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Catherine Yeulet

The Question

Are there summer opportunities for kids who are more volunteer- or service-oriented, where they can learn leadership and compassion?

The Answer

When conversation came around to summer activities for kids, our parents had a strong opinion. Kids get academic studies and after-school sports clubs 10 months of the year, they'd argue. Summer is a time for kids to break out and try something different.

Imagine a summer where, instead of back-to-back football leagues or math day camps, your kids carve out a week learning to care for animals, preserve the environment, or organize support for a good cause? They'll come away from the experience with leadership skills, compassion, and a broader world view that will benefit them for a lifetime.

We asked around and were astounded by the range of opportunities available in every part of our country.

1) Kids, especially young ones, love animals. Studies show a high correlation between taking care of pets and empathy levels in kids. So get your child volunteering at a local animal shelter or enrolled in a structured program such as the B.C. SPCA's Among Animals Summer Camp. The risk, of course, is they will fall in love and you'll end your summer with a new, furry family member.

2) Environmental awareness has never been higher among young Canadians. Summer is the perfect time for them to get some hands-on ecological experience by volunteering on a local tree-planting project, or in a community garden. Not Far From The Tree is an innovative program in Toronto where young volunteers can help gather fruit from local property owners who have fruit trees on their land, and then assist in delivering a portion of the fruit to local food-based charities.

3) Expose your child to new world views by enrolling them in a multicultural summer program offered by organizations across Canada. The World Camp, at the Pearce Williams Christian Centre near London, Ont., helps kids experience life for people in impoverished communities around the world. Campers live in accurate recreations of huts from those communities and learn how they can help others both locally and globally.

4) Parents who want a summer grounding faith in action might want to explore opportunities available through religious organizations. We were fascinated to learn about Camp Shomria in Perth, Ont., which introduces children and youth from Jewish families to the communal values of the Israeli Kibbutzim. Kids help tend camp gardens and raise animals to make the camp self-sufficient. Each age group pools their allowance money and decides democratically as a group how they will use it.

5) Encourage your young activist with programs that promote volunteering, educate about social issues, and teach them how to take action. In Nova Scotia, "Camp: Empathy" program offers weeklong day camps throughout the summer with themes like Creating Social Justice, which teaches activism, and Kids in the Community, which promotes volunteering.

6) Me to We offers Take Action Academy summer leadership camps across the country. Kids and youth 8 to 18 can spend a week volunteering and learning about local and global issues and how they can take positive action.

That's a small sampler to whet your appetite . You just need to do some research.

It's easy to give your kids a summer experience they'll treasure and benefit from for a lifetime. And who knows: You might just get a puppy out it.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to