When our children are very small, it can seem as though there’s no time in our days to look anywhere but inward, towards our families. We keep our eyes and hearts locked on our kids’ immediate needs, our marriages, our jobs and the constant, clumsy juggling act that is life with little ones. So many responsibilities require our attention. We crash into bed at the end of long days, dog-tired and emotionally drained.

But soon (soon!) our children get older and our lives fall into some kind of manageable rhythm. The baby weans. The toddler starts preschool. The frizzy-haired little girl plays happily in the yard for whole hours now without calling for us.

There is more time in our days now. And so we catch our breath and look up and around us — to our communities, the larger world — and we think: Now what can I do to help here? How can I pass onto my children a lifelong tradition of giving and caring?

Now that our girls are both in school, my husband and I have had conversations about what we can do to give back to this community that has been so good to us. We’ve included the kids in those conversations because we want them to develop a lasting habit of generosity — a habit that doesn’t only bring them happiness but also teaches them a deeper lesson about empathy and their place in the world.

As a family, we discussed which local organizations we’d like to give to financially. One of those is the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. The choice was obvious for us. This community’s strong culture of outdoor recreation and conservation is one of the biggest reasons we chose to live in Wenatchee. That culture is due, in large part, to the vision and efforts of the Land Trust over many years. It’s just a really wonderful organization.

Of course, your family may choose to support any number of local groups that do good work. A few of the other great ones:

Besides financial donations, which can be difficult to swing for many young families, local charities would almost certainly be grateful for your time and talents as a volunteer.

Want to teach your children the importance of giving and serving others? Here’s what the experts advise:

Talk to your kids about how much your family has been given.

Whenever the subject of the fire that took our home four years ago comes up, my husband and I make sure to remind our daughters about the people who showed our family kindness and charity in the days and weeks that followed. The church that collected toys for the girls. The friends and total strangers who donated clothes. The businesses that gave fire victims shoes and gift cards and free meals. Now when we give, our children know we our honoring the legacy of those who gave to us.

Lead by example, and explain why you do what you do.

Let your kids see you write your charitable checks. Take them with you when you volunteer at your church. Include them when you collect toiletries for the homeless shelter. When my daughters’ Girl Scout troop collected donations last year for the Women’s Resource Center, their troop leader made sure the kids knew exactly what the WRC did and who it served. Parenting experts say that “talking to our kids about why we give and how it impacts us and others is vital. Having this conversation over time encourages our kids to continue to give of themselves as they get older.”

Teach them the “three jars” method.

Beginning when your children are very young, set up three jars in their room, labeled “spend”, “save” and “give”. As the kids collect money (for allowances, from grandparents, from the Tooth Fairy…), encourage them to split their earnings between the three jars.  Let them spend their “spend” jar funds on fun stuff. As their “save” jar fills, help them open a back account and move the money there. Discuss with them where they’d like their “give” money to go. Animal lovers may choose the Humane Society. Budding social justice warriors may choose  the ACLU. Experts say that giving kids the freedom to choose their charity will increase the odds that they’ll feel good about their generosity and, as a result, stick with it.

What about you? What organizations, local or otherwise, do you and your family care about and support with your time or treasure? Let us know in the comments… And happy giving!

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