Guide to Involving Young People as Volunteers,” Volunteer Glasgow
This guide provides general tips and advice to support young people as volunteers and also to reduce barriers when working with younger volunteers.
“Building Blocks for Family Volunteering: Tools and Resources for Organizations,” Volunteer Canada
Based on research findings, this resource helps organizations start a family volunteering program. A video presentation of the guide can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8z9uxdlGKVQ
“The Temple and the Tavern: A Case Study of Family Volunteering at Santropol Roulant.” Imagine Canada's Knowledge Development Centre
The report provides the perspectives of 21 volunteers from eight different families, ranging in age from 7 to 85. Questions posed included: Why are family volunteers attracted to volunteering? What do they find most engaging about their experiences? What can organizations do to make volunteering more accessible and meaningful for them?
A Few More Tips:
Although the materials below are written primarily for parents, administrators can easily use these tips to seek to increase volunteer opportunities for young children. Also included are examples of age-appropriate activities for young children:
“10 Kid-Friendly Volunteer Service Projects,” Points of Light
“How to Volunteer with Small Children,” Volunteer Weekly
“Tips for Volunteering with Kids,” PBS Parents
Help Your Kid Help Others,” SheKnows blog
Sites with Useful Resources:
“Children and Teens” section of the A-Z Volunteer Management Library, Energize, Inc.
GenerationOn, the youth division of United States-based Points of Light, provides opportunities for children to engage in volunteer activities. Resources are available for download, including “kid-friendly” projects that focus on areas relevant to young children.
GenerationOn’s Kids Care Clubs
There is a section of this site directly aimed at children: http://www.kidscare.org/kids.
A Conclusion for Fun:
And, just for fun, check out how Sesame Street introduced the concept of "volunteer" with Elmo and guest Usher in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cysG5M1PFA.
A final note: Every effort was made to include the most recent URLs in the annotations above. However, Internet addresses change with reckless abandon, and URLs that are current at the time of publication are apt to change, disappear, or mutate beyond recognition as time goes on. Our best advice for locating a site that vanishes is to use the exact name or title of the reference in a search engine such as Google or Yahoo that allows you to hunt for precise word combinations. More often than not, the material remains accessible at a new location on the Web.