How to Have a Social Good Valentine’s Day

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I really enjoyed reading the recent article that parenting expert, Dr. Laura Markham, shared about how to rethink Valentine’s Day with simple actions that create deeper connections with the people we love.

As a philanthroparent, her last idea really resonated:

Love in Practice. If you’d like your kids to take pride in making the world a better place, Valentines Day is a great opportunity to express love for others by taking valentines goodies or homemade valentines to a nursing home, hospital, or soup kitchen.”

I’m always looking for ways to rethink our family activities and routines in ways that impact our social consciousness. Since this will likely be our daughter’s first Valentine’s Day that she will remember, why not use it as an opportunity to create a tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day through a lens of social good?

These ideas are different types of purposeful gifting that I’ve been musing and intend to try over the years- with my daughter’s increasing input, of course. I share them here in hopes that they spark action in your household, too.

The Gift of Your Time. As a teacher, the phrase “use your time wisely” probably came up in my class more times than can be counted. Now that I think back on it, what does that even mean to an elementary-age student?! I’d like to repurpose that phrase for Valentine’s Day into “use your time lovingly.” This is something that is much more concrete for a child. They can think of ways to be loving, and they’re learning what it looks like to be kind. Dr. Markham goes into many examples in her article of how to do that with the ones you love. You can expand this concept to encompass acts of kindness for others in the community. I love this article about a father and daughter who did random acts of kindness for their birthdays. It gives some great launching points for Valentine’s Day, but the best and most beautiful may come from your child’s imagination.

The Un-gift. Add a positive spin to the phrase “in lieu of,” which can commonly be associated with donations (rather than flowers) in memory of someone’s passing. It also has shown up at celebrations, like weddings, where a couple decides to redirect funds usually spent on party favors towards a charity that resonates with them. So why not use “in lieu of” for smaller occasions, like Valentine’s Day? Rather than using store-bought valentines or creating elaborate ones, use the money saved to support an organization of your family’s choosing. Then, use what you already have at home to create a simple “in lieu of” card.

The Gift-It-Forward. I agree with Dr. Markham on this: Valentines Gifts are NEVER about the item or product. At the least, it is about the thought that goes into the gift. She argues that you need not even purchase a gift! But if you were to purchase a gift, could you find one that serves a need? How about donating a box of produce to a low income family of food pantry? For our daughter’s birthday, we worked with CommuniGift, where we asked our guests to support our “birthday buddy.” They could purchase a simple gift for a child in need online instead of adding to our own toy collection. If you’re hosting a Valentine’s Day party, the same concept could apply.

The Inside-Out Gift. Dr. Markham points out that sometimes we as parents may be “too busy, too broke, and maybe even too harried” to be able to make the most of this holiday with our families. Thankfully, her ideas call to attention that Valentine’s Day does not have to be elaborate or a reflection of our consumer prowess. Instead, it can be a time for reflection. It allows you to acknowledge and show gratitude for the people you love in your life. And if you’re a philanthroparent, showing kindness and compassion to others is an important part of your family values, too. If your circumstances do not allow you to look outward towards gifts, celebrations and date-nights this year, you can choose to look inward instead. This loving-kindness meditation is one way to do that. It’s guided practice in sending goodwill to others. This one is also a gift to yourself- besides being cost-free, it may help you to feel less harried.

photoSimply put, carry this quote by Maya Angelou with you as you decide how to celebrate with your family this year: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Amidst cards and gifts, what will be the lasting feeling that remains when the day is done?  With these ideas for purposeful gifting, I hope you have a (social) good Valentine’s Day!

The Day My 3-Year-Old Did Multiplication (By Giving to Others)


Although that may sound impressive, it’s not exactly what you would think. Perhaps she has learned something even better, though. She used giving to find out what multiplication looks and feels like in real life, and these tangible experiences for young children are a powerful way to learn and reinforce new concepts (like multiplication). When our family was introduced to CommuniGift as her third birthday approached, I already sensed that it was an opportunity to grow the impact of our family giving, but I didn’t anticipate the added bonus of our daughter learning multiplication, too.

