Our industrialized nations are keeping us busier and busier. Despite automation, which we would hope could do some of our required activities for us, we are more obligated and life is more hectic than ever. With digital stimulation readily available (iPads, smart phones, TVs), this is often a default source of entertainment for children who are “bored” while parents are preoccupied and the children don’t have a safe area to run and play and seek other forms of engagement with the world. Hopefully they perceive their parent’s role modeling, showing their ambition, dedication, and commitment. But all too often the children recluse and the parents have stress and the bonding is less, not more.
Finding a time that is dedicated to disconnecting from outside obligations and reconnecting the family is very important. This is typically reserved for weekends. But with home chores, sports activities, etc. even that time gets occupied. Vacation time seems to be the best opportunity, unless you make a drastic change. Do you want to spend that vacation laying on a beach with a cocktail in hand being fanned? Doesn’t sound half bad, does it? And you’ve certainly earned it.
But if you want memories for a lifetime, find a vacation that suits your whole families needs. Not just the immediate relaxation and disconnecting that you need, but the common goal that drives you in the same direction, a sense of accomplishing something together, an eye opening cultural experience, and challenging your comfort zone, only to survive and probably learn something about others, but also yourselves. Families who have done cultural immersion and volunteer trips have found a common, uniting bond in helping others work toward a goal by helping a community through health, teaching, or building. This is often progress you can see, feel, and build on. Other experiences often involve animals and environment, which are natural draws for children’s interests. Children can learn immense amounts of information about their tasks and surroundings, all the while building closer relationships and developing a sense of self and moral responsibility toward others. What an amazing journey that your family will take home as a life long memory!!
Sometimes you want to start smaller, closer to home. You may not have vacation time at the same time as the children, you may not have the funds, as many of the experiences require a donation to pay for the expense of the trip. Or maybe you’re still getting your passports and other things lined up. Whatever the case, there are many local volunteer options that may fit the bill and begin to build a habit of being a giver in the community. Consider homeless shelters, animal shelters, The Ronald McDonald House. Assisted living and retirement communities welcome people to come entertain or interact in a positive way, especially with those elders who have limited family neary. Child care centers may welcome a presentation, demonstration, or weekly book reading event. Engage in a beach pick up or planting trees in the community, roadside garbage clearing or park clean up. What are your skills and interests? There’s always a role! If you truly can’t find something, MAKE something up! Host a bake sale and give the proceeds to anything meaningful to the family – animal sanctuary, elder home, church, children’s center, hospital, or whatever you perceive as a need for the community.
Children learn to give. They learn pride in their actions and a sense of community working together. They develop a sense of accomplishment. Often they can learn new skills – like carpentry if you’re helping rebuild after a natural disaster, or teaching if you’re helping in a school setting. I encourage every family to look for opportunities, big or small, where you can reach a win-win situation for enhancing the families lives while improving the lives of people or animals or nature or whatever your mission and goal. There is an art to donating, gifting, and trading and it’s important to be thoughtful and insightful. The gift of giving is rewarding and perceivable, but you must also consider how it’s affecting the community you are giving to. Are you taking away much needed jobs? Are you undermining the parent’s ability to provide? Are you creating strength and independence with a hand up, or are you creating a state of dependence? These are all valuable considerations as you share your skills, insights and goods with others.
Here is a review of some of the most popular international volunteer opportunities specifically for families with children. The older the children, the broader the opportunities and the more programs that accept them. But if you see something that speaks to you, don’t hesitate to contact the coordinator and see if they can accept a younger child in the housing and working aspects of the program.
Have you done a volunteer experience with your family? If you wrote a blog about the experience, please share the blog on the Travel Directory.
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