Celebrating birthdays is such an important ritual for children. They love to gather with family and friends, eat party food, play games, open presents and blow out the candles on their birthday cake. Some families are choosing to transition the theme of their child’s birthday from one of GETTING to one of GIVING.
Some families are asking for donations in lieu of birthday gifts for their children’s party. The child then delivers the items collected to the food pantry or animal shelter. This is a wonderful concept but can be difficult for many children. You may want to ease in to this concept with having a service project be an activity at the party or asking folks to bring a smaller gift and a donation from their cabinets for the local food pantry.
Here are some ideas that you and your child may incorporate for their next birthday gathering to spread a little love and kindness in honor of their special day.
For All Ages
Donate Items to Goodwill or a Local Shelter (one for each year)–Every birthday and Christmas, my children donate one item for each year they have been on this planet. This practice of cleaning out their spaces and donating their gently used toys, books and games is so important as we teach them to let go of things that are no longer serving them. My husband and I join in on this activity and since we are a bit older we include paper purging (catalogs, magazines and old bills) into our number.
Recycled Party--My son once had a birthday of all wrapped hand-me downs. People brought gently used toys, games and clothing items as gifts. Zach loved his “new to him” gifts and nobody had to spend any money. It was a great lesson in reusing and reducing waste.
Food Pantry Party or Animal Shelter Party–Food pantries and Animal Shelters are always looking for non-perishable donations. Asking guests to bring donations in lieu of gifts or a canned good with a small present is a great way to organize this party. Make a collection spot where everyone can see the items. Have the children count the donated items at the end of the party and have the birthday child thank everyone and share where the donations will be going. Make a big deal of the Donation Day for your child and make sure to take a picture of them donating the items to the pantry or shelter (send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for them to be featured on our website).
Birthday Box Party–Not every child in our country has the chance to celebrate their birthday. Consider asking party goers to bring the contents to make a birthday box in lieu of a gift. During the party, the group can work to assemble the birthday boxes and your child can go and donate them to the local food pantry. Check out our post on birthday boxes for more information.
Party with Seniors--Who doesn’t love a party? Many residents at your local nursing home would LOVE to celebrate a birthday with your child. Contact your local nursing home and see if this is a possibility and if there are any food restrictions. Invite some of your children’s friends, bring some balloons, games to play (they LOVE bingo with prizes) and bring some treats to share. This is a great way to spread some love and kindness.
Book and Pajama Drive–Have each party guest bring their favorite children’s book and/or a pair of new pajamas and donate them to the Pajama Program. For this party you could have everyone dress in their PJ’s, bring a stuffed friend (if they are young) and read your child’s favorite story to all of them. Older kids can enjoy a sleepover party with this theme.
For Older Children
Sole Hope Shoe Cutting Party–Sole Hope is a wonderful organization that helps to make shoes out of old jeans for children in Uganda. These shoes prevent the children from getting painful jiggers in their feet. Jiggers make it difficult to walk and thus the children can’t perform their daily chores, walk to school or play with friends. Organizing a shoe cutting party is a great birthday alternative. Order the kit here, have everyone bring a $10 donation toward the shoe cutting kit cost and a pair or two of old jeans (no holes) . Put on some music, chat while you work and think about all of the children you will be helping on the other side of the world.
Make Dignity Bags or Homeless Bags–Being a homeless has many challenges and homeless bags can make life a little easier. These bags contain hygiene items, snacks, uplifting messages and so much more. Dignity bags can make life a little easier for homeless women. Consider organizing a Homeless Bag party where everyone brings items to contribute and then you assemble them together. Check out our post about Homeless and Dignity Bags here.
Blanket Party—Project Linus is always looking for blankets for children in crisis. Making no-sew fleece blankets is a great project for a birthday party. As host, you can provide the blanket materials or in lieu of gifts have each child bring the supplies they need to make a blanket. This would be a great slumber party idea! Click here for more information.
It is hard not to smile when you look at the children’s artwork on this page. In January, our Kids in Service NH group painted cheerful paintings for the patients at a hospice house. Volunteers visit the residents and ask if they would like to choose one of our paintings to cheer up their room. The painting of their choice gets hung on their bulletin board and it is our hope that everyone who visits their room is brought a little joy in a very difficult situation.
This spring, we partnered with the hospice house again and painted small terra cotta pots. I sealed each one with glaze and then we planted a flower in each pot. The 20 pots were delivered to the patients staying at the hospice house and other hospice patients around the community.
Creating artwork to cheer up hospice patients is a WONDERFUL service project for all ages. You could paint uplifting paintings, make blank greeting cards with the children’s drawings on the front or paint pots like we did. I recommend that you reach out to the volunteer coordinator at your local hospice house and see if they would like children’s art donations.
