Yesterday my almost-4-year-old son & I performed our official first act of kindness by handing out balloons to children outside a local public library. This was a really interesting experience because it was an opportunity to talk with my son about sharing, while also teaching him about kindness, making others happy & patience. At first it was a challenge for him to wrap his mind around the idea that we’d be buying balloons together, but that he wasn’t going to get to keep them all, and was, in fact, going to be giving them away to random kids (what had they done do deserve balloons!?)
We bought a dozen balloons at the local party store and set up shop outside of the library. It was about 50 degrees, and lightly windy. It turned out there weren’t as many kids at the library on a sunny, warm December afternoon, so traffic was on the slow side. Slowly children emerged and we began to hand out the balloons. Some parents/kids didn’t want them (and that was ok) and we continued. During this time, I was trying to calmly untangle the next balloon from the knotted mass of strings before the next kid arrived (how did they get that tangled during the 30 foot walk from the car to the library entrance?).
Two instances really stuck out to me. We were there to give, and ended up receiving.
One young girl, who picked a purple balloon, gave my son his pick of marbles from a bag (and anyone who knows my son, knows that marbles are his obsession!). Obviously this delighted my son, and we learned that sometimes when you share, other people share back.
The second story is really special. Normally we offered the balloons to children leaving the library, but for some reason I asked a woman walking by if she’d like one. She said yes, she’d take one home to her five-year-old son who loved balloons. She picked the yellow one, and said that we had no idea how much this meant to her. Simultaneously, a different woman shared a pack of McDonald’s free-item coupons with us. The yellow-balloon woman and I checked the expiration date (good through December 31st!) and I simply asked her if she could use them. She lit right up and said yes, absolutely, and again, that we had no idea what it meant to her.
That was a very moving experience for me (I think my son was completely oblivious to most of this part). The yellow-balloon woman and I parted ways. She got into her vehicle and started to drive away. But then, she stopped her car, and came back to us bearing a DVD of Christmas music from the dollar store. She told me this was for her son’s s-t-o-c-k-i-n-g. As my eyes teared up a bit, I thanked her again. It was so incredible of her to gift us something back that was so precious to her— obviously we weren’t giving the balloons away to get anything back, but she wanted to show us her gratitude, which we were happy to accept. I will never forget that exchange.
All in all, this was a great way to engage my son in giving, and spread joy. Highly recommended. Great for kids.
Pro-tips (we learned the hard way):
- choose days that are less windy, and keep the balloon strings on the shorter side (a pink one got away).
- if you use balloon weights, tie them on *after* you separate a balloon from the pack (the weights make it harder to detangle the strings b/c they get in the way).
- let your kiddo keep one balloon of their own. my young son was much more willing to give the rest away, secure in the knowledge that he also had one waiting for him.
- pick a few gender-neutral balloon colors. I got a bit nervous when we had a pink and purple balloon left that a little boy would come out and not want a girly color (this isn’t something that bothered my son as he picked out all the balloon colors in the first place!).