CommuniGift was founded upon the belief that all children, no matter their circumstance, deserves to feel special on their birthday. For some families, the opportunity to throw a birthday party, or even purchase a gift for their child is out of reach. Meanwhile, as we selected a play place, ordered food, and chose the cake, the spirit behind CommuniGift reminded me that this was plenty. Simone had more than enough to make her feel special on her birthday.

We discovered that through CommuniGift’s interface, rather than having our guests bring presents to her party, we could invite them to donate gifts to her virtual “birthday buddy” instead. (more…)

Summer of Inclusion

la2015-logoIn just under a month The Special Olympics comes to Los Angeles. From July 25th through August 2nd during #LA2015, parents will have a unique opportunity to live messages of inclusivity and global citizenship with their families, reinforcing the kinds of qualities that we hope will become part of the fabric of our children’s lives. Philanthroparent is happy to coach you through a few exercises to help you embrace the spirit of the games.

The Warm-ups

There are several activities you can do from home to build momentum for the events:

*Make welcome cards or signs for the athletes (in their native tongue if you wish). Check out the delegations list. Or, explore your family’s heritage through the cultural connections the delegations can provide.

*Make a Circle of Inclusion– an official symbol for the games. Take pictures of your family, neighbors and friends within it. Share your snapshots on social media with #ReachUpLA.

*Consider your own family’s stories of determination and explore the #whatsonething series about athletes overcoming things they were told they could never do… but did anyways.

*Support An Athlete. Your support with help assure an athlete’s successful journey at the games.

The Main Event

*Simply attend the games, which are FREE and open to the public!

*Who else can you invite? What people or community organizations that you are already connected with would support the spirit of these games? What sports teams are your family members a part of that could drum up even more support?

*Teens 14 and over can become a “Fans in the Stands” – recruit your own delegation of cheering fans for one of the sporting events.

*Check out the Volunteer Opportunities for teens ages 16 − 18.

The Special Olympics bring an even stronger connection to the valuable lessons that sports can provide. If you have sports fans in your household, you can use #LA2015 to also introduce concepts of acceptance and inclusion into their socially conscious lives. It’s a win-win. See you at the games!

A Picture Can Say A Thousand Words (When You’re Not Sure What to Say)

Sometimes breaking news reveals terrible tragedies. Each family must use their own best judgement to decide if (and how) they expose their children to these difficult stories. These decisions can be based on your child’s age, emotional temperament, or previous family discussions on a similar topic- simply to mention a few of the factors you might consider. Even if you decide not to share certain events with your child, they may be exposed to them as they go about their daily life at school or in the community.

I will one day be faced with the difficult task of discussing headlines like that of the recent attacks in Paris with my child. What can I take away from this event that will help me be prepared for these conversations in the future? The best lessons thus far came for me through this simple, powerful image by artist Lucille Clerc:

  • A picture can say a thousand words that you might not know how to say. Images or picture books can be powerful conduits for discussion. You and your child can explore a concept together through these tools versus conducting a top-down conversation from parent to child. In fact, through discussion, you may find that your child can say the thousand words you don’t know how to say.
  • If you’re not sure what to say, be gentle with yourself. You may not always have the right words at every challenging moment. You may have your own emotions to process, making it harder to express yourself.
  • Sometimes simplicity is best. Over-explaining might leave even more uncertainty, especially when there are no easy answers.
  • Consider what your community might have to offer in helping you lead a well-rounded conversation. Are there trusted friends and family members, school personnel, or community leaders that can augment your thoughts and ideas?
  • Tomorrow is another day. How can I balance each difficult concept we work through together with a more hopeful message, relieving some of the insecurity my child may feel alongside these events?

Lastly, service to others.

This is what as a parent I choose to write with my newly sharpened pencil. Volunteering is a tangible way to put pencil to paper with our children- an active way to process difficult events. The growth, teamwork, purpose, and support that is built through service- these can be the messages of hope we can write in permanent ink.

