At the start of summer, I was facing nearly 12 weeks of full time fun and action with my kids. Yep, I was nervous. It was going to be my first summer home with my kids, full time AND trying to manage my business at the same time. I needed to create some structure and the best way to do that was to set a goal.
At the same time, I had a vision for a Roadmap to Spark Activism in Kids based on years of doing kindness and service activities with my own children, and my experience in launching The Kindness Crate. And, I wanted to put this roadmap through some rapid fire testing. I wanted to see if it worked for projects, large and small.
So, the Summer of Kindness initiative was born. We were going to do 12 weeks of kindness activities following the roadmap I'd created. The trick was to keep this fun for the kids (summer is for fun after all), cheap with the goal of $10-$30 per week, and use it as a way to create some structure for the summer.
Wow, it was a blast. I have to say. Sure, there were really tough moments. Look back at my blog articles for the first two weeks. The struggle was real! But, there were some incredible moments from the summer too.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Making placemats with the broader community: In week 3, we the activity was to make placemats for homebound senior citizens to be delivered by Meals On Wheels. When I called to find out if this was something we could do, they said it would be great if we could make 60! That was way too much for us, so I engaged our larger community at two local farmer's markets. My five year old sat with me for hours making placemats with kids across the entire community. It was so much fun spending time with him and talking to so many cool kids in our town!
Talking to my kids about the immigrant experience. In week 10, we focused on immigrant advocacy. Unplanned by me, my now 8 year old and I started in on a long conversation about governments, dictators, why people leave their country, and ultimately families being separated at our border. In his words, "the punishment seems to harsh for what they did." And, he's right.
The homelessness book that sparked my son's activism. As I mentioned above, those first couple of weeks of summer were rough. In week 1, we made hygiene kits for the homeless and I read A Good Night For Mr. Coleman to my kids as part of the storytelling step that week. Even though he fought me EVERY single step of the way, once I read this book my oldest eagerly filled an entire page of ways he could raise money to give to building developers in our town to house the homeless.
A week long diaper drive turned into month-long drive! We decided to have a Diaper Drive in week 7. One of my favorite moments was talking about how much money as a family we spend on diapers and watching my kids really get it. We are in our 8th year of paying for diapers (yes - 8 years straight). So, at $80 a week as an average national price for diapers over 8 years…that's $33,280 in diapers. Yep. That's crazy. When my kids heard this, they were so excited when our local library said they could offer us space for our drive for the entire month of August!
My son's decision to collect stuffed animals for foster kids on his birthday. In week 12, we tackled a conversation about foster kids. It was memorable for me because the conversation meant breaking the bubble of safety I've put up around my children…it was a tough conversation for me. But, they got it. And, wanted to help. My 5 year old's idea on how to hold this drive was to do it in place of receiving presents for his birthday.
The reality is that each week brought so much joy into our summer. Yes, I had to push. Yes, I had to ask them to stop playing and start doing. And, yes, there was definitely some crying and slammed doors.
By the end of the summer, the outcome over all 12 weeks was remarkable. I saw:
Stronger empathy from my kids: they were increasingly able to truly understand different perspectives, different ways of thinking, and different life experiences
A deeper connection: I connected deeply with my kids on some really, really important issues in our world. We were having incredibly complex conversations that were started by me, but driven by their curiosity. It was truly moving.
Sparked activism: Once my kids started to understand who were serving in each week, they immediately started to ask how they could help. It's started to become second nature. They want to take action to help others.
Turned a reticent 7 year old into a believer: Ok, well, at least he is not as reticent as he was before! I've had to change my language and still use different tactics to introduce new topics, but he was much more engaged later in the summer!
I also had some very important lessons learned from this summer that I hope to carry forward.
Doing this every week is WAY too much! I knew it was going to be a lot, but I'll be honest my kids didn't do this every single week. There were camps and vacation weeks where I could have forced it, but felt it was okay to let it go. Spacing this much out over an entire year makes way more sense!
Accept what you can and what you can't! As I said before, we took on a lot this summer. So there were weeks where we did every single step in the roadmap, some where I let pieces of it go, and some where we did none at all. Even with a not-so-perfect execution, I still saw all of the incredible outcomes I listed above.
Plan, Prepare, Plan again! Even for all of my planning, I still fell behind in some of the resources. I relied heavily on my library for books which meant I had to wait for them to receive the books I wanted to use for the storytelling portion.
Small chunks for younger kids. I knew my boys would only sit down for 20 minutes tops to do these activities, so I planned my weeks with this in mind. This proved really important. Sometimes it went faster if they really got excited about an activity, and sometimes we skipped a step entirely. At the end of the day, you know your kids and your schedule.
Be ready for tough conversations. Building empathy for others means learning and understanding them. Some are a bit easier, like senior citizens, and some are harder like foster kids or immigrants. What is easy and what is hard will vary based on YOUR family experience. But, be ready for tough questions. Remember to be honest, non-judgmental, concise, and age appropriate in your answer. And, LISTEN to your kids.
Revel in the connection! Through these activities and your conversation with your kids, I promise you will have such meaningful connections and deeper relationships. You are tackling some tough topics and helping your child to understand the world around them. Take a moment when you see their light bulbs go off and they get excited about making a difference! IT's an incredible feeling.
This was such an incredible summer filled with fun, kindness, connection, and personal and emotional growth. I want to continue to share our experiences with kindness so I'm excited to announce a few new products that build on this summer's experience over in my new Do Good Shop.
Check these out and preorder now for some huge savings…AND, use discount code DOGOOD20 for 20% off your first purchase!