Hospice is a very difficult and sad concept for young children. I suggest that you tell your children that you are painting happy art for people who are sick in the hospital. That is all they need to know to be invested in this project. I am sure that their art donation will not only bring a little joy into the patient’s heart but the hearts of their family as well.
All of us want to find time in our busy lives for service projects. We know how important it is to teach our children the valuable lessons that go along with serving others (empathy, kindness, gratitude, courage, selflessness etc.) but unfortunately those well meaning service projects are the first thing cut off the to-do list when life gets too hectic.
Here are 10 QUICK service projects that you can do with your kids TODAY, with items you have around the house. All of them can be completed in under an hour. I hope that this list inspires to you start a service project TODAY and learn as a family the valuable lesson of serving others.
Project Dollar Store--This is a family favorite and a project we do at least once a year. A dollar may not seem like much but this simple project can make a big difference in someone’s life. Click HERE to learn more about this SECRET MISSION OF LOVE!
2. Project Appreciation--For this SWEET project you need to gather everyone in the kitchen and think of a community group that you would like to thank. Click HERE for more details about this MISSION OF APPREICATION.
3. Make Placemats for Meals on Wheels–This is a project for all ages (well anyone who can hold a crayon or paint brush). First, click on the Meals on Wheels website and contact your local Meals on Wheels. Ask them if you and your family could make placemats for their clients. We have done this and it is an easy and fun service project. Gather some thicker paper (we used card stock) and some art supplies. My Kids Community Service club has done this a few times and all of the children (ages 2 and up) colored happy pictures to make the seniors smile while they ate their lunch. I mailed in our placemats but Meals on Wheels is always looking for volunteers to help deliver the lunches (and kids are welcome to participate). If you homeschool, have younger kids or are looking for a summer project, contact your local Meals on Wheels about donating your time.
4. Make a Kindness Jar--This is the Kindness Jar that sits near our dining table. My children made it with our kids community service group last winter and it is always out as a constant reminder to think of others and BE KIND. Click HERE to learn how you and your family can make your own Kindness Jar. The post includes a FREE Printable of Kind Deeds to fill your jar with.
5. Collection for the Homeless–People who are homeless are always in need of gently used clothing (especially warm clothing in the cold winter months), new toiletries or toys that are in good shape. Give everyone in your family a bag or a box and challenge them to fill it with as many quality items as they can. Once you fill your bags or boxes drop them off at the local homeless shelter. This service project is not only helping people in need but it is also challenging the family to declutter. This is a win-win in my book!
6. Clean Up Your Neighborhood–Grab a few trash bags, some work gloves and head out in your neighborhood or to your local park. It always SHOCKS me how careless people are with their trash. My husband does a mini clean up of our street with the kids once a month because of all the trash that the passing cars leave behind. This is an easy and important service project for your community.
7. Make a Christmas Jar–This project can be done at ANY TIME of year. We started our third Christmas jar right after Christmas but our first jar was started only a month before the big day. Click HERE to learn about this WONDERFUL family project.
8. Write Letters to Soldiers-This project is so easy to do and younger kids can team up with older kids or parents to make this a family project. If you know someone in the military, consider making writing letters to them a regular activity. If you do not know someone in the military, consider writing letters and sending them through A Million Thanks. This site has drop off locations across the USA for letters and cards. Here is what one solider had to say about this wonderful organization:
“I want to say thank you for what you are doing for all of us, and especially for the men and women overseas that take comfort in knowing people like you are thinking about them.”
9. Project Sticky Note–This is such a fun and simple project. All you need are some sticky notes and writing tools. Write a lot of different uplifting messages on the sticky notes (“You are Special”, “You are Loved”, “You are Beautiful”, etc.). Now comes the fun part, put the sticky notes in places where you think people may need an uplifting message. We have hid them in library books, hung them on mirrors in public restrooms and put them on car windows on a dry day. You can have the kids hang them on school lockers or even hand them out to people who look like they may need a pick me up. My husband often leaves us sticky notes if he is going away on business. It always makes us smile to find the notes of love and encouragement. The key to this project is to make sure that you do not litter and that you are always respectful.
10. Write a Thank You Note--Have you thanked your parent or care giver lately? Have you thanked your teacher, your coach, bus driver or librarian for all they do for you? Did you recently receive a gift? EVERYONE loves mail! Bless one or more people in your life with a card or note thanking them for all they do to help and support you. This is a project for all ages, as the littles can draw and adults can scribe the note of thanks and gratitude. Make writing thank you notes a regular practice in your home. This simple activity will teach an important lesson in gratitude, respect and connection (not to mention it will help them practice their writing).
