Art, books, movies and music, so far our 11 Before 11 series has focused on enhancing children’s lives with knowledge, experience and Madonna dance-offs. But what about their ability to enhance the lives of others? Even the youngest child can learn how to make a difference, speak up and fight for things they think are important. If you believe the children are the future (apologies for the Whitney earwurm) it makes sense to show them how to harness their power for good right from the start.
11 WAYS TO CHANGE THE WORLD BEFORE YOU TURN 11
Support a charity
One of the easiest ways for children to see that they can make a difference is to choose a charity to support. Better still encourage them to do so as one of their birthday or Christmas presents. Adopt an animal with the WWF and they’ll receive a magazine three times a year as well as a cuddly version of their chosen animal, choose the RSPCA for a bimonthly animal magazine or sign up with the RNLI for a quarterly magazine, membership pack and special station days where they can meet real life volunteers.
Primary age children might be too young to volunteer on their own but you can seek out local opportunities to do so as a family. This might mean joining a litter picking day at the beach, helping out at a food bank, joining a conservation project or simply offering to walk the neighbour’s dog.
Kindness costs nothing. Smile at people, say thank you and look after younger children on play dates and at the park. See this for more kindness tips.
See it, say it. Having the confidence to speak up for what you believe in is a skill for life. This could be standing up to bullies in the school playground or starting an online petition to save the local library. Encourage your child to write to their local MP/councillor about the issues that matter to them. They’ll usually get a reply.
A twice-yearly cull of clothes and toys is a great way for children to appreciate just how much they have. Choose a charity shop or local school to donate to.
Put your children in charge of the recycling and encourage them to make good choices when it comes to food waste and energy use in the home.
Overflowing laundry baskets, precariously stacked bookshelves and heaven-knows-what under the bed… Kids. Breed. Stuff. Encourage your child to choose (and give) experiences over other treats or gifts as much as possible. Leave the expensive magazine with its plastic tat in the supermarket and head to the park for a play after tea instead. Replace one toy on the Santa letter with a day out or afternoon baking session. Every little helps.
Raise some cash
Bake cakes, wash cars, do a sponsored silence… finding and actioning a campaign to raise money for a cause is a direct way to make a difference.
Pets are a great way for children to learn responsibility for others but even if you don’t have the time, space or inclination, you can still encourage them to care. Make bird feeders for the garden (or if you don’t have a garden hang them in the local park), plants flowers that encourage bees or join the RSPB annual bird watch.
Whether it’s googling polar ice caps, learning to sew or whittling wood in the garden, encourage learning and creativity in all its forms. The more your child learns to think for themselves and find creative solutions to problems the greater their capacity to change the world.
Teaching children to be grateful for what they have is one thing, helping them to understand power, privilege and social injustice is another. Fill your children’s book shelves with stories about prejudice and social change, make sure their toys are diverse, talk to them in an age-appropriate way about poverty, conflict and inequality in all its forms.
Image & T-shirt: The Bee & the Fox