Winter Break Ideas to Keep Kids “Consumed”

kids-guide-to-giving.jpgTo continue our series on Shaping Youth’s ways to “market mindfulness,” I’ll first shine the spotlight on Ms. Freddi Zeiler, who at age 14, decided to make a difference in the world and set out to find where that enthusiasm should be funneled.

Voilà ! A Kid’s Guide to Giving! It’s my Shaping Youth tween/teen book pick for our advisors this year, a handy compilation of 100 kid-friendly orgs sifted and assessed by Freddi into three core areas: giving (time/money), donating (goods) and organizing (charity events).

Mind you, there’s irony here, because at Shaping Youth, we reach out to kids that are NOT apt to buy Freddi’s book, or be inclined toward the Network for Good site. We’re going for the media depictions of “mallrats, consumption junkies, and instant gratification gluttons” to promote the OPPOSITE motivation.

We sneak philanthropy and education into the media mix as an ‘under the radar’ form of inspiration to make learning fun. Think of us as a ‘content alternative.’ Kids do. And frankly, they welcome the opportunity to make a difference.

We feel if we can tap into core passions and motivations in simple ways that create rewarding experiences, children will ‘catch the giving bug’ early on as it weaves into the moral fiber of their very being.

How hard is that?

Set the pattern consistently to create sustainable change.

Illuminate a path toward emotional engagement with larger causes early, and OFTEN.

And most of all, “market hope,” so kids will ‘be the change they wish to see in the world!’

With that in mind, here are a few Shaping Youth twists on holiday fare to add to our “be an angel” theme, “in her shoes” post and “Tapestries of Hope” jewelry party. (btw, TOH just won “media blog of the year” awarded by SNCR, Society for New Communications Research! More on that soon!)

Shaping Youth’s Winter Break Ideas To Keep Kids “Consumed”

Countdown for a Cause:


Make Some Noise, Stamp Out Whatever You Wish! Pick your issue and age group for a noisy bubble wrap stomp to eradicate disease, famine, or your injustice d’jour…

Adapted from Family Fun, Shaping Youth’s New Years at Noon creates a literal, memorable (noisy) moment, as kids cut out pictures, words, and images that represent the cause they’re pummeling and have a ball ‘learning by doing.’

Beyond recycling holiday packing materials, plop a few beans into an empty water bottle for cheap shaker rattles too…Needless to say, this one is rife w/possibilities for themed ‘resolutions,’ and action-based plans for the year, so if you have a teen org, scout troop or youth club, this is a great time to pull people together with both focus AND fun.

We’ll be doing a separate post next week on green teen updates, eco-fabulous parties and the survey of 50,000 kids conducted inside Habbo’s virtual world about global warming so stay tuned! (Meanwhile, check out Zem Joaquin’s “eco-fabulous” website w/some of my favorite links in her sidebar!)

Web of Life Game, Wheel of Misfortune Variation:

twister-dial.jpgShaping Youth’s spin on an eco-teen group game, uses a giant ‘Twister’ demo to show we’re all entwined with interconnection.

Kids see how easily natural resources can collapse when we layer too many entanglements and burdens on the system. (color code the game to eco-units, curriculum, cause-effect, etc., just use your imagination) This Twister spinner visual is from HalfBakery, where I stumbled upon their site and ended up perusing their “halfway house for at-risk ideas.” What a hoot…At least they’ll know this one isn’t half-baked!

Don’t have a spinner? Use a string and a post-it note packet, adapted from my favorite kids’ book of nature activities by Joseph Cornell.

snwc_cov.gifKids in a circle choose artifacts from nature (labeling themselves as bunnies, slugs, pines, air, soil, rainwater, whatever) and the person in the middle with the big spool calls out a circumstance or action that could create a domino effect and the kids tug on the string if their item is impacted. Each time a child tugs, the center string is linked to them and to anyone else that’s been impacted.

Pretty soon, the zigzag woven web demonstrates the interconnectedness of all beings, resources and ramifications for a living, breathing visual of hands-on ‘aha’ moments for kids. For more, see our related post, Media Savvy Kids & Nature Deficit Disorder.

Gingerbread Habitats: Animals, Villages, Ecosystems, Fun!


Those ‘kits’ can be revamped to build gingerbread houses for most any learning theme, from habitat for humanity to global villages.

Adapting from our local Coyote Point Environmental Museum’s gingerbread contest for animal habitats , we’ve found this is a great way to engage kids’ in ecosystems, rainforest preservation, cultural and tribal environs or whatever your cause/theme is for the giving season. (bonus: recycles your stale Halloween candy too!)

