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Supporting learning

Kids helping with donations

Children and youth learn and develop when volunteering

Kathleen A. Olson, Extension Educator — Family Relations

Revised April 2016 by Silvia Alvarez de Davila, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

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Learning opportunities can be found not only at school but also within the family and community. Parents and caregivers can promote learning experiences by volunteering with their children in organizations, communities, sports, and many other ways. When individuals volunteer, they use their skills in real life experiences. This means that family-based learning through volunteerism has a great potential. Family members value the opportunity to volunteer together in order to socialize, bond, learn, and serve together (Nesbit, 2012).

Why Volunteer?

Volunteering enhances family interactions, improves personal skills, and enriches the lives of individuals. When volunteering as a family, each family member interacts with others and finds opportunities to reflect. Individuals that volunteer engage in active learning and build a sense of civic responsibility (Lewton and Nievar, 2012).

Volunteering is an activity that families often find worthwhile when they do it together. Volunteering together fulfills a goal of "quality time" with each other while doing something worthwhile for others. You get to know your children in new ways, and they get to know a different side of you as well. Demonstrating skills and learning new ones provides the chance to work toward the same goals — and talk it about together.

Youth and children are more likely to volunteer when their best friends and parents volunteer (van Goethem et al, 2014). Family volunteering can be done by the whole family or by one parent and one child as a special "twosome" project, or siblings or extended family may volunteer together. The recipient of your volunteer services benefits by having more helpers at one time.

How to Get Started

If volunteering together is new to your family, here is a way to start:

Once you have committed to a project, take it seriously. Show your children that volunteer work is important and meaningful. Plan ahead to do it, even when things get hectic. Some projects may introduce you and your children to new ideas or to people different from themselves. It’s a wonderful opportunity to pass along your values and ethics, but only if you take the time to talk about everyone's feelings and reactions.

Benefits of Volunteering

When asked about the benefits of volunteering together as a family, the participants identified several themes:

While volunteering can happen year-round, holidays are ideal occasions to emphasize the spirit of volunteering with your children. Volunteering as a family extends the gift of giving time as well as the contribution of helping hands and hearts. Volunteering as a family helps strengthen family bonds, enhances communication, and sends a message to your children that you're all in it together!

Enjoy what your children will learn from your active example, and take pride in the fact that you'll be teaching them how to be well-rounded kids now, and responsible young people and adults later on.


Freidman, J. L. (2003). The busy family's guide to volunteering. Beltsville, MD: Robins Lane Press.

Lewton, A.R., Nievar, M.A (2012.) Strengthening families through volunteerism: Integrating family volunteerism and family life education. Marriage and Family Review, 48(7), 689-710.

Littlepage, L, Obergfell, E., & Zanin, G. (2003). Family volunteering: An exploratory study of the impact on families. Indianapolis, IN: Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, School of Public and Environmental Efforts, Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis.

Nesbit, R. (2012). The influence of family and household members on individual volunteer choices. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 42(6), 1134-1154.

Van Goethem, A. A., van Hoof, A., van Aken, M. A., de Castro, B. O., & Raaijmakers, Q. A. (2014). Socializing adolescent volunteering: How important are parents and friends? Age dependent effects of parents and friends on adolescents' volunteering behaviours. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(2), 94-101.

Related resources

Learning opportunities to discover — Get tips to help support your child’s learning away from school.

Helping children become responsible — Teaching responsibility to your children will help them at home, in school, and into the future.

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