May Day, celebrated on May 1st, is an ancient holiday that welcomes the change of seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere it marks the return of spring (it takes awhile for spring to get to the Northern United States) and often involves dances around a maypole, the crowning of a May Queen and the creating of May Baskets. This holiday is still celebrated around the world but it is mostly forgotten in the US. It is my hope that this will change.
May Baskets are my favorite part of May Day. For the past few years, the children and I have left May Day Baskets anonymously on the doorsteps of friends and family. These simple baskets are made out of construction paper and contain spring treasures that we collect (flowers, rocks, pinecones, shells etc.), homemade cards that say, “Happy May Day” and treats that we bake. The kids love ringing the doorbell and running away before being seen.
I am so excited to have one of our INCREDIBLE kids writing for the site today! Please welcome Chloe! Chloe is 11 years old and wanted to share with you an amazing organization called Cradles to Crayons where she recently volunteered with her family and friends. Cradles to Crayons has three locations in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. Here is some background info about Cradles to Crayons (written by Chloe’s mom).
Cradles to Crayons is a non-profit organization that not only serves families in need, but provides opportunities to the wider community to contribute to this service in multiple ways. CtoC are masters of organization, and let volunteers know how their contribution of time, or items, or cash will help others. Individuals, families, and any group or organization can sign up to sort books, toys, school and art supplies, personal care items, clothes and more for a two hour block of time. The CtoC staff explain how their work and the work you do as a volunteer will directly help families and children who face challenges many of us cannot even imagine. We can’t wait to return and bring new friends to share in this meaningful experience. Learn more here: https://www.cradlestocrayons.org/
When I walked in for the first time, I saw hundreds and thousands of things. It was like a big country with millions of islands! We sat down at a table to decorate a birthday bag. It feel very home like there. The people assigned us to the book section, then the lady told us the rules. One of them was don’t steal any of the books of course! Another was no religion, holiday or family books because we don’t want to offend someone for what their culture or religion is. And we don’t want to put in books about a family because that might make a little girl or boy feel bad about their circumstances.
One job was to sort books into their right age group, another was to make piles of books and put them in the finished age categories. The age groups started at zero to two, up to eleven to twelve. I did both jobs.
We were assigned to do this for two hours, sounds like a lot but when you start to get into it, it feels more like 20 minutes! I must have done over fifty piles of books. One of the important rules was that kids zero to two must only aha board books, so they don’t hurt themselves. And kids also zero to two must only have three books in their piles because they are younger so they won’t be doing that much reading. And so three and up kids have five books in their piles.
Once it was over, I was really sad. I was having an amazing time and I didn’t want to stop! But I had to, so I told my mom we have to come back here again soon! We then proceeded back to the tables we started at and heard that our book group helped over 150 kids and their families! And all the groups put together ended up helping over 900 kids and their families!
After that me and my friends couldn’t help ourselves, so we went back pretending my friend lost her bracelet but really, we just wanted to make more pies! The lady then caught us and asked us what we were doing (and of course I had a pile of books in my hands) and my friend said quickly; “Oh, I just lost my bracelet and I was hoping to find it, oh look it’s right here!” Then we scrammed!
I had so much fun. It’s important to take a break from your life and remember that there are billions of kids and their families out there suffering while you may be sitting on your couch watching TV and eating amazing and delicious food. While for some people, a bag of chips is dinner! It feels really special to know that a little girl, boy, mom or dad is happy because of something you did! So go to Cradles to Crayons to have that special experience!
Yesterday the kids and I volunteered for a two hour shift at the local food bank. We have volunteered here a few times before on weekends or in the evening and have had great experiences. I signed up online a few weeks ago for a morning shift and we took a quick break from homeschooling to volunteer. After our time serving, my son summed up our experience when he said, “Mom, we were in the way.”
When we arrived, one of the staff looked at us with recognition but great surprise. “You signed up online for today?” she asked. “Well, we will find something for you to do.” The food bank was a well-oiled machine with twelve to fifteen adults who all had a purpose. We were put in charge of sorting toiletries and spent 30 enjoyable minutes with a task that was meant for us (we turned it into a game which made it a lot of fun).
Once our task was complete, we went to find the staff member and ask for our next job. She asked us to help sort produce and assuming we had done it before, left us with the task. Thankfully the produce volunteers could smell our newness and guided us through the process. This job was already well on it’s way to being done, throw in three new people (one of whom is a 9 year old daydreamer), a tight space and you can guess that we were more of a hindrance than a blessing.
We trudged on through our task and stayed until completion. When the group took their lunch break, we made our exit. Only an hour of our two was served but I don’t think any of them were sorry to see us go.