Trick-and-Treat Others the Way You’d Like to Be Treated

If you only had a dollar for every time you heard the word “candy” during Halloween season. You’d be able to make a pretty sizable donation to your favorite charity! Philanthroparent would like to put that word to #socialgood use. Using the acronym CANDY, here’s some smart ideas for helping this Halloween.

Costumes

Start a costume drive with your school, neighborhood or group of friends. Collect new and gently used costumes for a nonprofit that works with local families in need. Costumes could be collected ahead of time for this holiday, or if your residence is a Halloween hub, ask people to bring costumes when they come to trick-or-treat (for kids’ benefit next year). You could also focus on your own costumes. You’ll likely see plenty of superhero costumes being worn. What message of social good could you share with what you wear? Introduce your children to some real-life characters who have been champions for change and social good. I’ve seen Gandhi, Philippe Cousteau and John Wooden costumes get rave reviews. Maybe you can challenge your family or Halloween party guests to a design-your-own superhero theme (invent characters that addresses a real-world cause). You could also just go as a real-world problem. A 2014 pick: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Advocating

Halloween is a holiday favorite, but perhaps there is a gentle way to discuss with your children some of the potential challenges that come with this occasion. You might start by asking, “Halloween is so much fun for our family, but can you think of any challenges some people might face for this holiday?” The discussion might lead to the topic of sugar overloads, not being able to afford a costume, litter on the street the next morning, or not having proper warm clothes/shoes to stay comfortable while trick-or-treating in the cold. Maybe they will recognize that not everyone has a residence or neighborhood that allows for trick-or-treating. Whatever the need is that they discover, see if you can help them find an organization that supports this cause. Give them a voice to advocate for their socially conscious revelation! Ask the organization for pamphlets that could be handed out with candy or as you’re out and about trick-or-treating.

Nutrition

It’s easy for parents to develop a love/hate relationship with this holiday. Kids are bubbling with excitement and imagination. Tons of priceless family photos are captured in costume. However, there’s late bedtimes, lost costume accessories and… the dreaded battle over how much candy is collected and consumed. Discuss with your family how to balance this day of candy gluttony with good nutrition.  What other healthy habits can be reinforced on this day? Maybe toothbrushes could be a quirky party favor or hostess gift. Plan the Halloween menu with your children so that they are coming up with creative, healthy food options too. A printed menu with your nutritious ideas could be passed out to families visiting your door or party guests. If you can’t seem to conjure up your own menu ideas, this Pinterest page has you covered!

Donate

Haunted houses and creepy costumes are scary, but they don’t compare to the real-world concerns of some families, like a parent struggling to provide clean water or nutritious food for their children. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is a fundraising campaign to help address the basic needs of children all over the world. You can set up your own fundraising page that can be shared with friends and family. UNICEF also has teaching tools that can help you explain these concepts to your children. These world issues might be a bit scary for kids to think about but (as the campaign says), it’s also a chance for them to realize it’s “scary how much good you can do.”

Yard Sale

Beware! This is the most daring of all the service ideas here. Think of all the people coming back and forth towards your door, especially if you live in a well-trafficked trick-or-treating neighborhood. You wouldn’t have to do any advertising for a yard sale- the customers are already coming to you anyway! This could be a joint operation amongst families or a social group you’re a part of. Money from items sold could be donated to a local charity. You could even make it Halloween themed by selling secondhand decorations or costumes. It doesn’t have to be a “yard sale” per se. A witches brew lemonade stand or haunted labyrinth in your front yard might spark your kids’ interests more.

Halloween is a holiday for the imagination. These ideas are a starting point, but more importantly, let your child’s cauldron of creativity bubble over. We’d love for you to share your own family’s ideas in the comments. Wishing you a happy, healthy (and helpful) Halloween!

Time-Saving Tips to Add Giving into Your Busy Back-to-School Schedule

Summer can be carefree, whimsical, unstructured, and it can come with some quality time with our kids. But, let’s face it. Sometimes the start of school is a welcome change for parents. School can add some consistency to the day that might not be present during those lazy days of summer. It sort of fits with the notion that the busier you are, the more you get done.