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
Gratitude is a skill that must be taught to children and developed over time. We have a bunch of activities on this page to help your child to develop their understanding of gratitude while having a lot of fun.
Gratitude Sticky Notes--We do this in the winter and spring but you could do it anytime of year. Grab some fun sticky notes (they have many shapes and colors now) and each night have everyone at the table write one thing they are thankful for. You can invite guests to your house to do the same when they come over. We stick our notes all over the dining room window and it is fun to see the windows get COVERED in blessings and thanksgivings.
Gratitude Walk--Take a walk as a family and as you walk you can each think about what you are grateful for. Have you and your children observe things in nature to be grateful for. You can all call them out as you notice them or save them to share with a snack at the end of your walk or at a half way point.
Gratitude Scavenger Hunt–This great activity is from Let’s Get Together. My kids and I are planning to do it as a photo scavenger hunt but you do not have to. This simple activity encourages EVERYONE in the family to look closely for the blessings all around them. Click Here to head to their site so you can print out your own Scavenger Hunt.
Learning Through Stories--Reading stories is a WONDERFUL way to teach children about gratitude. We have a bunch of great books that help children to learn the importance of gratitude and thanksgiving. Click on the photo above to check out our list of books for teaching gratitude.
The Gratitude Game--We played this fun Gratitude Game from Teach Beside Me, last year at our Kids in Service meetings. I made our game out of colored popsicle sticks and it was a lot of fun to play with the seniors at the nursing home. You could keep this game by your dining room table and play during family meal times.
Gratitude Conversation Starters--These FREE Gratitude Conversation Starters by Creative Family Fun will be perfect for family meal times. I just printed out a set and cut them up and put the papers in a glass mason jar. I am so excited to use these as conversation starters to help continue to develop my children’s gratitude practice. There are twenty conversation starters in all and can be used again and again throughout the year.
Gratitude, like empathy, is an important skill that must be taught to children over time. There are many studies that have been done that show that practicing gratitude can increase happiness, improve self-esteem and reduces greed and materialism. One of the best ways for children to learn the important practice of gratitude, is to model it for them. Regularly sharing what you are grateful for, helps them to understand the meaning of gratitude.
November is the perfect time to start to put a family gratitude practice in place, as the month centers around the idea of gratitude. Below you will find ideas that you can try as a family this month. Many of these gratitude practices can be continued throughout the whole year.
Thankful Turkeys–Thankful turkeys have been around for a long time but we put a fun spin on ours that got all of our friends and family (far and near) involved. My kids and I created our “naked” turkeys and glued them on poster board. We then sent out blank feathers to all our friends and family and asked them to write their name and what they were grateful for.
The kids LOVED getting mail all November long and glueing the feathers onto the poster board. If you wanted to save on postage, you could have your children call or email a new person each day and ask them what they were thankful for and write that on the feather. It is a great way to connect with those you love and encourage them to stop and think about what they are grateful for too.
Gratitude Tree–We have been doing this activity for a few years and it has become a very important November tradition. We gather tree branches from outside the day on November 1st and place them in a vase. We then make paper leaves of different colors and attach a loop of string to each. Every night, one person gets to write one thing they are thankful for and hang it on the tree. When my kids were little we had photos of all of us next to the tree and put them order so that the kids would know who’s turn was next. By the end of the month we have a colorful reminder of the many gifts and blessings we have. I love to see our tree collect leaves all November long as the trees outside lose theirs!
Gratitude Sticky Notes--We do this in the winter and spring but you could easily do it for Thanksgiving. Grab some fun sticky notes (they have many shapes and colors now) and each night have everyone at the table write one thing they are thankful for. You can invite guests to your house to do the same when they come over. We stick our notes all over the dining room window and it is fun to see the windows get COVERED in blessings and thanksgivings.
Turkey on the Table--Have you seen Turkey on the Table yet? This sweet bird gathers grateful feathers all November long and then sits on your Thanksgiving table, proudly displaying all of the gratitude from the month. For each Turkey on the Table purchased, they donate 10 meals to Feeding America. We purchased a turkey for this November (as well as turkeys for my nieces and nephews). This is not an advertisement for Turkey on the Table, all turkeys were purchased with our own money.
Thankful Jar–For a few years we kept a Thankful Jar during the month of November. There are LOTS of examples of Thankful Jars on the internet and but I found this cute free printable from Mama Miss. Family members take turns writing down what they are thankful for and the papers go into the jar. We use to save the papers in the jar all year and read them aloud on November 1st of the next year. It was fun for the kids to see the things they had been thankful for the previous November.
