This was originally posted on ivo.org as a Thoughtful Thursdays blog post. Feel free to continue adding thoughts, there or here!
Being in charge of a child teaches you a lot about what’s achievable – and what you as a person want to achieve. I don’t think this learning can only come from being a parent, but for me that was the catalyst for changing my attitude to volunteering roles and young kids. This post is about sharing the things I’ve realised, and the roles I think work, and inviting a friendly flood of ideas for the ways parents and young children (and older children – why not) get involved with our organisations.
In the Before Times, I did a lot of assuming as a volunteer co-ordinator and broker.
“Volunteers can share childcare between each other easily, can’t they?” (They can, but it takes confidence, time and strong social networks.)
“Volunteers would want childcare or a crèche so that they can do a volunteer shift” (Will they? Really? What about involving both?)
…So what I never contemplated was that a parent volunteer – and that strange creature is now ME – might actually want to be with my offspring. I have now discovered that in a lot of activities I’m getting involved in, I want my daughter with me. Not because I can’t bear to be parted from her; I am the kind of parent that needs my space and to maintain my identity, and I’ll go to quite some lengths for that. No, it’s because the things I am desperate to learn, and haven’t stopped wanting to learn because I have a child, coincidentally are linked to the things I’d like her to learn too. The things she won’t see from inside a classroom when she goes to school. How people are when they work in a team, the effort that goes in to making a play session happen, how some things are important enough to stand holding a banner about in the cold…
These things are leading me to shift my ideas of what it means to get involved, and weekly I’m shifting my ideas of what we can achieve together. We’ve done growing, making cob from straw and clay, running a cooking session and I’ve now found out from others about marshalling a Parkrun, fundraising and event planning all being grand carer/kid endeavours.
And the list is getting longer of wisdom I’ve gleaned from our little outings…
- Do take snacks.
- Don’t expect to get there at all. You may be pleasantly surprised.
- The promise of swings later-on will get you a long way.
- Don’t expect to have in-depth conversations with the other volunteers – you’ll be the one explaining why the wheelbarrow has one wheel and why the slope is slopey.
- You know how the best volunteer co-ordinator can break things down into little chunks that more and varied people can get involved in? Do that, but more so. The tiniest tasks for them to get involved with alongside your (hopefully) bigger ones.
- Things will often feel more manageable when it’s your thing: running your own kids session for example in your own time, or organising a ‘playing out’ in your street with your child.
- Expect to achieve. Something. And to both be excited by that achievement!
I’ve got two requests.
I’ve learned a lot as a volunteer, and now I’ve also got ideas as a volunteer co-ordinator. What about you? What roles are there in your organisation where parents/carers are getting involved with kids?
Do you have roles in your organisation which might suit a parent/carer and child, but haven’t yet? Think flexible involvement, or where the volunteer has some autonomy over the time tasks take, low risk etc.? I’ve been thinking recently about matching young kids activities with activities for older people – they seem to get so much out of being together. Maybe older people’s lunch clubs?
Are there roles that you’ve tried to involve carer/kid volunteers in, and it’s been too much of a challenge? Please share your hindsight!
I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, whatever they may be, as a new parent-unteer and as a fellow co-ordinator. Maybe me and the girl will pop down and road test your opportunity one day… we could write about it too…
And my second request – do you know anyone doing something with their kid that THEY wouldn’t consider volunteering, but that is essentially getting involved and getting something done? I’d love to hear about them.
Get in touch and follow the blog (or @volunteersyeah on twitter) for more on volunteering with kids and guest posts from others doing it. cheers!