Adventures in Giving: 25 Warm-Weather Ways Families Can Instill Compassion in Kids

by Christina Katz

Studies show that children are born compassionate. But studies also show increasing rates of narcissism among college students. So somehow the empathy children are born with is getting worn thin by the rock tumbler of life and being replaced with self-centeredness by the age of eighteen. How can concerned parents reinforce traits like empathy, compassion, and citizenship from a young age, and continue to model them as a family for children?

The warm-weather months are probably when you spend the most time with your children after they reach school age. Even though the media tends to emphasize generosity during the colder months of the year, and especially leading up to the holiday season, summer is the perfect opportunity to model neighborliness, community service, and giving to worthwhile causes.

Kids of all ages will want to participate in giving adventures, since there are so many fun ways to contribute. Even if kids are initially reluctant, they will get hooked once they see how generosity benefits other. Kids often get bored during summer, and adventures in giving offer much-needed outlets for kids’ considerable energy. These activities fit well in the nooks and crannies between summer school, camps and family vacations.

Go ahead and celebrate kind acts with a sweet treat like an ice cream cone or a smoothie afterwards. Giving is its own reward, but it never hurts to reinforce generosity of spirit from a young age. Here is a list of ideas to help your family get giving.

1. Volunteer Outdoors. Help clean up your city parks, drive meals to shut-in seniors, clean out vet kennels or participate in a city-wide rummage sale. Your town’s online calendar is a good place to get more information on community service events.

2. Capture Gratitude. Create colorful postcard to mail to teachers, coaches and instructors who have helped kids blossom in the past year. Keep the message short and sweet infuse the message with creativity.

3. Encourage Bookishness. Sign up for a summer reading program. Purchase new or used books. Then go through your shelves and remove books you no longer treasure. Donate them to your local library or resale shop.

4. Plant Ahead. When planting summer vegetable gardens, plant an extra row or two for the local food bank. Look online to check their policies before you plant.

5. Clean Out Cabinets. Search your kitchen for food items that have not expired. Stop at the store on the way to the local food bank if you need a few more items. Charities are usually flooded with donations around the holidays and need support during the rest of the year.

6. Delight Someone. Painting rocks is a fun summer activity that can be done indoors or out, alone or with family and friends. Taking your painted stones on the road and hiding them for unsuspecting new friends to find turns this craft activity into an adventure. For inspiration, check out

7. Let Go Of Large Items. The sunny weather is your chance to move larger items without damaging them. See if you can fill your trunk or borrow a truck to deliver items to your local resale shop without a scratch.

8. Transform A Plot Of Dirt. Know a particularly dingy intersection with a median that is full of litter and weeds? Pull together a renegade seed posse to quickly pick up that trash, yank those weeds, rake the dirt, and lay down a combination of annual and perennial seeds. Give the patch a good watering, then watch it blossom over the course of the next year. You’ll be able to say, “We did that,” every time you drive by.

9. Banish Bedroom Clutter. Ask your kids to touch and sort every item in their rooms. Consider the best ways to donate or store little-used items. Create a memory bin where each child can stash prized possessions, but don’t go beyond one bin per child.

10. Create Blessings. Here are some good ideas for summer blessing bags to give to homeless folks in your area: bottled water, glasses wipes, hand sanitizer, lip balm, sunscreen, a sturdy comb, toothpaste, travel-size shampoo and conditioner, band aids and large Ziploc bags. Some sturdy foods that won’t melt in summer’s heat are: granola bars, meats in a pop-top can, foods in pouches, applesauce cups, nuts, dried fruit, beef jerky, mints, hard candies and gum. Don’t forget plastic silverware and napkins.

11. Sweat For A Cause. Visit to find local walking, running or cycling races in your area and then participate as a family.

12. Spread The Fun. Declutter the attic, basement, garage, shop or shed. Dig out that outgrown outdoor gear, sporting goods and outdoor toys and donate them to a local family shelter.

13. Bare Arms. Donate blood with teens, once they are eligible. This is a great opportunity to teach citizenship in a memorable way, and you just might save a life.

14. Ship Some Love. Send playful care packages to elderly relatives who live far away. Draw a picture, write a poem, or make a handmade card. Include little things that surprise and delight them. If you are not sure what to send, maybe it’s time for a video chat.

15. Build Small Sanctuaries. Make baths for birds and butterflies and put them on opposite sides of your yard since birds often prey on butterflies. Tuck both types of baths into areas with easily accessible shelter.

16. Encourage Relaxation. Make homemade spa gifts for friends and neighbors. Bath salts, face masks and hand scrubs are fun to craft and will be cheerfully received. Search for natural-based recipes online that utilize what you grow in your garden.

17. Dump It Good. Find a safe place to store garbage unsuitable for local trash pick-up throughout the year. Then gather the family to load up the car for an annual dump pilgrimage. Children need to visit dumps to understand the importance of recycling.

18. Rise And Shop. Purchasing fresh food from your local farmer’s market makes a fun morning outing and supports local small businesses. Don’t just shop, chat with the vendors as you sample their wares and share photos of goodies on social media to help spread the word.

19. Share Your Bounty. When new neighbors move in, dig up a sampler of flowers or veggies from your garden to help them start theirs. For the rest of your neighbors, gather seedlings, flowering plants or bouquets of flowers and drop them by the front door with a kind note.

20. Take A Day Off. Declare a slow day! Ask your children what they would do with a full day at home with zero commitments. Then let them do that. Everyone will feel refreshed afterwards.

21. Support A Hobby. If your middle-schooler is into baking, why not take those fresh out-of-the-oven cookies and make a plate for a family dealing with some bad news. There is no better feeling than seeing someone joyfully receive something you created.

22. Sell For A Cause. Set up a weekend lemonade stand and contribute half or all of the proceeds to a charity of your family’s choice.

23. Help The Earth Breathe. Plant a tree to help support clean air for future generations. Join the Arbor Day Foundation at and they will send you ten trees to plant where you live.

24. Pull Together. You don’t have to be the Von Trapp family to put on a backyard concert. Whether you are a family of readers, musicians or poets, come up with a summery way for the whole family to share what you enjoy doing.

25. Chill It Forward. Give the kids money to pay for the ice cream cone or smoothie of the next customer after you and make someone’s day.

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