Each summer my nieces (ages 11 and 9) come down and spend about two weeks with us and it’s always super fun! This year we had the fun opportunity to all serve together at The Bridge, a ministry of our church, that helps others in our neighborhood with financial, food, and clothing needs. It’s pretty dear to my heart so it was the perfect place for us all to serve together. After our time serving, I shared a few pictures over on Instagram and was so encouraged by several of my friends who reached out to say that they really wanted to start serving with their little ones too, but weren’t sure exactly how to get started or connected. I also realized that I’ve never really shared any insight to serving with little ones although that is a pretty big piece behind my desire to start up On Mission Moms (duh….)
So here goes:
1. Know your children! That seems kind of silly to say but it has to be said here. If you know your little one can probably only stay focused for an hour or so, you don’t want to volunteer little “Suzy” for a four hour shift. Or if your child struggles with carrying or lifting heavy items, you probably shouldn’t sign up sweet “Bobby” for unloading the food truck with 10 pallets of #10 cans. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean they can, and you have to keep in mind that the experience is not really about you.
2. Get connected with the right place to serve! What does your child like to do? What are they good at? What does a specific ministry do? How can they use your gifts and talents and the gifts of your little ones? What rules or policies do they have in place for volunteers? There are tons of great ministries out there – soup kitchen, homeless shelters, children’s shelters, community centers, pregnancy centers, and on and on but they may not always be the best fit for a four year old or a twelve year old. One way to do that is to email or call them and chat and ask questions like “Can my four year old serve?” “What types of things would my eight year old be doing?”, “what do you expect from my family if we volunteer?” It may also take a few times and a few different places before you find your sweet spot of service!
3. Keep the end goal in mind! I’m a “doer”. When I serve, I wanna put my head down, get my hands dirty and just get to it; however, when Ivey and my nieces are with me… my goals and responsibilities have to change. My desire when I serve with them is that they have the opportunity to actually serve. So I may never get to stack a can, hand out a bag of food, help a shopper pick out food they like or hang a stitch of clothing, but if I have led my little one to do that, then we have had a great day! It won’t be as productive but they will walk away having a fun experience and a chance to learn. My expectations have to be that of what a four year old can get done not what a nearly 40 year old mom can do! And the expectations of the ministry site must be the same too! If they are expecting you to unload those pallets and your six year old can barely lift a pound of potatoes, there might be unmet expectations and frustrations all around!
4. Be ready to follow up and debrief with your child. They may have questions like “Why don’t these friends have food?”, “Can we take home some juice and chips?”, “Where does all this food and clothing come from?”, “Why does he smell funny?”. Also, be ready to help them walk through their experience. With my four year old, I ask questions like “What was your favorite thing about serving this morning?”, “What did you not like about serving.” “Why do you think we should serve others?” Help them begin to process the “whys” behind it all. They may not understand it all completely and that is okay but help them process. Pray with them about their day and experience.
5. Make it relational and personal! This is pretty important to me because while it’s important to help our little ones hang clothes and sort food, it’s even more important for our little ones to begin to “see” people. Look for opportunities to let them interact with those that are being served. Introduce yourself and your children. Ask your new friend their name. This really depends on the place of service and what they will allow a volunteer to do. I’m so thankful that at the Bridge we had an opportunity to help a couple ladies shop for their food. The girls got to hold their bags and we got to introduce ourselves to them. We got to talk about foods we each loved or didn’t like. How do you cook an artichoke?! It led to great opportunities later to pray for them too, by name. The day was fun because we served together, but it was also fun because we made a new friend!
Above all, just serve! It doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t always have to know all the answers, you may or may not even interact with people, but just get to it! Your little one will love it and when they begin to serve at a young age, it begins to build in them a foundation of service and a love for others!
Have you had an opportunity to serve with your children? If so, what tips would you add to the list? Comment below!