My boys, probably like most if not all kids, are pretty self-centered. They're kind people, but the concept of giving up their time or stuff to help others doesn't naturally occur to them. They don't really understand how fortunate they are.
To their credit, the boys are often receptive when we suggest ideas for community service: buy a gift for a less fortunate child at Christmas, for example, or put together a bag of older-but-still-good toys for kids at a shelter. They've run in 5K races for charity. They're very proud that our family pet, Roger the beagle, is a therapy dog who visits hospitals and libraries; they've tagged along a couple of times when he goes.
But that all still strikes me as pretty easy on their end. They're picking out a toy, giving away toys they don't use anymore, competing in runs and walks that they find fun and living with a cute dog.
So I was happy to learn that both of their schools have community service organizations open to their grade levels this year. My older son, who is a 6th grader, willingly signed up for the after-school club sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, only to find he was one of just two boys at the first meeting (what the heck?). He's going again today, but not entirely happily. The projects sound great: forming a team for an American Heart Association walk, visiting a nursing home at Christmas, organizing a canned food drive and helping the Kiwanis Club with an annual fundraiser.
My younger son, a 4th grader, said he didn't want to go to his club's first meeting, which would be at the end of the month. "I just like having time at home," he told me. And I do understand that; he's a natural homebody like me, already doesn't get home from school until 4 p.m. and is involved in a fairly intense travel baseball program that requires two nights of practice and several weekend games every week.
Still, I think it would be very good for him to join, and for my older son to stick with his club.
But when you FORCE community service on a kid, is that a good thing or not? My thinking is that if the child ends up enjoying it and feeling good about himself -- which I am pretty sure would happen -- it is. I just wish I didn't have to make it yet another command from Mommy.
I'm thinking of asking my older son to stay in his club for at least one semester or year now that he's joined, and for my 4th grader to check out the first meeting or two and see how he feels. If the kids end up not doing the clubs, maybe we'll do better at finding community events such as litter pickups where they're old enough to help, or organize our own food drive on a smaller scale.
And hopefully, as they get older, more of the ideas will come from them -- not their parents.