I've been thinking a lot about what I want for my boys as they grow up. I'm pretty sure that they will master math and reading and other facts; there is lots of emphasis on these at school. I also want them to be compassionate and considerate human beings who think about — and give back to — the world. There aren't as many workbooks on this!
One of the things that working at Sponge (and being a parent) has taught me is that so much happens in the brains and hearts of our children when they're young.
While people used to think that talking to babies wasn't necessary, we know now that babies hear us, and their brains process language from the time they are in utero. My hunch has been that I can do a lot to raise compassionate global citizens in the early years, but I wanted some guidance.
In April, I spent a spectacular evening hosting a panel on the subject of helping kids with global giving. The four panelists have given the topic so much thought in both their professional and personal lives (Peter Drury, Tammy Leland, Jessica Markowitz and Lisa Merrill) that I think there's a great book to be written based on their experiences.*
In the meantime, I thought I'd call out a few things I learned that you can easily do starting today!
1. Talk about it with your kids. This is such an easy one, and can take so many different forms. If you give money or your time, take a minute to share what you do with your child. They may be too young to come along right now, but they learn more about what you do and why you think it's important. It's nice that we're still our kids' heroes!
Jessica Markowitz, a high school student who founded IMPUHWE Richard's Rwanda, told us about how her mom made her conscious of the world through her choice of language. We're not actually starving, nor are we dying of thirst. I told my boys about this, and now they love catching, and reminding, me when I forget.
2. Empower the kids. Peter Drury, Development Director at a child's right, reminded us that kids have lots of compassion naturally. As their grown-ups, we can help them feel empowered to act. He suggested proactively setting money aside for giving away to charity. Moonjar is one great way to do this. Then, when your child feels compassion, you can also help them do something about it using their own resources.
3. Create global connections locally. When I gave my oldest son the opportunity to make a donation for his birthday this year, he instantly chose China. He's felt connected to China, since he fell in love with his first Mandarin teacher at Sponge. Forming personal connections makes the world real in a way that goes beyond books and stories. We live in an amazingly diverse city. You can volunteer to have a short-term international homestay through FIUTS or adopt a refugee family through ReWA.
4. Travel. If your kids are very young, they probably won't remember the details of the experience, but I think they're shaped by it regardless. And, once you get over the flight and the jetlag, kids open doors to so many authentic interactions. I was thrilled to discover Crooked Trails, a Seattle non-profit that focuses on travel and giving back. The founders are parents who continue to travel extensively with their kids. One key thing I learned — your whole trip doesn't have to be about service. Crooked Trails is happy to help arrange a service opportunity as one memorable element of your larger journey.
* While we have't yet written a book on this topic, we have compiled a longer list of other ideas and resources. If you’d like a .pdf copy, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'm happy to send it your way.
Here's to a world of compassionate young citizens!
Jackie Friedman Mighdoll is the founder of Sponge, a world language program for children. She is also the mother of two young sons with whom she loves talking about the world and traveling — among other things. Find out more on the Sponge website and on Facebook.