We also use the museum’s FREE downloadable recipes for edible animal art (dog biscuits, bird cakes) for Shaping Youth’s ‘paws’ for a cause event (of course, every pre-K parent knows the easiest bird tree ornament of all is the ol’ peanut butter smeared on pine cones rolled in birdseed bit)

One Warm Coat:

owc.jpgIt’s easy to find (or create!) warmth this winter with a One Warm Coat drive near you. OWC’s newly expanded venture has received a media boost from Good Morning America partnering with Burlington Coat Factory for national outreach.

OWC started right here in S.F. founded by Lois Pavlow, so we began participating locally, as a Brownie troop, piling our red pickup high like Santa’s sleigh…The kids had a ball collecting outgrown coats in their own neighborhoods, sending the message of recycling as well as literally bringing WARMTH to the holiday season for others.

heart-owc.jpgOne Warm Coat themes the coldest months in February, with a brilliant job of making it easy to participate, offering OWC promotion tools, for time-strapped parents and orgs to download flyers, press releases, even patches and certificates for pitching in!

If you shun ‘neighborhood door-knocking’ for safety, shyness, (or let’s face it, preferred convenience!) you can adapt the door to door bit to be a ‘drop-n-dash’ solution. Handy when so many families are working odd hours and hard to catch…Just leave OWC flyers at neighbors doors telling them about a two-week window of time where there will be a handy drop-off bin right on your OWN front stoop. Set a deadline for ‘last call’ and you’ll be surprised how many coats turn up.

Doorstep Drop Off Bin: An Alternative to Door to Door ‘Soliciting’

earth911-web-logo.pngThe goal is to make giving easy, the experience POSITIVE and spread the joy…it’s no fun if you have to prod kids to ring a doorbell or force a solid fit. Match actions to personalities and environs…

Here, we use ‘doorstep dumping’ to collect used-rubber sneakers to be shredded/recycled as playground equipment, scratched Rx glasses to be refurbished and shipped abroad, old towels for the vet clinics, SPCA wishlist, you name it…those Costco bins come in handy! Our neighbors are so used to it by now, they ask US what the next donor drive will be so they can clean out their closets. Enroll them in your effort. People WANT to help!

It’s fun for teeny kids who open the door to check the donations each day with gleeful anticipation as a game in itself of “Lookie, we got one!” As the coats build up and the visual impact of making a difference becomes profound, kids begin to ‘take joy in giving.’


I always remember after the first OWC collection, my daughter would constantly look around to see if she could ‘see one of her coats’…like an intense ‘Where’s Waldo’ giving game.

If you use a central neighborhood spot instead of your doorstep, be prepared that coats might be TAKEN as well as given…and that’s a ‘teaching moment’ too! As kids get older, they’ll start to ‘get it’ that some families can’t afford to keep replacing outgrowns each season. In fact, we started putting up a ‘Give one OR TAKE ONE’ sign so people would KNOW it was okay to swap sizes and recycle among the neighborhood too. (Kind of a freebie e-bay!)

Depending on ages and stages, you can take this to the next step with either delivery of the coats to those in need directly, or put a face on homelessness by participating in youth campaigns like Virgin Mobile’s ReGeneration.

regen21.jpgKids sometimes need to ‘see themselves’ in a social cause to be able to relate in any way, or make the concept less scary, more personal. Kids seeing kids homeless can change stereotypes in a nanosecond…

All too often kids see homeless people as ‘urban wallpaper’ instead of a human being they can relate to…as eleven-year old Hannah Taylor can attest with her own efforts starting her Ladybug Foundation to make kids aware of homelessness.

Hannah started making a difference when she was only 5 years old, and is one of our People Shaping Youth honorees in a forthcoming story soon! (There’s now a film about her story, and a few weeks ago she was selected as one of Canada’s most ”powerful women’ not bad for age 11, eh? Inspiring!)

Anti-consumption Shop-n-Swap:

clothing-swap.jpgHost a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ event to feel the magic of gift-giving without buying a thing.

Our GEPD pals added a “Be good, be green, be glam” element to their event partnering with the fabulous Clothing Swap ‘diva gals’ to tailor it to teens.

I’ll be doing a full feature on Clothing Swap after the New Year, in an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ media fest…

I feel some eco-youth event partnerships coming on! They fit well with Shaping Youth’s alliances at BABIB and our green gal pals at the incredible Teens For Safe Cosmetics!

recycle2.jpgThe ‘new to you’ approach was also a HUGE hit when our elementary eco-crew ran a “costume swap” for Halloween too. Perfect for those ‘why spend’ scenarios. Same goes for gorgeous gowns/fancy shoes and flower girl/bridesmaid/holiday fest wearables that generally fall in the ‘gently used’ category.

