I recently had the great pleasure of meeting a kindred spirit. Natalie Silverstein recently came out with a book all about community service for families called Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back. I heard her speak about her own family’s journey to incorporate more acts of kindness into their lives and was impressed by all of her unique ideas.
What I love most about this book is all of the amazing ideas that Natalie outlines to make it easy for us. It can be quite challenging to come up with community service ideas for your family, so this is a must-have resource to keep handy in your home. She even includes a list of organizations by state that can connect you to family-friendly volunteer opportunities in your area.
The other aspect of the book that is so special is how she encourages us to incorporate giving throughout the year by identifying both major and minor holidays and during events in our lives like birthdays and other milestones. Here are some of my favorite ideas from her book:
Playdates with Purpose
Sometimes it can be tough to find engaging activities for our kids when their friends come over. We certainly don’t want them just sitting in front of screens watching movies and playing video games. Why not add a kindness activity to your child’s playdate? Natalie offers numerous ideas for shifting a playdate into something that spreads love and kindness from coloring cards for soldiers overseas to baking cookies for your local fire station to making sandwiches for a local food bank. Besides projects in your home, you can ask the other parents if they want to meet up and participate in a volunteer project as a group, such as a beach cleanup or tree planting.
Birthday Parties that Pay It Forward
These days, children’s birthday parties can tend to get out of control. One way to bring them back to a manageable and more meaningful event is to add some kindness. Simple Acts includes so many creative ways to do so, and I love how she organizes these ideas by birthday party theme. For example, if your child is having a sports-related party, consider collecting old sports equipment from guests to donate to a local youth-focused organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Special Olympics. You can also give out soccer balls as party favors, and buy double to donate. Or maybe you add a craft or activity, such as decorating sports water bottles, that you can later give to those in need
Milestones with Meaning
We often get caught up in the moment when it comes to major milestones like baby showers and graduations, but there are so many wonderful ways to make these events even more meaningful by adding service to them. For example, at the end of the event donate flower centerpieces to a hospital or nursing home. Mark the milestone by planting a tree–there are several organizations who will do this for you and a card will be sent to the recipient in their honor. I also love how Natalie includes ideas to highlight the everyday milestones in our children’s lives with kindness. She provides unique ideas for spreading kindness when your child takes his or her first steps, gets a first haircut, says a first word, loses a first tooth, and of course each year on the first day of school.
Kindness Month by Month
One of the most helpful parts of this book are the endless ideas for community service based on the calendar year. She offers possible projects for each month around the holidays that occur–some more obvious than others. This calendar is such a handy tool to keep referring back to as each month goes by and you look forward to planning your next meaningful community service experience as a family. By getting your kids involved in planning which activities to do, they will become more engaged and excited about spreading love and kindness throughout the year!
Although my family has done lots of volunteer projects together, I absolutely love this book and find it so helpful. It’s filled with so many unique community service ideas for all ages and interests. She makes it so incredibly easy for families to spread kindness and guides us with creative options to tweak many of the activities and events we are already doing so that we can help others. Natalie believes that “you don’t need to change the world to make a difference. There are many small, simple things parents can do to incorporate service and acts of kindness into our daily lives–into the things we are already planning and doing. These are simply drops in the bucket, which create a ripple effect.”
About the Author
Natalie Silverstein, MPH, is the volunteer coordinator of Doing Good Together in New York City. She is a frequent presenter to parents, faculty, students, and community groups and is a contributor to the parenting blog MommyPoppins. She holds a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She and her family regularly make time to volunteer in their community. Learn more.