But as the school bells ring, the schedules start, and as the after-school activities and homework kick into gear, a Philanthroparent remembers these words:

“Never be so busy as not to think of others.”-Mother Teresa

In the hustle and bustle of daily life as our kids go back to school, how can we still honor our commitment to giving back? Reflect on these principles:

1. Work it in vs. Add it on. Instead of analyzing your schedule to figure out how to make more time for philanthropy, see how philanthropy connects to something already going on in your family members’ daily lives. Instead of rushing out to get yet another last-minute party gift, help your child to research an organization you can make an online donation to- one that supports a cause the honoree can connect with. If you’re buying a new ______ (fill in the blank) , discuss with your child where the previous item might get the most use in your community if it’s donated.

2. Use your interests, skills and talents. Reframe the things your family likes to do already by putting a social purpose spin on it. If you already get enjoyment out of riding bikes together, plan ahead to get somewhere by bike instead of by car. If your kids are helping to make dinner or dessert tonight, double the recipe and go say thank you to your local ______ (let your kid decide). Don’t just donate stuff. Find a place to donate your child’s talent too- art, music, technology skills, etc. They might get in some valuable practice time without you nagging them about it for once!

3. Listen. Keep your ears open to comments that reflect your child’s concern for things they see in the community, world issues they overhear on the news, or conflicts they are having with friends. Finding action to address these concerns might give them a sense of control and alleviate any anxiousness surrounding these thoughts, thereby also saving the time that worrying can take up.

4. Get support. Seek out systems already in place that help show your child the value of social responsibility. You don’t have to create these opportunities all on your own for them. Have you considered girl or boy scouts, a Kid’s Care Club, or a program that focuses on civic-mindedness and leadership like KidUnity? Your child’s school might be a perfect place to get support for your ideas: a community service coordinator, the PTA, or even your child’s classroom teacher might know of programs to support your family’s community service endeavors.

5. Take something out. Believe it or not, service to others (or the earth) doesn’t have to be something that takes extra time. Think of what great quality time could come from taking something out of the schedule. “Let’s skip going to the car wash this weekend to help us remember to save water during the drought we’re facing. You get to pick something fun that we could do with that hour instead!” Set up a challenge one month for each family member to think of something they could cut out of the daily routine that saves a resource and creates a cooky family activity instead. Candlelight homework, anyone? Just don’t be shocked if your child proposes to skip the dishes or a shower.

As the school year kicks into gear and you wonder how you’re going to make time for social purpose parenting, remember that social and environmental consciousness can benefit others and your family at the same time. Philanthroparents might not favor the saying, “kill two birds with one stone,” but “fill two needs with one deed,” captures it perfectly.

Rain Checks that Pay It Forward

iCalPicjpegTwice now our volunteer activities have been thrown off course. Our World Oceans Day project was trumped by a fever. The next mishap came as we headed to our summer service commitment visiting with seniors. President Obama was in town, and as we approached our destination… BAM! Road closure gridlock. Impatience from the backseat ensued. I decided it was in everyone’s best interest to head to the park down the street until the traffic dissipated. By that point, the toddler tiredness wouldn’t amount to a cordial visit with our elderly companions.

From an early age, I hope to model the importance of accountability with our daughter. Yet, toddlerhood inevitably leads to some volatility, and this sometimes wreaks havoc on our commitments. Being prompt was something I prided myself on. Now I’m consistently 10 minutes late (Hey, at least I’m consistent). Before kids, If I said I would be somewhere, I rarely would cancel. Now, a later than expected nap or mini-meltdown can thwart our best-laid plans.

Generally when I can’t honor a commitment due to unforeseen toddler tribulations, there is resounding understanding from the hosts and organizers, and this was no exception from the Big Sunday staff when we cancelled our visit with seniors. Yet, something still didn’t sit right about missing this event. What we were providing was valuable and necessary. I still felt accountable.

