On the first day after Christmas, Santa will be back at the North Pole, the toys will all be unwrapped, and you’ll have at least a week to entertain your sweet, energetic children while they are home from school. If there’s ever a time to let the kids watch a wee too much television, this is it. But it’s also an excellent time to remind the kids that doing good things for others can happen at any time of the year.
This post has been updated for 2019-20
So in the spirit of giving that we feel at the holidays, we’ve pulled together a dozen acts of kindness that you can do with the kids.
Pick one, pick a few, or consider chosing one to do each month for the entire year. Because acts of kindness are great ideas, whenever they occur.
1. Play “kindness fairy”
Spend an afternoon leaving little bags of treats on neighbors’ doorsteps, quarters on a parking meter, snacks where your delivery person drops packages. Use your imagination to come up with even more ideas.
The free printable Acts of Kindness tags (shown above) from Inspiration Made Simple are a bright way to let people know what you’re doing, while still keeping your anonymity, since it’s fun to do kind things without the expectation of thanks.
(And uh, you don’t have to film it and put it on social media; it’s okay to be kind for the sake of being kind — not to go viral.)
2. Remember the troops
Think about our amazing service men and women who have been stationed overseas for the holidays (or anytime) by coloring pictures and writing notes for the troops. Organizations like Operation Gratitude will make sure your letters or packages get where they need to go.
We’ve also put together a great list of 11 top-rated veterans organizations offering everything from adaptive housing to service dogs to support exclusively for women — maybe pick one with the kids that speaks to them, and make an end-of-year charitable donation together.
3. Pick a charity and raise a few bucks for them
Speaking of charitable donations — it may be too cold for lemonade where many of us live, but we love the idea of setting up a hot chocolate stand for charity as you can see above, from The Princess and the Frog. You can do it on your sidewalk, at a local playground entrance (though be sure to check your community’s laws first!) or, I think serving that hot cocoa near a popular sledding hill over the holiday break would be a sure money-maker!
4. Donate stuff. Good stuff.
Go through your kids’ overflowing toy bins and book shelves and decide what they’d like to donate to a local charity or children’s organization. Consider unopened birthday gifts, craft sets that have gone unused, books in great quality.
We especially love Second Chance toys, which makes it suer easy to donate new or gently used plastic toys. They’ll even pick them up or let you ship for free!
In fact, be sure to spend some time together with the kids cleaning up their items, making sure all the pieces are in the game and there are no scribbles in the book. This little extra care helps teach kids that we should donate mindfully, as if we are giving a gift to someone else — not just “throwing away” what they no longer want.
5. Pay a visit to your local first responders. Bring cookies.
Free printable Christmas cookie gift labels via Frog Prince Paperie
It’s always a good time to bake a fresh batch of cookies or homemade brownies and deliver them to your local fire or police station, as a way of saying thank you. Or keep the oven off and even make no-bake cookies with a holiday theme, it’s all good!
Ask the kids to include a handwritten note or drawing for your first responders as well — and here are some great ideas for how to package cookies to make them more gifty.
6. Help a neighbor out
If you live in a snowy area, grab the kids and head out one day with shovels to dig out a neighbor’s walkway before they notice you’re there. Pretend you are ninja snow shovelers and try to be as quiet as possible though be ready to yell SURPRISE if you get “caught”.
But there are lots of ways to do nice things for neighbors, whether you’re delivering unexpected treats for no reason, or fixing that mailbox hinge for them that’s been broken for a year.
You can even bring an amaryllis or a small succulent to a neighbor who could use a little cheering up now that their grown children and grandchildren have returned home after the holidays.
7. Paint kindness rocks
We’ve loved the painted kindness rocks trend and hope it doesn’t go away soon. Have the kids leave one by each mailbox — or each apartment door — for your neighbors to discover. It’s such a colorful way to bring a little brightness into a person’s day and it’s so easy to do.
8. Beautify a public space
You don’t have to spend a whole weekend in work gloves and waders (unless you want to) — it could be as simple as having the kids draw happy pictures to hang randomly on telephone poles; picking up garbage that’s accumulated in a small area; or even printing out inspiring quotes on brightly colored sheets of paper for storekeepers to hang in their windows.
Liz’s stepfather always plants tulip bulbs along random stretches of grass in their neighborhood and their neighbors love discovering them every spring!
9. Do something nice for animals
Don’t forget our feathered friends this winter! I want to make some birdseed feeder ornaments for the birds using Little Bins Little Hands’ peanut-butter-free recipe. They will look so cute if you use your cookie cutters and then hang them where you can watch the birds enjoying them.
You can also empty out your linen closet and have the kids help you sort out older sheets and towels to donate to local animal shelter. On your way there, stop at a local pet store to buy some new toys to the animals and bring them all over to the shelter.
Make sure you leave enough time to say hello to all the animals awaiting adoption — offer to walk shelter dogs if that’s an option for you, visit a local cat cafe, or drop a few bucks in a collection jar for the ASPCA .
10. Make a very special card for one very special person in your child’s life.
Kate just shared this beautiful idea for the kids to make a handwritten card for the grandparents. But they’re not the only ones who might appreciate a handmade card.
Yes, we love teachers and coaches but dig deeper. Maybe you give a note to the kids’ favorite librarian who always finds them the perfect book to read. Or to the teller at the bank who knows what color lollipop they like best. Or the supermarket cashier who makes them laugh every time you pass through their line.
(If you can, and it’s legal, sneak a $5 coffee gift card in the card for an extra-special surprise treat.)
11. Pay for something small for someone
Buy the coffee for the person behind you in line. Pay for the toll of the driver behind you (provided you’re not in the EZ Pass lane). Pay off the library fine for the next person who comes in with one. It’s just so cool to show the kids that a random act of kindness like this can make you feel good, even without any acknowledgment or thanks.
And hey, we really love actress Katlyn Carlson’s acts of kindness reminder: If you can pay for a coffee for someone who was going to buy their own anyway, put that cash into.a tip jar for the baristas, or at least match it for them. They’re working hard over the holidays!
12. Get the kids involved in your charitable donations
Of course, making bigger donations count as acts of kindness, and it’s so nice to do this as a family.
If you’re making year-end charitable donations, get the kids involved by letting them search Donors Choose for a classroom project they’d like to support. (We love them so much, we included a Donors Choose gift card as one of our favorite meaningful gifts for kids this year.) Your science lover may want to help a teacher buy a microscope, while your avid reader may want to help buy copies of their favorite book for a classroom in need.
You can also do what Liz does with her kids each year — visit the WWF website and let each kid pick out an animal to “adopt” with your donation, or choose which part of the country to preserve through the Nature Conservancy.
Or hey, sit down and talk to your kids a bit, and find out just what cause is important to them. From education in other countries, to gun violence prevention, saving the planet from climate change, to an issue right in your own neighborhood like saving a park, you might be surprised to see where your kids hearts are.
The best part is that this is the kind of generosity that is welcome any time of year at all. In fact, sometimes picking a random day to do this makes it a true act of kindness that the kids will surely remember.