The Importance of Teaching Altruism in Elementary School

Studies show that giving back enhances personal growth and development in kids ages 5-12. Here are ways to help your child give back.

Melanie Shaaf of Auburn Hills has volunteered since she was a child. Now, she carries on the tradition with her tween daughter, Elena. With great reason, too. Studies show giving back enhances the personal growth and development of students in grades 5-12.

This local family began by volunteering for the American Cancer Society in memory of Shaaf’s mother, who died of breast cancer.

“It became a special thing we did together, and we expanded to volunteering at senior centers, church and the humane society,” mom says. “I feel like we make it a priority. In a social media and ‘selfie’ focused world, I want her to be able to continue to be excited and self-motivated to look beyond herself to helping others.”

Volunteer benefits

According to “The Troubled Journey,” a study by the Search Institute, kids who volunteered one or more hours per week were less likely to be involved in at-risk behaviors like drinking alcohol and skipping school.

Gleaners Community Food Bank offers a unique opportunity with its Kids Helping Kids program, notes Katherine Benford, the bank’s program services director.

“During each session, youth engage in a hands-on service project – like packing backpacks that go to students who rely on free or reduced-priced meals – that allows them to help end hunger in our communities by feeding hungry peers,” she says. “Research has shown that when children start volunteering at a young age, they are more likely to develop a habit of lifelong service.”

It also helps kids in their personal development, the study says, plus teaches life skills and lets them positively impact their community.

Getting involved

“Parents play a key role in nurturing the development of lifelong philanthropists,” Benford adds. Here are a few of her tips to spark that journey.

  1. Be a role model. Let your kids see you volunteer and participate in altruistic experiences. Your behavior sets the tone.
  2. Gets hands-on. Put words into actions. Benford says kids learn best by doing. Giving money to an organization is one way to help, but serving in a soup kitchen or spending time working with the elderly is a completely different experience.
  3. Do it frequently. Making volunteering part of a routine allows it to become part of the child’s lifestyle, Benford says.

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