Big Hearted Families

What is Big-Hearted Families?

Read the full story here. Basically, we’re a website connecting you with all of the essential tools (from research to simple volunteer projects to book lists) for practicing kindness, compassion, and acts of service with your family. Our resources will help you make a difference today and in the future as you instill a spirit of giving in tomorrow’s adults.

What do you mean by families?

We leave that definition up to you. We applaud acts of kindness and lessons in compassion among any conceivable combination of adults and the children they love.

We don’t have much time to give, so how much of a difference can our one family really make?

In just half an hour at your own kitchen table, your family can create cards that brighten a very sick child’s day or write letters to your representative advocating an issue you think is important. Those small acts in and of themselves make a difference. By lifting that child (and her parents’) spirits, you’ve eased some small portion of the stress in her life. By sharing your concerns with your elected leaders, you strengthen our representative democracy.

Beyond these simple, straightforward impacts, your work teaches your children that kind contributions can be made every day at every level. As they grow, they will almost certainly be inspired to make a difference in their own ways. Imagine the cumulative effect of a lifetime of small contributions and the ripples they have through our communities.

What are some good get-started projects for our family?

If your family has not volunteered before, consider starting with a one-time activity, like volunteering at a school bake sale or a clean-up day at the local park. Or start by serving others right from your kitchen table — creating a blanket for a child in need, making sandwiches for guests at a homeless shelter, or decorating bags for Meals on Wheels.

If you’ve enjoyed one-time projects before, think about committing to a long-term effort, such as working at a recycling center every Saturday morning. Some families become environmental activists, work in wilderness areas or parks, or help with animals at the humane society or the zoo. Others volunteer in museums, theaters, schools or libraries. If your family is interested in social service, consider helping out at a homeless shelter, nursing home or food pantry. You can also get involved in political campaigns or work for human rights.

The possibilities are endless. Browse our project descriptions for new ideas.

What age should my children be before we start volunteering together?

Any age.

Even infants (some might say especially infants) can make a difference. Put your son or daughter in a stroller and walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease or breast cancer. Ask a local nursing home if there is an older person your family could “adopt,” then visit with your baby every week or two.

Most toddlers and preschoolers begin to enjoy crafty kitchen table service projects, and as your children get older, the possibilities just multiply.

Why should my family make time to do good together?

Because practicing kindness as a family not only makes together time more meaningful, but also helps kids and strengthens families.  Read about the benefits at 10 Reasons to Be a Big-Hearted Family and 8 Essential Lessons Kids Learn by Doing Good as a Family.

In addition, studies indicate that empathy, kindness and “giving back” enhance everybody’s well-being. Check out our research section for more details.

Free time is already so scarce, between school activities, work and sports, how can we squeeze in one more commitment, even one as valuable as service?

It’s true. Most families are stretched to their limit. But that’s one of the best reasons to volunteer together. Whether you volunteer only occasionally, or regularly, it’s an opportunity for you and your children to spend time together doing something both worthwhile and fun.

In addition, while parents traditionally focus attention on their children’s physical and academic development, most of us put little concerted effort into teaching our kids the importance of caring for others and being good citizens. Taking on a community service project together is an opportunity to share those values with children in a concrete way. What could be more important? And it doesn’t have to be time consuming. It can be as simple as spending a Saturday doing yard work together for a neighbor who is elderly or disabled or picking up extra groceries for the food shelf during regular shopping trips.

How are other busy families making doing good together a part of their lives?

Many families are folding service projects and kindness activities into their regular, daily lives.

Young children often like to draw and color. Turn their regular coloring time into a meaningful act of kindness. At hugsandhope.org you’ll find a brief biography and photos of children with serious illnesses. You and your kids can read the stories, make cards for the children and send them your messages of hope. It’s simple, doesn’t take much time, and it allows young children to practice their writing and creative skills while making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Other families take up a collection for charity. Your family could collect food, mittens, toys or anything else you think might be needed by a local school, shelter or food pantry. Talk to the agency, tell them your plan and then ask relatives, friends and neighbors to contribute. Advertise your collection in the local paper or pass out flyers. Have the whole family go together to donate the items.

There are dozens of other examples of similar projects that are simple, fun and make a positive difference. You can find them in  The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering by Jenny Friedman (Robins Lane Press, 2003), Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools and Communities by Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain (Free Spirit Publishing, 2010) or check out the projects pages of this website.

We all hope our child will be the kind of person who cares about others and wants to make a difference in the world. Do you have any simple strategies to teach kindness?

That’s an important question. There are a variety of things parents can do. First, point out the consequences of both kind and unkind behavior your child exhibits. For example, if your daughter sends a get-well card to a friend, explain how comforted that will make her friend feel. But remember to explain how your child’s hurtful behavior affects others as well. Second, have your child “practice” caring. That means arranging opportunities for your child to do good deeds. Volunteering together is an ideal way to accomplish that. Finally, read books together that will stimulate discussions about important values and social issues.

Visit our Teach Kindness section for activities, puzzles, and worksheets that will help you nurture compassion in your child.

Why should my family join Big-Hearted Families?

We hope you consider joining our community in whatever way is easiest for you because sharing your thoughts and experiences will help other families get involved too. We are building a community of parents and children hoping to make change in the world. One of the simplest ways to do that is to share what you are doing so that others might learn from it. Even if you are just getting started, even if the projects you take on feel small, your ideas will make a difference by improving the resources we offer and by empowering and inspiring other families to get involved.

The Big-Hearted Families is a project of Doing Good Together, a 501(c)3 tax-deductable organization. We are extremely appreciative of any contributions, all of which directly support our work.