From volunteering with my church’s childcare program every Sunday for years to helping out at Womenspace, a support center for domestic violence survivors in Eugene, I have always pursued a passion of working with kids.
I know not everyone shares my love for kids, and I totally understand why. They can be extremely challenging to work with at times. They can be messy, sticky, smelly and can get into trouble way too easily. Some throw tantrums when they do not get what they want, while others simply refuse to listen to anything you say. So, where is the appeal? What makes working with these fun-sized humans so rewarding?
It has been found that those who volunteer with kids experience positive impacts on their mental health. The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study of volunteers from Experience Corps, “a national volunteer service that trains seniors to help children in urban public schools with reading and academic success in other areas.” The 17 volunteers exhibited improvements in their brain’s cognitive ability, allowing for heightened neuroplasticity and decreased depression.
When working with kids, I have also found that my mood benefits from my time with them. On days when I am stressed, anxious or feeling down, I have found that popping into Womenspace for a few hours with the kids is just what I needed to turn my day around. Their raw energy and playful nature help me refocus on a more positive mindset.
A gift that kids give to someone volunteering with them is the ability to see yourself differently. As an adult, it can be hard to look at yourself as anything but an average human being. But that’s not how younger kids see you. At their age, adults are these super weird, tall, almost magical beings that seem to have all the answers, when in reality, we have no clue what we are doing most of the time.
Somehow, they manage to appreciate even the smallest of talents. Know a few Disney songs? You will be the first person they come to for a sing along. Able to dribble a ball? You are an instant soccer coach. Ever done a French braid? Suddenly you are the hairstylist they have been looking for. The parts of you that never seemed important suddenly become admirable traits in their eyes. Allowing them to bring these traits to the surface can help a person admire parts of themselves they never appreciated before.
Volunteering with kids can also provide the opportunity to interact with children in a positive setting, especially for those who have had uncomfortable experiences with kids in the past. Many look at children in public places like in restaurants or on planes with suspicion, believing they will disrupt their evening with loud noises or obnoxious behaviors. Having the opportunity to interact with kids in an environment where being loud and playful is anticipated can provide a different perspective.
It is completely normal and valid to dislike kids, but volunteering with them provides the opportunity to look at them (as well as yourself) in a different light. Not only will the experience make a nice addition to a résumé, it will provide a unique experience that cannot be gained from other types of volunteer work.