Some service experiences leave you feeling so good and others just so-so. I told the kids that despite this experience, we will try another morning at the food bank. If we go again, maybe we will start to learn more of the routines and soon add more value to the task.
I also think it is good for people of all ages to come together for one common goal and this food bank provides that. There were seniors who couldn’t read the labels on the tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles (but we could), my 9 year old that just wanted to trade in the produce job for one sorting sugary pastries and lots of ages in between. Together we unpacked the truck, organized the food and completed an important task. I hope they won’t be sorry to see us coming back again.
Contact your local SPCA and Humane Society to see if they have any projects that you and your family can participate in. Here are some suggestions from our local branch.
Host a Fundraiser–A lemonade stand is a great way for kids to raise money to support the animal shelters in your area. Our center will even allow families to sign up for a date and time to host the lemonade stand at the center. Other fundraiser ideas are bake sales, change drives or make and sell homemade dog treats and cat toys.
Make Blankets or Cat Toys--Many shelters are looking for 2x3ft fleece blankets for the dog cages. Children can easily make tie blankets following these directions (keep in mind that these dog blankets will be much smaller). Catnip socks are another easy project that kids can work on to deliver to the local shelter. Here are the directions for catnip socks. Here is a link to order catnip in bulk.
Organize a Food and Supply Drive–Most shelters have a wishlist of supplies that they are in need of. Work as a family to organize a pet food and supply drive. Make collection boxes and ask local businesses to put them out for you. Create fliers to hang up around town, write a letter to the editor in the newspaper and have parents announce the drive through email and social media.
Host a Birthday Party to Benefit the Shelter–Have your child help you to create an animal themed birthday party to celebrate their birthday. Instead of gifts, have each party guest bring a donation for the animal shelter. After the party, create a special moment for your child to deliver the donations to the shelter.
Volunteer Your Time--Many shelters have opportunities for families and older children to volunteer their time. Our shelter has family days once a month where children and a caregiver can sign up to volunteer. They also have programs for teens to volunteer weekly in the center. Check out your local shelter and see if there is a way that you and your family can donate your time.
What service projects can you recommend to fellow animal lovers?
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the image of the books above you will be taken to Amazon. 20% of all profits made through this site will be donated to LOVE Does. Thank you for supporting our site and a very noble charity.)
February is a great time to focus on KINDNESS. When my children were small, my husband and I decided against presents for Valentine’s Day. This has meant that the holiday has always been centered around LOVE and KINDNESS.
We spend the two weeks before Valentine’s Day focusing on kind deeds for one another and the people we care about. Here are some of the things that we do to help keep the focus on kindness and love.
1. Kindness Jar–We made our Kindness Jar about a year ago and it stays out in our dining room as a constant reminder to think of others and to be kind. We plan to pull out a new kind deed from the jar each day for the Kids in Service 5 days of Kindness Challenge.Click HERE for directions on how to make your own Kindness Jar and a FREE printable of kind deeds.
Make sure to join us on Facebook and Instagram on Monday February 8th for a week of Kindness and Prizes!
2. Valentine’s Day Count Down--I started this tradition when the kids were little. We have 14 envelopes to mark the days from February 1st-14th. Each envelope contains a slip of paper with a fun activity or project for us to do on that day. The envelopes include: Make your Valentine’s Today, Movie Night, Outdoor Adventure, Make a treat for the Birds, Good Deed Day, Call Someone You Love, Bake Cookies, Family Game Night etc.
3. Valentine Mailboxes--When my son was four and daughter was one, we made family Valentine Mailboxes (you know like the ones you make at school). Our first mailboxes are pictured above. A few years later I found cute little metal mailboxes in the Target dollar bins. These mailboxes come out of the attic on February 1st and we spend the next two weeks writing each other notes. I love the Target Mailboxes because there is a flag to put up to let the person know that they have mail. Once and a while, I will drop a sweet treat in the mailboxes, that is always a fun mail day.
4. Heart Attack–I saw this idea a few years back on the Skip to my Lou site and had to give it a try. It was so easy to do and made the three people in my house smile every morning when they saw the new heart on their door. I always make enough hearts to add a new one every day for 14 days. You could condense it to 5 or 7 days to make life easier.
5. Extra Valentine’s Day Card Service Project–The Valentine’s Day Card packs that you can buy in most stores come with WAY more than your child needs to send every friend in their class (and their teacher) a card. Instead of recycling those cards, why not have your child sign their name and send them to people who could use some cheer? Cards would be welcome at your local nursing home, homeless shelter, veterans home or halfway house. Consider spreading a little love and kindness with those extra cards this year!
