I’ve mentioned before that I love the blog Rage Against the Minivan. Kristen is a great writer and funny. Really funny. She describes herself as a social activist and is passionate about her causes. She is one of those people who goes out and does something. She gives. 

I am passionate about a lot of things, but it tends to manifest itself in the form of strong opinions, judgments and rants. I rarely do anything. Every once in a while I’ll have a burst of generosity and give. Like the time we sponsored a goat whose milk goes to a homeless shelter, or my occasional contribution to friends’ fundraising efforts. But these are all small-scale, one-time donations. I have never made an effort to find my own cause and really commit to it. I would like to change that, and more importantly, I want my children to feel responsibility for caring for our world.

I’m not quite sure what this responsibility should look like or how and at what age it should be communicated to children. My own hesitation stems from a combination of feeling like I can’t make a difference and feeling overwhelmed by the injustices in life. How can a parent communicate the concepts behind charity and also empower a child in a way that is age appropriate? 

I don’t want to burden my young children with the knowledge of homelessness, poverty, hunger. A child with no family. A tortured and abandoned animal. A family who has lost everything. Disease. How will they understand that? Is it right to put that on a child at age five? Six? What effect does it have on a young child to know the realities of the world? 

These early years should be filled with wonder, joy, and beauty. If children grow up to cherish these qualities in life, then as adults they will fight to preserve them - for themselves and for others. But I do think community service in some form should be a part of early childhood. How does one foster compassion and a spirit of giving in a young child without asking them to carry the knowledge of devastation? 

Kristen has each of her children sponsor a child. They exchange letters, learn about each other’s culture, and develop a relationship. This seems like a nice balance. Caring for an animal that needs a home. Preparing meals for a family in need. These seem like small, but meaningful ways to engage children in caring for our world. Perhaps it is possible to keep the reality simple and matter of fact so that the child can help give while the parent carries the burden. 

I hope as my children get older it will become obvious when they are cognitively ready to take on some of the burden themselves, and simultaneously become more capable of giving.

What do you do to foster a sense of charity in young children? How do you engage your children in caring for our world?