As someone who has a heart for missions, I want to be sure I make that a big part of my family and my ministry at church. I think it's important for children to DO for others for many reasons...one, it teaches the compassion; two, they see that there are more important things than "stuff" and electronics; three, it helps them appreciate what they do have; and four, it helps teach them diversity and expand their little world around them.
One of the most common mission activity for children (especially young children) that I see in schools and churches is to collect something - money, clothes, toys, books, etc. This is a great way for children to think of others and see their family in action. We need to make sure that this isn't the only way we teach kids though. Although we should definitely keep doing these types of things, we need to add some variety to our repertoires! Let's face it, the four thousand times I've gotten notes home from either church or school about buying items and sending them in for a collection this year, I may or may not have thrown half of them in the trash. It can become overwhelming - especially for families who don't have extra cash laying around to buy these things. Sometimes, it's used stuff from home and if that's the case, I have the children help me look for things (shoes, clothes, gently used toys) that we can give away. The times I have bought items to donate, I sheepishly admit I got them during the day when they were at school...defeating the whole purpose. The one exception was when we sponsored a few children at Christmas and we took a trip to Target to buy the gifts.
So, I've been thinking for years about how we can DO missions with our children instead of just showing or being an example. We know children learn the best by doing so let's help them actually be the helping hands when we do missions...and not just dropping money in a jar (please don't think I'm slamming these types of outreach opportunities. we have to do them, but we need a variety). Thanks to a few facebook groups I'm in, google, pinterest and my own ideas I have a great list that will help us get started with integrating missions into our families and churches!
If you've done one that isn't on the list please let me know! Everyone thinks differently and hearing ideas from others is what ministry is all about!
...every child loves animals - especially preschoolers!There are many things you can do with animals - they need our love and support as well!! Here are a few...
2. At the end of their presentation, the children made doggy treats for them to take back and give to the dogs in the shelter :)
3. On our local animal shelter webpage it lists items that they need and ways you can help. Check yours out! On ours, it lists animal toys... and pinterest has many ways to make homemade cat and dog toys...something fun the children would love to make!
4. I just had a friend whose little girl had her birthday party at their local animal shelter! I never would have thought of this and I think it's an awesome idea...which we will probably do for my youngest's birthday (who is an animal lover and wants to be a vet when she grows up :) Taking a small church group would be neat as well.
Retirement and Nursing Homes
...every church has someone in a nursing home or your church may even have a relationship with a (we have one next door that we work with). Working with these homes is such a win-win for both sides and I've found some really neat ideas that I bet you've never though of! I certainly had not!
5. If you haven't already invested in a $30 laminator from Wal-mart - DO IT! These things are the BEST. You can do 8 1/2 x 11 sheets or the legal size paper...which brings me to the next thing - place mats! This is such a super and fun idea for the kids and for those that will be receiving them. The placemats can be put on individual trays in specific rooms or put in the cafeteria on the tables. If you laminate them, they can be used over and over. The children can draw pictures, put on stickers, write personal messages, glue on pictures (maybe even pictures of the kids at the nursing home from the previous year)! I don't recommend glitter (it doesn't laminate well), and if you are going to glue things like pictures or thicker items, use regular paper...the thicker the final product the less likely it will laminate.6. Singing - we've all done that. Sing at Christmas, perform choir songs, musicals, etc. Everyone enjoys it :)
7. Birthday bags - I LOVE this idea. Put together birthday bags for the residents (or if there are too many...like in our case...just make them for your church member residents). Some suggestions - a birthday plate, birthday hat, blower, birthday napkin, bead necklace, hand made card and a candle :) You can actually hand deliver them on their birthday or leave them in their mailboxes or send them at the beginning of the month...depending on your availability.
8. My grandmother loves decorating her door at her retirement home and the one next to us actually gives each resident a shelf to put decorations outside their doors. This provides a great opportunity at ANY holiday to make a cute decoration and take it over to them.
9. An interesting suggestion that I would never have thought of - many of these homes/centers have bulletin boards and would probably love to have a group volunteer to make/decorate one every now and then! Personally, I like interactive bulletin boards - something the residents could add to/participate in.
10. There are some pretty cheap clear bird feeders (like this one on amazon). you could buy a few for some of your shut ins so they can put them up in their rooms in the windows. These could easily be decorated with sharpies!
12. Ask your church to continuously send in glass jars with lids. Have a box always nearby where you can collect them. This is something we are going to start doing...you can decorate these jars in SO many different ways and fill them with candy, trinkets, seasonal items, candles, pens/pencils, etc. Give them as gifts to anyone!
HOSPITALSThis is probably the most widely done mission project with children. There are many ideas and here are a few to get you started...
These mats would also be great for "older siblings" waiting in the maternity ward - for when siblings visit or have to be there when their new baby sister/brother is born :)
14. make children's activity bags
15. make pens with flowers for receptionists at hospitals/doctor's offices
16. one suggestion was to make small pillows for cancer patients - adults can sew the outside and children can stuff them and pin a card to them.
17. this is a different idea - but would require a lot of donated items - to put together snack bags for families and friends waiting in the ICU unit during surgeries. It was also mentioned that blankets could be included
18. make cards for different holidays to deliver to other children
19. Police Appreciation Bags - these could really be made for any of our community helpers. One suggestion that was made by a nurse was to make little appreciation buttons that they can wear :) These can be handmade by the children! You can even use one of the glass jars mentioned above to put all the buttons in!20. To go along with the one above, I asked some of my community helper friends (nurses, firemen, policemen, etc) what kids could make for them that they would like...especially when they have to work a long shift. Here are some great ideas - mints/tic tacs, hand made cards with funny jokes inside about their profession, buttons of appreciation, health bars, a picture of the kids sending the gift, Bible verses/bookmarks with verses about servant hood, chapstick, lotion (these can be decorated...we even made chapstick coozies once :), fruit and water bottles (which can also be decorated!)
21. I'm sure there is a Habitat for Humanity group near you...your church may even be involved. The children can help put together lunch bags or snack bags for them one day, or decorate the lunch bags...and maybe even deliver them to the site!
HOMELESS AND OTHER SHELTERS
22. Make fleece scarves - where you cut the fringes on the ends. Even preschoolers can do this!
23. Socks of love - fill one sock up with toiletry items, put the other sock inside and deliver them to a shelter near you
24. Make fleece blankets, or, the older kids can make the "knot" blankets...like this one - just buy lots of fabric and cut two pieces equally! This one is a kit from oriental trading but you could do it yourself!
27. If you church has a library the children can make bookmarks that people can take when they check out a book, and older children can help reshelve books (and this is a great way for them to see what your library has to offer!).
28. If you have a mission team going on a trip soon, have them make something to give out to the children (play-doh, hair ties, cards, etc).
29. Many churches have a quilters group. Ask them how the children can get involved. Maybe they can decorate squares that the quilters and put together. Or perhaps they can even help sew the quilts together. You can make blankets to give to new babies in the church, or children who were baptized...or children sick in the hospital.
30. Most churches do the operation Christmas child boxes. Something easy and cute that younger elementary age children can make are hair ties - buy large packs of them at the dollar store and then buy lots of ribbons. The children can tie the ribbons onto the hairbands!
31. If your church participates in Meals on Wheels, the children can decorate paper bags and/or cards to send with the meals :)
32. Help keep the inside of your church beautiful! Help refill papers and such in the pews, sharpen pencils, pick up trash after Sunday worship, wash the windows, clean the toys in the nursery, etc.
33. Find out what missionaries your church supports. Write them letters and send cards.
There are so many ways to get your kids out there and serving others!!
God bless and happy serving :)