6. Make Homemade Valentine’s Day Cards–My kids and I make our own homemade Valentine’s each year. I have them draw out four designs on one sheet of card stock and then color photocopy the design so that we have enough to send out. I love our original designs and I copy enough so that we can send them to all of our favorite people near and far. We also bring a few homemade cards to cheer up the residents of our local nursing home. The residents always love the homemade cards and gush over the kind gesture. It is such a sweet site to witness.
7. Project Dollar Store–Valentine’s Day is a great time to go on a Project Dollar Store Mission. You can read all about that SECRET MISSION HERE.
8. Winter Sun Catchers–This activity is so fun and easy to do and can be a nice Valentine’s Day treat for the birds and animals in your yard. We used paper for our hearts and did need to go outdoors to collect the paper when the ice melted. This year we are going to try for natural hearts and adding more birdseed. They are so pretty. You can learn how to make there on the Twig and Toadstool site.
Click HERE for a list of Books for Valentine’s Day
Winter is now one of my favorite seasons. I use to dread the cold and long winter months but now that I have found the concept of hygge, I come to crave this time each year. I love this chance to slow down, get cozy and spend time with family and friends.
If you are looking for some cozy service projects this winter, we have a few suggestions for you and your family. These are projects that you can do from the comfort of your home.
1. Project Linus-–Click HERE to learn all about this cozy and important service project. No sewing skills required!!
2. Thank You Notes–Have you thanked your loved ones for the thoughtful gifts they gave you over the holidays? 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? 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 drawing and/or writing).
3. 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 Mission of Appreciation.
4. Project Dollar Store–This is such a fun project and can be easily prepared while sitting in front of a cozy fire. Click HERE to learn more about this SECRET MISSION OF LOVE!
5. Project Feeder Watch–This is a project of love for the birds in your backyard (and maybe the squirrels too). Place a feeder in your yard in a place that you can easily see from a window in your home. Keep the feeder up from early November-the beginning of April and enjoy the birds that come to your yard each day. Watching birds from the window is a very relaxing activity and a great learning experience for the whole family. Grab a few bird books from you library to learn the names of the birds in your yard. If you sign up for Project Feeder Watch through Cornell, you will be sent a poster of the birds in your area. Project Feeder Watch asks its members to count the birds for a period of time over two days a week (10 min is all you need) and submit the data online to their website. This data is used for their scientific study about the birds in different areas and the migration patterns. We LOVE this project and love to take care of the birds in our yard all winter long.
6. Cards for Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers are working harder than ever during this COVID-19 pandemic. Why not show them some appreciation by making cards for your local hospital.
7. Art for Nursing Homes
Nursing Home residents are unable to accept visitors at this time. Have your children paint some bright and cheery artwork to cheer them up during these dark times.
This is such a fun project and can be easily prepared while sitting in front of a cozy fire. Both of my kids loved being “ninjas” as they secretly spread out the baggies of love all over our local dollar store. Will you and your family accept this mission of LOVE?
Your Mission: Put together baggies with $1 dollar bills and messages of love. Spread them all over the dollar store with out being detected. Drive away with love in your hearts.
Supplies: ziplock baggies, $1 bills, sticky notes or paper and tape, writing/coloring tools
Procedure: Have your children write some positive messages on the sticky notes or paper (they can also draw simple pictures or color over your notes in crayon if they are not writing yet). Add a note that tells the person to use this dollar to buy something for themselves. Attach one note to each $1 bill and place the bill in the baggie. Zip up the baggie and then get ready for some SECRET FUN! Drive to the local dollar store and hide these baggies all over the store. On the way home you can imagine together how people will react when they find your kind gesture of love.
Did you complete this mission?
Take pictures of the process and email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kwanzaa is the 7 day festival that begins on December 26th and goes until New Years Day. Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is a beautiful celebration of faith, community and creativity. This festival originates from African harvest festivals and was created so that African Americans and Pan Americans could celebrate their heritage and come together in unity.
Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on a different principle and each night a new candle on the kinara is lit. Kinara’s can be expensive so if you wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa with your family, you could always make a paper kinara and add a paper flame to the appropriate candle each night. Some examples of paper kinara’s are HERE and HERE.
The 7 principles or pillars of Kwanzaa are things that EVERYONE can strive for all year long. Below I have included the 7 principles, some ideas for activities that you and your family can do for each and some of our favorite Kwanzaa books.
Umoja or Unity–This pillar is there to remind people of the importance of unity in their families, their communities and their race. The center black candle is lit on this night. To celebrate Umoja, it might be a great time to have a family game night, a special family dinner or go on a Gratitude Walk as a family. Click HERE to learn more.
Kujichagulia or Self-Determination—Kujichagulia is all about defining who you are and what you stand for. The far left red candle is lit on this night. Kujichagulia would be a great day to set some goals with your children. Maybe you could do a New Year Interview or create a vision board together of their hopes and dreams. This could be done with old magazine photos, drawings and you could even make a big family vision board.
Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility-–Ujima is about working as a community to solve problems. The far right green candle is lit on this night. Ujima would be a great day to volunteer your time. Perhaps you could donate food to the local food bank, visit a nursing home, bring animal supplies to a shelter or clean up a local park.
Ujamaa or Coopertive Economics—Ujamaa is all about supporting local businesses to help them to thrive and grow in your community. The second red candle is lit on this night. Small businesses are vital to our local economies and Ujamaa is a great day to show them your appreciation. Perhaps today you make cards for the local businesses in your community and deliver them with a “Thank You” for all they do.
Nia or Purpose-–Nia is all about building community and remembering our traditions. The second green candle is lit on this night. To celebrate Nia you could visit or call the elders in your family and ask them to share stories of the past (I know they’d love to hear from you). Make sure to record these precious conversations so that you can play them back again and again. It might be fun to look through old photo albums to see how traditions have been passed down in your family from generation to generation.
Kuumba or Creativity-–Kuumba encourages us to do as much as we can to leave our world and surroundings better off than when we came. The last red candle is lit on this night. Kuumba would be a great day to clean up your street, your local park or help a neighbor with an outdoor chore. If your world is covered in snow, perhaps you make hot cocoa for the town plow drivers or give them gift cards to a local coffee shop. You could make some artwork for the local nursing home to brighten up the residents rooms and leave the world a little brighter. The sixth night of Kwanzaa is also time for the Karamu or the big feast of Kwanzaa.
Imani or Faith—Imani is there to remind us to believe in the people around us (parents, teachers and leaders) and to remember the struggle of the African Americans in this nation. The last green candle is lit this night. You can celebrate Imani by thanking all those people in your life who help you out. Maybe you could write thank you notes for the gifts you received during the holidays or call someone special to let them know how much they mean to you.
A Great Overview of Kwanzaa for Young Children
Favorite Books for Kwanzaa
This book is no longer in print but you may be able to get it at your local library. This is a sweet story of kindness is all about Imani learning about Kwanzaa and her family traditions from her grandmother. In this story it is the sixth night of Kwanzaa and time for the Karamu (the big feast of Kwanzaa) on New Year’s Eve. It is Imani’s turn to light the Kinara on this special night and she is nervous. What will the gift for Imani be?
This is a nice alphabet book that helps to understand all of the Swahili words and customs associated with Kwanzaa. This is a great book for your family if you have never celebrated Kwanzaa before and would like to learn more about this festival of light and family. From the publisher: “A unique alphabet book for children and a wonderful introduction to Kwanzaa, the holiday that celebrates African American heritage. For example:A is for Africa — Africa is the second largest continent. It has many countries. African Americans’ ancestors came from Africa. Kwanzaa is a holiday that celebrates the rich heritage of Africa.”
From the publisher: “Kwanzaa is Kayla’s favorite time of year. But this year, it looks as if a heavy snowstorm will keep her big brother, Khari, from getting home in time for the festivities! Will Khari miss the celebration completely? Or will Kayla and her brother somehow find a way to be together for Kwanzaa? A perfect introduction to Kwanzaa, this book will teach children all about the traditions and practices that make it a special winter holiday.”
From the Publisher: “Li’l Rabbit is not having a very good Kwanzaa. Granna Rabbit is sick, and so his family won’t celebrate his favorite part of Kwanzaa this year: a big feast called Karamu. Li’l Rabbit knows what to do! He’ll find Granna Rabbit a special treat for Karamu so she can celebrate anyway. Inspired by Brer Rabbit, a trickster character from the African-American folklore tradition, the story of Li’l Rabbit captures the true meaning of Kwanzaa—coming together to help others.”
I stumbled upon the Christmas Jars book last year when I was searching for a holiday book to read. Little did I know that this small book would lead to a new and meaningful Holiday Tradition.
The Christmas Jars is a fictional book by Jason F. Wright and it has inspired a world-wide movement of hope, kindness and giving. In the story, one family works all year to fill a jar with loose change. On Christmas Eve, they go and leave the jar anonymously on the doorstep of someone who could use a little help and Christmas cheer.
Last year we left our first Christmas Jar on the doorstep of a family who had come across some hard times. My husband, son and niece snuck up to the house, left the jar and ran so that they would not be discovered. This jar inspired my niece to start two jars of her own for this year and ours is almost ready to bless another family a few days before Christmas.
This simple act of kindness can bring so much help and hope to a person in need. The money in the jar may help to pay some bills, buy food or a few Christmas presents. The most important thing that the jar will do is to let them know that they are special and loved.