Kids love to help, and that's especially true now, as they see and hear stories about coronavirus affecting neighbors, friends, and strangers around the world. Sending inspiring messages, making homemade masks, and gathering important supplies can make children and teens feel more connected, and even spark joy during these dark times. "Children have an intrinsic need to help others, and get true enjoyment from getting involved 'just like' mom and dad," says Alyssa Schlehuber, LCSW, a social worker who counsels patients and families at Boston Children's Hospital.
From planning virtual Easter egg hunts to organizing a food drive, we've collected 20 ways that kids and teens can serve their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Our Coronavirus Parents' Guide has hundreds more ideas for keeping kids busy and happy at home.
Ways Kids Can Help During the Pandemic
1. Chalk your walk.
From Connecticut to Colorado to California, kids are taking their chalk to the sidewalk (and driveways and cul-de-sacs). Heartfelt messages include "thank yous" to first responders, handwashing reminders, and more. It's graffiti for the greater good!
Inspirational and colorful Easter eggs are popping up in neighborhoods around the U.S. Photo courtesy of Kristie L. Aisner via Facebook
2. Plan a virtual Easter egg hunt in your 'hood.
In the spirit of all the sweet teddy bear scavenger hunts happening around the country, kids can call, email, or FaceTime neighbor pals and encourage them to craft colorful "eggs" to hide in windows, bushes, or other visible spots from the road. See what these kids are doing in California for inspiration.
3. Assemble brown-bag lunches for a local shelter.
With reduced personnel, many shelters are struggling to keep up with client's meal needs. Contact a local shelter to find out if it's welcoming bagged lunches, and if so create an assembly line with your kids to decorate bags and pack nourishing midday meals to drop off.
4. Help mom and dad clean the house.
With everyone hunkering down at home, cleaning house requires a team effort. It's a great time to teach kids skills like vaccuuming and mopping. (Bonus: Harvard research shows that kids who do chores are happier and more successful as adults.)
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Online templates and tutorials make it easy for kids to learn mask making. Photo courtesy of Lynda Nijensohn
5. Create homemade masks.
Hospitals are suffering a shortage of protective masks, and the Centers for Disease Control now recommend that everyday citizens wear masks outside the house. This Massachusetts mom has a great how-to video for sewing masks, or if your kids feel more comfortable with glue than needle and thread, they can make no-sew masks.
6. Cheer on a doctor, nurse, or grocery clerk in your neighborhood.
Create a poster with a thankful or inspirational message for a local hero, and affix it to a garden stake (or tape over an old lawn sign if you have one around). These selfless servants will be touched as they drive to and from their jobs.
7. FaceTime or Zoom grandparents (and offer a tutorial beforehand).
As senior citizens are advised to avoid in-person contact with extended family members, grandparents may be feeling the need to connect with children now more than ever. Scheduling daily or weekly FaceTime or Zoom chats will give them something to look forward to. Tech-savvy older kids can walk grandparents through instructions over the phone.
8. Make a pen pal with a nursing home resident.
Not all senior citizens have children to send them well wishes during these lonely times. An Ohio organization called Love for the Elderly accepts handmade cards and delivers them to nursing homes and elder care facilities around the world.
Cheery window art in Pennsylvania helps keep spirits up. Photo courtesy of Amy Perez-Walker
9. Inspire passersby from a window or balcony.
A trend that started in Italy several weeks ago has spread to the US, as children decorate windowpanes and balconies with cheerful pictures and messages. Think rainbows, motivational messages, or patriotic flags.
10. Share books through Little Free Library.
With libraries and book stores shuttered, little bookworms could use some fresh reads. Have your child help you find or create a Little Free Library, where local kids can leave and take books while social distancing.
11. Create or donate to a Little Free Pantry.
Food insecurity is growing around the country as work becomes less steady and grocery stores less stocked. Inspired by little libraries, Little Free Pantries are places where neighbors can take or leave non-perishable items.
12. Gather clothing to donate.
Now is as good a time as ever to encourage kids to root through their closets and create a donate pile of unneeded clothes. If donation drop-off is currently an option, at least you'll be ready when it is again.
Kids outside Boston celebrate a friend's birthday with a family car parade. Photo courtesy of Lucie Wicker Tweeddale
13. Find out about friends’ birthdays and celebrate them in creative ways.
Hopefully, kids have been singing "happy birthday" while washing hands... so let's put that practice into action! Friends who can't have a party during coronavirus deserve to be celebrated from afar. Kids can organize a Zoom party, host a drive-by birthday parade, or make a funny virtual birthday card.
14. Paint and leave kindness rocks on your stoop, front yard, or on local trails.
Paint inspiring messages on rocks to plant outside your home or on local walking paths (just make sure there are no "leave no trace" rules on your community trails).
15. Create egg carton flowers to brighten a friend's doorstep.
Many of us will have leftover egg cartons from decorating Easter eggs. Spring flowers don't keep their blooms for long, but these egg carton flowers do.
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Busy neighbors might be grateful to have your older child tutor their younger one online. Photo by Fauxels/Pexels
Ways Teens Especially Can Help During the Pandemic
16. Offer to tutor a neighbor kid virtually.
Many busy parents are struggling to give kids the academic support they need right now. High schoolers will win big points with family friends and neighbors by offering to FaceTime or Zoom with younger children who are working through remote homework assignments or trying to learn something new (like coding or a new language).
17. Collect food from neighbors to donate to a local food bank.
Teenagers can reach out to a local food bank or pantry, find out what items are needed most right now, and then spread the word to friends and neighbors. With their own wheels or a ride from Mom or Dad, teens can pick up bags from front stoops and porches and deliver to shelters or food banks in need.
18. Buy a gift card from a favorite local food joint.
Teens can support and say "thank you" to that awesome taco stand or pizza place they frequent after school or on weekends by purchasing a gift card, to use now or later.
19. Organize a local PPE drive.
US hospitals and health clinics are suffering from a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks and gowns. Many families stocked up on super-protective N95-style masks and now have an excess. Teenagers can send out an email to friends, family members, and neighbors to see if anyone has extra gear to give, and then collect and deliver this life-saving protective equipment to the nurses and doctors who need it most. DonatePPE.org lists state-by-state links to hospitals and health clinics where big kids can deliver the donations.
20. Foster a pet.
With many shelters forced to close during the cornavirus crisis and healthcare workers keeping abnormal hours, plenty of animals are in need of homes right now. Big kids often make great and loving caretakers. As long as your household can handle it, teens can reach out to local pet shelters or acquaintances in healthcare and offer to temporarily home a dog, cat, bird, bunny, or other lonely pet.