Thanksgiving is a perfect time to help kids put their eyes on others.

Kids love seeing themselves as ministers of good and as genuine helpers of others.

These ten starter ideas can give them the chance to remember kindness, warm hearts, and reach out in love to those whom Christ loves.

Boy holding a yellow dandelion flower
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1. Bless Your First Responders

Your police officers, firefighters, and EMTs come to your rescue and all too often receive no thanks for their work. They show up to work every day, heroes in waiting, poised to spring to your aid.

Whether any of your kids have already been helped by such men and women or not, it’s likely the time will come when they will.

And, certainly, first responders have been there for other kids just like the ones in your group.

Come together to bake cookies, brownies, and other snacks—just remember to make some gluten-free.

Have your kids draw pictures, write messages, or make cards to express their gratitude. And then coordinate with the local stations to deliver all the treats.

2. Reach Out to Deployed Military Personnel and Their Families

Two groups especially impacted by holidays are military personnel who are deployed and their families who are celebrating Thanksgiving without them.

Your kids can be a blessing to both groups.

Create care packages and send them out in time to arrive to the deployed men and women by Thanksgiving.

Soldiers’ Angels is a group that lets you “adopt” and form a relationship with a specific military person.

You can also donate prepaid calling cards to make it easier for them to call home. And there are many other ideas you can choose from.

And don’t forget about caring for the ones left behind.

Why not descend upon the home of a military spouse or family who is facing Thanksgiving without their loved one? Maybe do chores and rake leaves around the house or even provide a full Thanksgiving meal.

3. Volunteer at an Orphanage or Shelter

Orphanages and shelters always need the love and support of the community. Contact one or more such centers in your area and coordinate a service day with them.

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Perhaps they need things done around the property. Perhaps they desperately need supplies like toothbrushes and socks.

Find out what they need and then invite your kids to help come up with a plan to bless them.

Our Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and no one is at an orphanage or shelter without a hurting heart. You and your kids can be the hands and feet of God to these for whom He has special concern.

4. Fast from a Luxury for a Week

This isn’t a service project so much as a way to remind ourselves of things we’re thankful for.

Challenge your kids to pick a “First World” privilege or luxury they love—maybe video games or dessert or YouTube—and commit to fast from it for a week.

Then consider combining this with a trip to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, paying special attention to the children there who have so much less.

The idea isn’t to make your kids feel guilty for having good things but to help them to realize that they really do have a lot, while some kids who are otherwise just like them do not.

This perspective may help your kids develop an attitude of gratitude and generosity.

 5. Visit a Memory Care Facility (Even Virtually)

Purchase colorful fleece and have your kids make simple scarves as a group. Coordinate with a local memory care facility to get the warm scarves to their patients.

Dementia and memory loss are cruel conditions that can leave the person feeling anxious and confused.

But a group of kind children talking with them (even virtually) and giving warm gifts may brighten their day and provide a loving gift that will bless them even after the children have gone.

Woman holding fall color sweaters
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This service project will likely also delight the facility staff and the patients’ families, since those with memory loss can sometimes be neglected by anyone outside immediate family.

6. Create and Deliver Chemo Care Kits for Kids

The kind folks at Pennies of Time worked with parents of children going through chemotherapy to create comfort kits for these kids.

Items in the kit are either to help with the side effects of chemo (such as fun caps to wear since their hair may fall out) or to provide comfort and entertainment (books, toys, games, etc.).

The items provided to help with side effects will also provide an opportunity to teach your kids about cancer and the treatments for it.

Before making your kits, coordinate with a local oncology unit to be sure they won’t object to (or to see if they might have special requests for) items your kids will put in these kits.

You can also arrange a day and time to bring the kits and present them to the kids you’ve made them for.

7. Set Up a Gratitude Microphone or Poster

Have your kids pick a park, shopping mall, or city square (working with the management to secure the proper permissions and remembering the weather and regulations) and set up a podium with microphone and speakers. Or keep it simple with a poster and markers.

Post a sign on the podium that reads, “Say something you’re thankful for,” and then back away and see what happens.

If people are slow to get the idea, have your kids go up one at a time and say something they’re grateful for. Have them “tag” or call on others in the crowd to come up and say or write a word or two.

What could be more in the Thanksgiving spirit than having people actually articulate what they’re thankful for?

8. Stealth Ninja Kindness Quest

Have all the kids dress up in their favorite costumes, especially spies, ninjas, and the like. Collect their previously prepared kindness kits (here’s an idea of what to put in one, but make your own) and gather the kids together.

Give them a mission briefing-slash-knighting ceremony in which you tell them their secret mission (kids love secret missions!) is to go out on a kindness quest.

Their mission is to give away kindness kits to as many people as possible in a one-hour dash to gratitude. Bonus points for giving the kindness kit to someone without being seen leaving the kit!

Gather them into the quest vehicles, and either drive to a public place, park, or neighborhood; or plan to bless specific people you know. Be sure kids are kept under adults’ watchful eyes, and then send them out upon their quest.

Regather at the “castle” or secret lair and have hot chocolate and treats while exchanging tales of their kindness and valor.

9. Host a Talent Show for a Retirement Home

Select and coordinate with an assisted living or retirement home to bring your kids in to do a talent show. This works virtually too!

Grandfather and grandson cheerfully playing the piano
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Get your kids to practice their skills and talents and then bring them to the home to warm the hearts of the residents at Thanksgiving.

In addition to whatever talents the kids may want to demonstrate, invite the residents to share their special talents too.

As a bonus, have your kids learn how to teach a simple but more modern song. At the end of the talent show, have them teach the residents the song, and then do a big rendition with the whole gang singing along to the music.

10. Create a Gratitude Space

Select a public place (indoor or outdoor based on expected weather for your area) and work with management to create a gratitude space to spread thankfulness to passersby.

Have the kids do chalk drawings or signs with messages of thankfulness, paint their faces, dress up, and make cards or notes with messages like, “Tell someone what you’re most grateful for!” or “What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory?”

As people walk by, wish them Happy Thanksgiving and give them the cards or notes.

We hope these ideas have sparked your imagination about ways to help your kids bring kindness, service, and gratitude to others . . . and themselves.

Kids Serving Kids Super Simple Mission Kit

Tales of the One’s He Won’t Let Go

Want your kids to take service to heart? Filled with fun, interactive learning experiences and kid-inspired service projects, this curriculum will open kids’ eyes (and grown-ups too!) to the needs in their community and around the world—then challenge them to do something about it!

 Kids will find answers to these challenging questions:

  • Who will I trust? 
  • How do I pray? 
  • What can I give? 
  • Where can I go? 
  • Who will I serve?
  • How can I love?