The good news is that accountability can still exist even if the unexpectedness of life with kids takes over an occasional commitment. Philanthroparents can use rain checks to their advantage in their quest to make a positive impact on the world through their parenting. Usually a rain check means rescheduling your plans, but what if we used rain checks as an opportunity to do even more? Rain checks with a purpose!

Yes, you can absolutely reschedule the missed play date, dinner party, or trip to the zoo. Bravo for showing your kids accountability. But, what if you shifted the focus instead? Rather than rescheduling plans in the exact same manner, you and your child could think of ways to do something similar that is also of value to others or the community.

  • A missed a sports practice becomes a donation to a child’s Make-A-Wish campaign helping them meet their athletic role-model.
  • A pesky virus thwarts your dinner with friends and turns into serving a meal at your local shelter.
  • Your toddler wakes up on the wrong side of the crib. The trip to the botanical gardens is out. Buy a kid’s guide on composting and start up a system at home, or volunteer at the closest community garden.

Just think of accountability as the “ability to make something count.” You can acknowledge and honor the missed commitment with a rain check that pays back … or pays it forward! Make your rain check count.

Share the concept with the world. How did you add value to your rain check?

#PayForwardRainCheck to @philanthroparnt

5 Steps Towards More Meaningful Service

Imagine yourself without a skeleton. You’d be a big blob of tissue on the floor. While strange and uncomfortable to think about, this is an important analogy to consider in terms of your family’s service efforts. Philanthropy by itself without adding structure and context might not fully serve its purpose—like a body without a skeleton. Adding structure to your service process can help you get the most out of the experience. In addition to the important support you’re providing to others, there is much for your child to gain from service: becoming a more informed citizen, a sense of gratitude, a leadership opportunity, a chance to practice organization, social skills, advocacy, and seeing family members in new roles. The list goes on. What steps do we take to make the most of these opportunities for learning and growth? 5 Steps

I’d like to share a framework that many teachers use to add substance and context to their class’ service learning curriculum. Looked at through the eyes of a parent, this structure offers a supportive guideline to help you get the most meaning possible out of your family’s philanthropy endeavors. This framework was developed by leading service learning advocate, author and consultant, Cathryn Berger Kaye. The steps are summarized here (with adaptations for a parent’s perspective).

Stage One: Investigation
What’s up?! Take time before you volunteer to define and get to know the community you will be serving. What do you know or need to know about this community and the social issue in order to be most helpful? This question can help you distinguish what actions will lead to a meaningful contribution. And most importantly, what topics interest your child? Do they comment on trash in the park or people who appear to be in need as you are driving home from school.

Stage Two: Preparation & Planning
Get organized! When your child has an idea all their own for helping people, animals or the planet, this is especially important so that when it comes time to act, they’re most effective. Have your child consider the “5W and H” questions many of us were taught as young writers to help guide their efforts: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Stage Three: Action
Act Up! Provide a service. Keep in mind that there are many types of actions to choose from. You can directly impact a community or organization by working face-to-face or alongside whom you are trying to support. You can indirectly contribute to an issue through drives, collections, or making things. You can advocate for a cause. You can research an issue and discover important information that will motivate others to act or that an organization focusing on the same cause can benefit from knowing about.

Stage Four: Reflection
Press pause and ponder! Often times, people see reflection as something you do when an experience is complete. Reflection can actually happen amidst all of the stages listed above.  Simply modeling your own reflections throughout the experience can be an effective and subtle way to help your child think about their participation. You can describe what you thought was special about the shared experience, what you learned or what emotions came about for you during the process. Hearing about everyone’s part in the process shows how valuable each family member’s contribution is.

Stage Five: Demonstration
Get the word out! Your story isn’t over when the activity is complete. Share your process with others. This is a great place for your child to practice advocacy. Tell people about what you’ve done. You can start with your inner circle of family and friends, however others in the community will benefit from knowing what you’re up to also. What media resources could you use to spread the news? Remember that stories can be told through words, images, or even more action for the cause.

