My children’s elementary school had a student committee that planned service projects for every grade. Kids from kindergarten through fifth grade participated in the process: researching local needs, talking to potential community partners, and identifying ways to help. They collected canned goods for the local food pantry, provided leaf-raking services to senior citizens, and painted flower boxes for local Habitat for Humanity home builds.
Children learn empathy and compassion when they help others. And when they are responsible for designing and implementing a kindness project, they also learn to think beyond ‘in-the-moment’ activities to ways that they can make a difference on a larger scale. They acquire planning skills and a sense of competence as kind people.
The first step in developing a kindness project is research. Encourage children to think about needs they have heard about or witnessed in their community. Then search online to learn more about these issues. For example, if kids are worried about homelessness, ask them to gather facts about causes of homelessness and affordable housing access in your area. Or if they are concerned about an elderly neighbor’s ability to take care of their home, they might research all the kinds of tasks that home maintenance requires.
Step two is identifying potential service partners. Begin by asking children if they know of people or organizations that might be able to help them meet the needs they’ve identified. These might include family members and friends, as well as local charities and community groups. Make a list and add the names of other organizations you know that might also help.
Deciding on an issue and helping partners is the third step. Suggest that children review the needs they have identified and the people and organizations that could help them address those needs. Ask: Based on your research, which need do you think we can best help meet? Which partners would you like to work with to meet that need? Identify the ideas with strong support and invite kids to pick one as their first project.
The fourth step involves developing the project. Create a flow chart or timeline with children that visually outlines the steps of the project. Encourage kids to include information about needed supplies and project costs (if any). Then help kids contact the organizations they have identified and ask them to join the project. (Alternatively, if children decide that a need can be best met by participating in an existing program, help them sketch out the process of publicizing the program, recruiting volunteers, engaging in the work, and celebrating their efforts.)
Step five is implementation. Support children as they practice kindness according to their plan. Affirm their efforts, celebrate successes, and provide encouragement if things don’t go quite as they planned. Help them troubleshoot problems, while trying hard to let them make strategic decisions for themselves.
Finally, reflect together on your efforts to practice kindness together. Encourage children to gather information about how others perceive their efforts. You might share about the project on social media and invite comments or conduct interviews with recipients and partners to learn about their experiences. Then sit down together, share this input, and also talk about the kids’ feelings and thoughts. Note their assessments and observe that they will be useful in planning their next kindness project.