Taking care of a pet teaches kids how to care for another creature and to put its needs above their own. But not all families are ready for full-time pet ownership. Maybe there's not enough space at home or the kids are still too little to take on such a big responsibility. Volunteering at the local animal shelter is great way to teach caring and nurturing of animals without the commitment of pet ownership.
Call your local chapter of the Humane Society or a local animal rescue service. Ask what kind of volunteer opportunities they have for kids. Many shelters need volunteers to walk the dogs or simply play with some of the other animals.
Some animal rescue services operate a foster home program for animals that are too young or too sick to be adopted right now. As a foster family, you can take in a tiny kitten or a newborn puppy and nurse it for a few weeks until it is big enough and healthy enough to be adopted. Foster care requires a family that is ready to commit the time and resources to take care of a fragile young animal. The upside is that it's a temporary commitment, but that can also be the downside. If you and your kids get emotionally attached to the animal, you might not want to give it back!
If you're not ready to take an animal into your home, you can always donate items to the shelter, like old towels and newspapers for the animals' bedding, electric blankets, dog and cat food, and even tiny baby bottles for feeding newborn kittens and puppies [source: Animal Defense League of Texas].
In the next volunteer activity, parents can teach their kids how to support organizations that are doing important work around the world.