You can also set up a ‘Why buy?’ trading station and e-bay style donor board (or even a simple blog/web forum) for higher ticket household items like furnishings and electronics too, with all profits from the highest bidder going into a school’s fund or the cause of your choice.

Then there’s the ol’ “garage sale for a cause” route, teaming up with multiple families. Or even more ambitious, a massive school swap meet. We used to visit a place called ‘outrageous outgrowns’ that hosted a HUGE event at an air hanger, charging a fee to cover shared promotional costs.

hucongologo3c.jpgFinally, for the media savvy kids…go for the viral/internet/social media fun. My dear friend Betsy Brill at Hand Up Congo has used the internet and e-bay itself as a philanthropic auction arm, along with Fran Zone’s World of Good Holiday Auction that brought in $13,000 for Betsy’s cause in Lotumbe last December! (the ad maven in me absolutely LOVES their tagline, “a hand up is better than a handout”)

As an idea hamster, I could stay on this wheel forever, but I’ll spare you the constant churn, just ping me if you need a hand, a theme, or a nudge to get things goin…

Sure beats tuning into the telly nonstop over winter break, eh?

Related Resources

Shaping Youth’s Marketing Mindfulness to Kids –Part One

Shaping Youth Through Philanthropic Fun –Part Two

Shaping Youth’s The Big Give: Kiva, Oprah & the Reality TV Juggernaut

Network for Good

Network for Good Blog

A Kid’s Guide to Giving by Freddi Zeiler

Ruby’s Hope by Hannah Taylor, Ladybug Foundation

It’s Your World, If You Don’t Like It, Change It! Activism for Teenagers by Mikki Halpin

The Kids Guide to Service Projects: (Over 500 Ideas…) by Barbara Lewis

The Kids Guide to Social Action: (same author, grades 4-8/tweens)

Raising Charitable Children by Carol Weisman

Visual Credits: All logos from their respective sites and book jackets, HNY graphic from: Pastiche Family Portal-Paper Crafts



  1. Amy,

    As I read your post about teaching kids to give I thought about my own situation. I wonder how to teach kids to ASK for help? Even more difficult…as they grow…teaching them how to accept help. The US culture drives it into us that we need to be self-sufficient…always producing, always adding value. Even though individual know…our culture doesn’t like to recognize that sometime we can’t produce and can’t add value (as in paying taxes or buying, buying, buying).

    I wish I were going to be around to see if all the efforts such as yours will have an effect…making the world’s people…better people.

    Thank Amy for your insights and energy!


  2. Good point on the ‘asking’ front…

    Asking takes on many connotations…there are the kids that won’t ask a question based on looking ‘dumb’ to their peers, yet there are kids that ‘ask’ for EVERYthing (entitlement mode/the gimmes)…definitely an individual conundrum.

    That said, it’s one of my PERSONAL hot buttons, as I can’t seem to ASK for help to save my hide.

    As you’ve said, societally, self-sufficiency is prized and strength/perseverance is esteemed (and sometimes even rewarded). And I’ve been a stubborn indie from the get-go. Just ask my folks. 😉

    Intellectually, I should be able to over-ride the illogical synapses that point to the deeply embedded ‘ask’ thing, especially since it’s such a prevalent conundrum. (huge issue discussed at the She’s Geeky conference re: women in technology/$$/VC funding/the digital sphere etc.)

    It’s odd though, because in marketing the “call to action” is the classic ‘closure’ for communications/sales, etc. and though I can ‘ask’ on behalf of clients with ease, it seems almost ‘crass’ to ‘ask’ for myself, whether it’s asking for probono support, volunteers, donations, etc. (as evidenced by my lack of paypal/donate button on this blog!) it bugs me that I have such a heinous shortfall.

    It DOES beg the question…is this learned behavior based on culture? sociology? personality? media/mktg. myths & stereotypes?

    We talked about this at Girls Economic Power Day with teens & at for women in finance, yet the ‘ask’ is still an art form to me…It’s a skill set kids AND adults of both genders need to assess the degree of difficulty from their own lens.

    As Harry Truman said, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”

    With that in mind, I’m going to be an optimist and declare that my difficulty in ‘asking’ will be eclipsed by opportunities based on merit…then maybe the ‘asks’ will turn into offers, n’est ce pas?

    Meanwhile, as always, I’ll persevere. THAT one I’ve got down pat. 😉

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