4 Playful Ideas for Spontaneous Kindness

Sarah Aadland, MPP is striving to make family volunteering a meaningful habit for her three animal-loving, social-justice-seeking, mud-pie-making kiddos. As Director of DGT's Big-Hearted Families™ Program, she creates resources for families that want to develop a kindness practice at home. For her own family and for participants in the Big-Hearted Families Membership Circle, Sarah has watched family volunteering create empowered kids, more connected families, and stronger communities. In addition to her children, Sarah tends a large garden, a small flock of chickens, and a habit of mindfulness amid the necessary rituals of parenting.

I’m excited to introduce you to Doing Good Together™, a national nonprofit dedicated to making it easier for your family, and mine, to raise compassionate kids. Doing Good Together (DGT) offers dozens of volunteer ideas, at-home service projects, and book recommendations to empower big-hearted families. I share my family’s experiences with these tools each week on DGT’s Blog.

At DGT we love everything about Improv Parenting. This emphasis on joyful, playful connection is exactly what our hearts and our children need from family time. And these memorable family moments are the birthplace of compassion, where children learn to appreciate the well-being and needs of those closest to them. This is the first step toward noticing and caring for others, the first step toward empathy.

Today I'm here to help you encourage creative and spontaneous acts of kindness with a few big-hearted stations around your home.

Empowering kids to live generously can be as playful and fun as dumping out the craft bin after school and seeing where their creative hearts take them. Admittedly, there is a learning curve. But with the right set-up and some persistence, your kids will be leading the charge to do good for others when you least expect it.

Thanks to a few well-planned and kid-led tools, everyday acts of improvised kindness are a regular feature at my house.

Notice that each of the tools below includes a tip to “talk about it.” Reflecting on why or how you are helping encourages kids to consider the impact of their actions. Conversations about big-ideas help kids practice empathy and consider complicated issues from many perspectives. In the long run, this sort of everyday reflection may have an even bigger impact than your good deeds.

Enjoy these 4 playful tools to inspire spontaneous kindness.

1)  Heal the Earth with an UPCYCLE Box:  Before you recycle, reuse.
Store clean bottles, caps, boxes, toilet paper tubes, and other curiosities in an easy-to-reach box, along with twine, duct tape, and an invitation to play. For my older kids, I added a hot glue gun, and when they ask nicely, I tote out the drill! Some of their creations are gifted to unsuspecting – I mean, lucky – neighbors. Others become self-styled toys or tools. Every few weeks, we clean out the battered items, remove tape form overused creations, and recycle what we can. This box is the essential engine for experimentation in almost every game played by my kids, ages five to 12.

Talk about it: Why is it helpful to reuse these things rather than recycle or toss them? Push for a variety of answers.

2)  Invite curiosity with a Nature Center.
Set up a corner of your house to store treasures from nature walks. Fill a small basket (or a large box) with sticks, rocks, pine cones, and other odds and ends. Add in field guides, a magnifying glass, a bug net, and a recycled peanut butter jar with holes in the top and voila, you’re ready to catch and create. We’ve also got a much-used set of binoculars and a children’s microscope. The more children spend time in nature, the more motivated they are to protect it.

Talk about it: What can our family do to take better care of the earth? What simple things are we already doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle resources?

3) Share smiles with A Magic Mail Center:   
This popular project from DGT’s Big-Hearted Families™ collection makes it easy to send “happy” mail whenyour child is feeling crafty. We’ve created a simple printable full of addresses for soldiers, people in nursing homes, and children in hospitals who could use a cheerful card. My kids drag card-making supplies out at least once a week, and we forever have a stash of mail hanging near the door, just waiting for one more drawing or a piece of candy before it can be mailed. It’s a bit chaotic, but the kids always have a special person in mind for their gift of art and stories.

Talk about it: How do you feel when you get a card in the mail? Do we know anyone who could use a cheerful card?

4) Help the hungry and Adopt a Food Shelf.
Together, decorate a box for your local food pantry. Each time you visit the grocery store, invite your child to pick out something special for other families who may need a helping hand. Your child will love this opportunity to take the lead at the store. When your box is full, add a cheerful card or drawing and deliver the box to your local food pantry together.

Talk about it: Why do you think it’s important to help those who are hungry? What other things could our family do to help out?

Over the years, these five habits have sunk deeply into the texture of our family life.

In their messy, silly, thoughtful splendor, these projects have become some of our favorite moments together. And I believe, these seeds of kindness have taken root deep within my children. The big conversations we’ve had as a result will inspire a lifetime of loving and protecting nature, reaching out to the lonely, feeding the hungry, and helping those nearby.

How does your family invite playful kindness into your lives?

Keren Gudeman

Minneapolis, Minnesota