Put together, these five stages for service offer your family a chance to build meaningful experiences that not only enact change, but also incorporate personal growth and learning too. Instead of a standalone philanthropy activity, you can use these five stages to develop your child’s voice for a cause they care about and that they are knowledgeable of too. Most of all, celebrate the joy of family time spent together contributing to your community.

*This 5-stage model originates from The Complete Guide to Service Learning (2nd Edition), by Cathryn Berger Kaye, Free Spirit Publishing, copyright 2010. For a more in-depth look at her curriculum visit her website and check out The Complete Guide to Service Learning.

*This article is adapted from a previous post.

Walking the Walk: Our Summer of Service

IMG_1953We’ve done our fair share of putting our feet up this summer. It’s time to walk the walk. I’ve been talking the talk on Philanthroparent about ways families can serve this summer, and now it’s time to put some things into action for ourselves. This will be our first attempt at creating PhilanthroTot summer service opportunities. I’m excited to share what we’ll be up to in the next few months!

When considering ways to get out and give this summer, my first criteria was something toddler friendly. My 20-month-old’s favorite summer pastime seems to be wandering. I can’t guarantee the quality of my effectiveness at any of these events. I’m going to try to be of the mind frame that simply being present is still a valid way to support a cause. (more…)

A Philanthroparent’s Game Plan for The World Cup

France Soccer Kids     You may know soccer (or perhaps you call it football) as “the world’s sport” and”the beautiful game.” Now combine these ideas: How could you make the world more beautiful through the game? There are many ways to use this sport to create a philanthropy opportunity with your family. In honor of the World Cup, here are some ideas to get the ball rolling (so to speak). May your World Cup runneth over with opportunities for good!

The Warm-ups

Philanthroparents see the value in developing character traits that go hand-in-hand with volunteerism. Lessons discovered through teamwork and sportsmanship could be worth discussing and reinforcing. These conversation starters might prompt the kind of meaningful dialogue that leads to a service idea.

  • FIFA’s slogan: “My game is fair play.”
  • 2014 World Cup motto: ” All in One Rhythm™ “
  • Pope Francis’ comments at the start of the 2014 tournament: Football as “a game and at the same time an opportunity for dialogue, understanding and reciprocal human enrichment.”

The Game Plan

The World Cup is an excellent opportunity for crowdsourcing. If you’re planning to gather together to watch a game, how could you reframe it to benefit others?

  • Your child could rally their own sports team around The World Cup. Collect sports equipment for an organization that supports underserved youth in your area.
  • Host a foosball tournament with entry fees that go towards a sports-based charity. Don’t have the means or space for a foosball table? How about a mini table top foosball tournament with these 20 inch tables?
  • For older kids or adults in your life who are willing to wager, have them predict the outcomes for the remainder of the teams/games in the tournament.  Each person in the pool can fill in their own brackets, but collect donations instead of bets.

The Lineup of Causes

Sports-minded charities address a multitude of issues: leadership and empowerment through sports, disabled athletes, equal opportunity and access to sports, to name a few. Here are a few key players related to The World Cup this year.

  • FIFA has partnered with streetfootballworld. They aim to unite and support organizations all over the world that are promoting social change through football. This organization is a great way to see the host of ways people are igniting change through the beautiful game.
  • Support a social issue within the region or host country where the tournament takes place. Or, choose a cause that is important to one of the participating athletes. Brazil player Neymar Jr. (partnering with Waves for Water and PayPal), has helped initiate a campaign that addresses the lack of access to clean water within underserved communities in Brazil.
  • Check out the #TeamUNICEF campaign reinforcing that “All children have the right to play regardless of their background/abilities/gender.” They provide two soccer balls in their recreation kit, noting that sports and play can be an effective therapy for trauma when children encounter disasters and violence.

The World Cup is underway until July 13th, but the values of teamwork and sportsmanship and how they intersect with philanthropy, along with sports-based charities, will continue on. If you have a sports fan in your family, how can you reframe these ideas to make a difference year-round?