Gratitude Journals–When my children were small we kept a Family Gratitude Journal. Each day we would record the things we were grateful for in the family journal. Now that my children are older, we each have our own gratitude journals to mark the things we are blessed with. They are now working through their fourth journals and we love the copy that is above by Crystal Paine. There is plenty of room for pictures for the young kids who are not yet ready to write what they are grateful for. You can find it on Amazon (this is not an advertisement).
Goodnight Blessings–As you put your children to bed each night, ask them to share with you three things they are grateful for. You can then share three things that you are grateful for as well. Thinking about their blessings will be a wonderful way for them to drift off to sleep each night.
Here are some books that center around the theme of Gratitude and at the bottom of this post you will find our favorite Thanksgiving books. Click on the picture of the book to be taken to Amazon for more information. CLICK HERE for a Kids in Service Book List printable that you can take with you to the local library or bookstore.
Books for Teaching Gratitude
In a world that often focuses on all of the bad going on, this book focuses on all of the good people who are doing good things every day. This book looks at the people we encounter everyday and why we should be grateful for all of the good things that they do. This book is wonderful for ages 3 and up!
From the publisher: “A colorful picture book that will warm the hearts of children and adults alike, each of its pages contain endearing examples and vibrant illustrations to inspire children to grow into grateful, caring, and giving people. It provides a wonderful way to calm children before sleep, ease their fears, and help them develop an appreciation for good work.”
This is one of my favorite stories! The little boy is not happy about having to make the long weekly journey on the bus with his grandmother and spends his time looking out the window thinking about all of the things that he doesn’t have. Grandma helps him to see all that he does have and in the end he is grateful that they made the long journey to help others! Great for ages 5 and up
From the publisher: “Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them. This energetic ride through a bustling city highlights the wonderful perspective only grandparent and grandchild can share, and comes to life through Matt de la Pena’s vibrant text and Christian Robinson’s radiant illustrations.”
We are Grateful, Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell is a beautiful book about the Cherokee nation and the gratitude that they have throughout every season. It starts with autumn and ends with summer and throughout each season you learn new Cherokee words and all of the gifts and blessings they experience. There is even a Cherokee alphabet on the back page. This book would be great for ages 4 and up.
Grateful, A Song of Giving Thanks by John Bucchino. This beautiful book illustrated by Lilsa Hakkarainen is a song about all of the things we have in our lives to be grateful for, we just have to open our eyes to see them. This book comes with a CD of the song being sung by Art Garfunkel. This book would be great for children of all ages.
From the Publisher: “Once in a while, a perfect union of words and music creates a transcendent song that soars from the heart and speaks to every soul…Grateful is such an anthem—a loving reminder of the gifts available to us when we approach life with gratitude. It is a song that inspires courage, compassion, and hope. In this exquisite picture book and accompanying CD recorded by Art Garfunkel, Anna-Lisa Hakkarainen’s radiant paintings bring John Bucchino’s words to life. A joyous celebration of the beauty of the seasons, the wonders of nature, and the blessings of faith, here is a gift to be treasured by children and adults of all ages.”
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr is a simple and fun way to explain the concept of gratitude to very young children. They will LOVE the bright and fun pictures in this book and the concrete examples of what to be grateful for will have them saying, “ME TOO”. I recommend this book to children ages 0-7.
From the Publisher: “Todd Parr’s bestselling books have taught kids about unconditional love, respecting the earth, facing fears, and more, all with his signature blend of playfulness and sensitivity. Now, The Thankful Book celebrates all the little things children can give thanks for. From everyday activities like reading and bath time to big family meals together and special alone time between parent and child, Todd inspires readers to remember all of life’s special moments. The perfect book to treasure and share, around the holidays and throughout the year.”
This sweet poem book would be great for children 6 and up. This book has a variety of poems and sweet illustrations that all focus around gratitude.
From the publisher: “What makes you thankful? In sixteen extraordinary poems that range in form from a haiku to a rebus to a riddle, Nikki Grimes reminds us how wonderful it is to feel thankful, and how powerful a simple “thank you” can be.
This book is the perfect way to explain the concept of gratitude to young children. It is done as a poem and in simple language that young children can understand. The pictures are adorable and this would be great for anyone over the age of 3 years old.
From the publisher: “Thankful, written by beloved children’s author Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Archie Preston, combines charming rhymes and whimsical illustrations to convey the importance of being thankful for everyday blessings. Like the gardener thankful for every green sprout, and the firefighter, for putting the fire out, children are encouraged to be thankful for the many blessings they find in their lives. Spinelli exhibits her endearing gift for storytelling with this engaging poem, reminding children how blessed and special they are. Meant to be read aloud, this heartwarming board book will be a treasured keepsake for parents and children alike.”
