Want to serve more with your kids but the mere thought makes you want to run to your bedroom and pull the covers over your head?

Do you hesitate because you are fearful that it will be:

  • too much to do while dragging the kids along,
  • result in a pounding headache,
  • or end in kids fighting all the time?

Serving with children doesn’t mean that you’ll load up a bunch of power tools to clear an acre of brush and then plan to fashion the woody stems into toothpicks to send to developing countries.  I used to think it would be that hard.

I found out that it really isn’t.  I serve with my children every day.  I have been able to do it since September 2012.

Completing a small act of service in a short amount of time, a “Penny of Time,” has been a great experience for us. Here is how we do it without fighting all the time and without headaches.

#1… Make it SHORT! Aim for 10-15 minutes.

Seriously, this is my big secret.  I am not going to change my children’s characters with grandiose acts.  I will teach them to be responsible and caring people in little bits at a time.  Sometimes, we get so caught up in the service act that we are busy for an HOUR with our project.  Other times, 10 minutes into the service act, I realize that we are all cranky, and so we stop.  That is okay!

#2… Have FUN!

When I started serving with my boys, we started becoming Secret “Service” Agents . . . doing anonymous service in disguise (full-on mustache, hats, and glasses) and going on secret missions. We would use code names and giggle when we watch the recipients of our service smile happily and look around for whom to thank. After serving as Secret “Service” Agents, we found ourselves in the middle of service without those fun disguises. The boys were motivated by the good results they experienced from serving.

The boys love becoming Secret Vending Machine Ninjas.

Resources to Help:


By talking with your children about the problems that others have in our community and the world, it gives us purpose when we look for opportunities to serve.  It places a greater importance on why we are serving.  Learning about those we serve and the needs of others is just as important as completing the service act itself.

A couple of times a month, I plan what I call “awareness activities.”  I expose my boys to situations where there isn’t much for them to do by way of ‘work,’ but there is much that they can do by learning.

Examples of Awareness Activities:

Visit an organization that does good things in the community.  For example, go see a home being built by Habitat for Humanity.   Discuss with your children what is going on, why the organization exists, and how your family can help them, too.

Visit the local animal shelter.  You can collect things to donate from the shelter’s wish list (each one has one). Or, you can go and just talk about the animals there and why they were given up for adoption.

Use a book or video that focuses on service.  On days when we need a quiet activity, we read a book or watch a video focused on service.  This continues to build their knowledge of the needs of others and the words to use in describing the need and how to help.

Resources for Help:


At the end of the experience, we take the time to reflect, to give them a chance to quietly discuss the importance of what we did and how it affected us, as well.
With my young boys, we talk about:

  • if we helped in the way that we planned to help
  • how they think the recipient felt when we provided service
  • what they felt when they helped

Often times, we talk about how the person smiled, said thank you, or otherwise showed emotion in response to the service. These conversations start a momentum to allow the act of serving to touch their hearts and start to explain those intangibles of serving.

Not every act will end with everyone holding hands and singing sweet songs of love; children will squabble.  They are kids; it happens.  Once the squabble has been resolved, use it as a teaching moment to ask them how their fighting affects the person that they are serving.

Several months ago, my two boys fought in front of the person we were trying to serve.  And, when I asked them how their fight made them feel (sad), they were able to make the connection that others who witnessed the fight might feel sad as well.  A powerful lesson in learning how our behavior affects others.

#5… REPEAT:  Do It Again

The more you complete acts of kindness, the easier it gets.  The same is with your children.  These activities teach them to work, to recognize the needs of others, and about sacrifice and the rewards from putting someone’s needs first.