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Creative Ways for Students to Help Others During the Holiday Season

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by Greta Brewster, a non-profit consultant and writer for

The holiday season offers an optimal time to teach young people about the value of helping others. In the classroom, activities focused on philanthropy can broaden students’ understanding of the culture they live in and make students aware of the challenges people around the world face in meeting their basic human needs. In addition, encouraging youth to help others outside of school hours can help offset the materialistic frenzy often associated with the holidays.

Studies show that youth who are taught to help others at a young age continue those practices through adulthood. Experts recommend involving youth as much as possible in deciding how and whom to help; they will be more invested in the outcome if they are an integral part of the process.

Below are a number of creative ways for students to help others during the holiday season, both in the classroom and at home.

In the Classroom

  • In the lower grades, bring holiday cheer to elders in a nursing home by having students design holiday cards or make crafts to deliver to residents. Alternatively, students could sing or put on a play.
  • Engage students in a fundraising activity—whether selling handmade holiday cards, running a bake sale or organizing a holiday flea market—and donate the proceeds to a non-profit organization. You can involve students in deciding who should receive funds by having them vote. In the older grades, each student could research organizations, nominate one, and prepare a presentation for the class describing why that nominee should receive the funds.
  • Organize a read-a-thon, in which students challenge themselves to read a certain number of books during a specified period of time and find sponsors, similar to a walk- or run-a-thon. The funds can then be donated to an organization of the school or classroom’s choosing.
  • Run a school-wide “good deeds” contest. Each classroom might maintain a chart of good deeds, and whoever ends up with the most can receive a prize— preferably a non-material one such as a special privilege.
  • Schedule a “volunteer week” at school, during which students take turns helping out the office, janitorial and kitchen staff with tasks such as taking out garbage and cleaning lunchroom tables.
  • Pick one or more social or environmental issues of interest to students and conduct a class-wide letter-writing campaign, whether to an elected official or corporate CEO.
  • Hold a school- or district-wide can structure-making competition. Each classroom would collect cans of food over the course of a week or two. Students in each classroom would then build a structure out of the cans, competing against other classrooms or schools. The cans are then donated to a local shelter or food bank. There are many examples online of this type of competition, which helps build engineering, artistic and teamwork skills among participants.
  • Organize a gift bag-making activity in the classroom, either through or independently. Gift bags can be filled with small toys, trinkets, crayons and other art supplies and given to local shelters. Similarly, many programs provide gift boxes to people in other parts of the world.
  • Encourage students to come up with their own ideas for a philanthropic activity. Find numerous examples of innovative student philanthropic projects at, and Youth in Philanthropy at
  • Have students write reports or reflection papers about good deeds they have performed outside of school (see list below).

Outside of School

  • Spend an afternoon helping tend to animals at a local Humane Society or other animal rescue organization.
  • Donate gently used clothes or toys to a local shelter. Most states have a Toys for Tots program; you can find drop boxes, searchable by state and county, on the Toys for Tots Web site.
  • Help stock shelves at a local food bank or shelter.
  • Assist an elderly neighbor by helping decorate for the holidays or shoveling snow.
  • Offer free babysitting to give a parent time to do other things.
  • Collect change to donate to an organization.
  • Write a thoughtful note to someone who has been a positive influence.
  • Deliver a meal to a neighbor in need.
  • Spend an hour signing online petitions sponsored by environmental, animal welfare, human rights and other groups.
  • Students will often come up with their own creative ideas when given the chance. Give youth the opportunity to research, brainstorm and devise a plan for helping others, and they will take the first step toward building a habit that will last a lifetime.

Additional Resources


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