10+ ways to keep kids busy—and doing good—when school’s out

Set your kids up for summer-break success with these fun, easy (and even—sssh!—educational) activities that help them explore social issues and give back to your community. Pick and choose from the ideas below that best fit your child’s age and interests.

By Tamar Satov

Have a ball

Help your budding Jose Bautista find a local Little League team to help out, or look into volunteering with an organization such as Best Buddies, which offers students with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to play on a league type baseball team in its Challenger Baseball program. In fact, you can find Challenger Little League teams in need of volunteers as young as 10 to “buddy” with special-needs players in communities all across the U.S. and Canada.

Put the “fun” in fundraise

  • Set up a lemonade stand. Yes, it still has appeal after all these years. Have kids put out a table and signs to let beverage buyers know how they will be helping others, mix a few batches of their favorite lemonade recipe and they’re good to go! Variations: host a corn roast, bake sale, barbecue…. (Depending on your children’s ages, they may need your help and supervision.)
  • Offer to pull weeds out of neighbors’ gardens for charity. Talk kids through what they will charge for their service; if you start at 10 cents per weed, chances are that grateful customers will round up their payment for a good cause.
  • Bad weather keeping you indoors? A read-a-thon can be a great way to raise money for literacy. Kids can ask friends, neighbors and family to pledge a certain amount (say, $1) for each book they read over the course of the summer.

Read and watch with purpose

Speaking of literacy, if you’ve got an enthusiastic reader on your hands, check out this Social Responsibility Booklist of children’s fiction and nonfiction that both entertains and informs young readers about social issues around the world and close to home. (If you live in Toronto, Parentbooks stocks these titles in their bricks-and-mortar store, or you can call to order.) WE’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger have also just published a list of their recommended reads on social issues. For young people who are more into movies, Common Sense Media has some great suggestions for features (including animated films for kids as young as five) and documentaries that may inspire your young environmentalist or activist.

Watch out for Mother Nature

  • Take your family shopping for reusable water bottles and remind them how they’re helping the environment every time they take a swig.
  • Kids who are old enough to venture out on their own can walk or cycle to their destinations as much as possible.
  • Show respect for trees in your community by volunteering with organizations such as City Fruit in Seattle, LifeCycles in Victoria and Not Far from the Tree (16+) in Toronto, which harvest the fruit from trees on private properties, which would otherwise fall to the ground and go to waste.
  • For even more ideas check out our WE Take Charge family campaign.

Sow the seeds of neighborliness

Helping sick or elderly neighbors with watering or light gardening is a fun way to spend a morning or afternoon and give back to the community. Just be sure your kids get permission from the neighbors first; no random acts of gardening allowed! Many community gardens also welcome volunteers, such as the Evergreen Brick Works Garden Circle in Toronto and the San Diego River Park. Or just let your kids start their own balcony or backyard garden patch and watch good things grow.

Answer a call for volunteers

From charity walks and runs to arts fundraisers and public rallies, there’s no shortage of events your family can identify with and participate in—and they all need volunteers! Charity Village is a good source of Canadian information that’s fully searchable by location, age and other criteria; check out VolunteerMatch for opportunities in both Canada and the U.S.

Walk it out

People with mobility issues need help getting out for walks to enjoy the summer weather. Families with young kids can consider approaching local seniors’ homes to see if they could take a resident out with them on a neighborhood stroll. Some senior centers have formalized volunteer programs for walkers, including the Villa Marconi Long Term Care Facility in Ottawa and the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind). Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, NY, encourages kids of all ages (and the young at heart) to adopt a grandparent and “bring a smile to a senior.”

Help at a summer camp

Teens who may not want the full commitment of working as a camp counselor could consider part-time volunteer positions at camps run by charities. Some examples include S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a camp in Coquitlam, B.C., run by social services agency (16+), Toronto’s High Park Nature Centre (15+) and the Wilderness Youth Project (16+) in Santa Barbara, CA.

Share your cottage

If your family has a summer home, can consider donating one or more weeks’ use to a worthy cause. One Spare Vacation is a U.S.-based service that allows owners of a vacation rental home to donate bookings to causes they choose to support. Canadians can share their cottages with cancer survivors through the Cottage Dreams Cancer Recovery Initiative. (Tip: Bring the message home to your kids by spending the specific weeks or weekends that you would have stayed at your vacation home united in some good deed, such as volunteering at a hospital.)

Give the gift of life

Donating blood is important all year round, but especially significant during the summer months, when shortages are common in both the U.S. and Canada. Young adults 18 and older can consider rolling up their own sleeves to give; parents can model doing the right thing by bringing their under-18s along when they make a donation.