The next few weeks are essential to nonprofits. 25% of all donations for the year come in between November 14 and December 14.

There is an out-pouring of gifts this time of year because people feel generous this time of year.

Many families decide that this is a great time to make sure that they teach their children about charitable giving and volunteerism. Some parents feel it’s especially important at this time of year to help children understand gratitude and the real meaning of the holidays. Still others are motivated by a desire to counter-balance the season’s commercialism and the focus on materialistic presents and desires for nonessential items.

But don’t take your young children to the local soup kitchen just yet, says writer Kelley Holland . She argues that while that might seem like a great idea, young children might actually get in the way or even get hurt in a soup kitchen where there are lots of hot things and sharp knives. She also suggests that volunteering this time of year might not be the best timing because so many people choose to do it. Many agencies suffer from an abundance of volunteers this time of year which might leave you and your family standing around as spectators. Not being needed or put to work is an experience that even a young child understands. If that ends up being what they experience, it could actually backfire and make them less likely to support nonprofits or to do volunteer work in the future.

It is a good idea to volunteer with your children, though. Make sure that whichever organization or cause you choose to work with is truly equipped to work with a child your son or daughter’s age. Go with your child to volunteer and participate side-by-side. Don’t expect the charitable organization to supervise your child’s activity. The organization is counting on you to.

Many child development specialists argue that the best service assignment for children is one that they choose, something in which they are interested. A young child might be better able to comprehend charity if it involves something they know and understand. Holland suggests a cause like the need for summer funding or food for children who go hungry when school is not in session as possible ones for adoption by children.

The Cure JM Foundation, an organization with which I have consulted over the last couple of years, works on behalf of children with a rare auto-immune disease. Many of the children affected and their brothers or sisters engage in volunteering, fundraising, or donating—for example, donations instead of birthday gifts—for Cure JM. Last winter, one very young child in the Seattle area solicited donations close to home with a sign that said “I’m raising money to help my brother.” He and his mother passed out cups of hot cocoa to people who stopped to speak to them. Who could resist an adorable little one’s plea on behalf of his young brother?

It’s important for charitable participation of children to be appropriate for their age writes Cheryl Lock on Learn Vest  She recommends:

For children 3-8:

  • Focus on values like caring, sharing, cooperation
  • Point out local heroes

Children 9-12:

  • Explain the basics of nonprofit organizations (that they depend on donations, that they put the money to work helping people, the arts, the environment, or animals).
  • This is a great time for children to begin occasional, short volunteer assignments.

Teens 13-18:

  • Talk about the impact of a teen’s volunteering on the work of a nonprofit.
  • Help a teen find volunteer opportunities aligned with his or her passions.
  • For extra motivation, it might be helpful to remind a teen that volunteering can look great on a college application.

With a little bit of encouragement and practice, you can help your children become life-long givers and volunteers.

This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series about teaching children about philanthropy. You can read Part 2 here.