Firenze’s Light by Jessica Callaco is a new favorite of mine. This is the sweet story of a little firefly named Firenze, who does not like the fact that she is a firefly. Her friends don’t light up the way she does and she wants to be more like they are. Throughout the story, she discovers the gift of being yourself and learns to be grateful for all that makes her unique. I’d recommend this beautifully illustrated book for ages 3 and up.
From the Publisher: Follow Firenze, a feisty firefly, as she discovers the power of her light in this fun and encouraging story of friendship and self-appreciation. Firenze’s friends love her light, but Firenze doesn’t think it’s so great. How can she when it’s nearly impossible to play a good game of hide-and-seek?!! When Firenze’s light and a new friend’s artwork unexpectedly combine, she must decide whether she will keep her light hidden or find the courage to let it shine.
This book involves another tale of Bear and his friends. This time Bear decides he wants to thank his friends with a feast but realizes he doesn’t have food to offer. Bears friends arrive one by one and each bring a food to share. Soon there is a feast for all but Bear feels very badly that he has nothing to share! This is a story of friendship and gratitude and perfect for ages three and up.
From the Publisher: “What better way for Bear to say thanks, than to have a big dinner with all his friends! Bear has come up with the perfect way to say thanks—a nice big dinner! When Bear decides to throw a feast, his friends show up one by one with different platters of delicious food to share. There’s just one problem: Bear’s cupboards are bare! What is he to do? Karma Wilson’s playful text and Jane Chapman’s charming illustrations bring to life this celebration of family and friendship. Young readers will delight in discovering the special gift Bear has to share.”
Tomie dePaola is a favorite in this house and this sweet and simple book about gratitude is perfect for young children (or older children who need to be reminded to look for the blessings all around them.
From the Publisher: “A young boy awakens with the dawn, opens his eyes and looks closely at his world. He admires all that surrounds him, large and small, from the radiant sun to a tiny, but exquisite, ladybug. “Today is today, and it is a gift,” writes Tomie dePaola in this meditative and joyful book. Simply and beautifully told, and illustrated with jewel-like paintings, this picture book encourages each one of us to be thankful.”
Our Favorite Thanksgiving Stories
Here are some of our FAVORITE Thanksgiving books. These books are about gratitude, family, friendship and tradition. Click on the picture of the book to be taken to Amazon for more information. Enjoy!
This is a sweet book for children ages 4 and up. Mrs. Moose wants a Turkey for Thanksgiving and Mr. Moose is determined to go out and find one. Along the way Mr. Moose meets up with all of their Thanksgiving guests and they join him to find a turkey. This book is about friendship and gratitude and is a wonderful tale for Thanksgiving.
From the Publisher: “Mr. and Mrs. Moose invite all their animal friends for Thanksgiving dinner and the only one missing is Turkey. When they set out to find him, Turkey is quaking with fear because he doesn’t realize that his hosts want him at their table, not on it.“
This is a sweet book of a family preparing for their Thanksgiving feast. While they prepare, they give thanks for the many blessings in their life. The book is told in rhyme from the perspective of the little boy and it is a great story for children ages 5 and up.
From the Publisher: “Little P.K. spends Thanksgiving Day playing with his friends and taking stock of just how much they all mean to him. From breakfast with his family, to playing football with his pals, to spending time with relatives and neighbors, this is a day to count his blessings, and “mostly I’m thankful for all of my friends!” Bright and colorful illustrations make this seasonal book pop off the shelves.”
This fun Thanksgiving tale has the turkey running for his life through the barnyard. This fun tale about friendship and gratitude is sure to delight ages 2 and up.
From the Publisher: “With Thanksgiving only one day away, can Turkey find a place to hide from the farmer who’s looking for a plump bird for his family feast? Maybe he can hide with the pigs . . . or the ducks . . . or the horses . . .Uh-oh! Here comes the farmer! Run, Turkey, run!”
I have LOVED this book for years. One of the teachers I use to work with had her Kindergartners and 1st graders put on a play based on this book. This funny and silly book is about friendship and giving thanks. This is one of my favorites and perfect for children ages 3 and up.
From the Publisher: “On the night before Thanksgiving, a group of children visit a turkey farm and meet Farmer Mack Nuggett and his coop of cockerels: Ollie, Stanley, Larry, Moe, Wally, Beaver, Shemp, and Groucho. The children and turkeys giggle and gobble, and everything is gravy. As the trip comes to an end, the children leave the farm with full hearts — and bulging bellies — reminding people and poultry alike that there is much to be thankful for.”