ElfIn recent years, a peculiar character has found his way into homes, mesmerizing young children and adding yet another facet to the “magic” of Christmas. The Elf, the character in question, has been seen getting into mischief and sometimes letting curiosity get the best of him. Love him or hate him, The Elf on the Shelf is back this holiday season.

While some may use the Elf’s positioning within Santa’s inner circle as a disciplinary tactic at home, others revel in the silly shenanigans of the spry little elf. Days before our Elf, Zack, made his annual descent to our home, I was inspired by an article that listed charitable ideas that would make an impact on kids and the recipients of these acts.

My older son has such a heart of gold, so he doesn’t need much convincing to lend a helping hand or donate items to charity. In fact, after a recent visit to Santa, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, he didn’t ask for the latest toy or video game but for a seizure assistance dog for his baby brother. And so, in the name of charity and with the help of our friend Zack the Elf, I’m hoping to instill the spirit of giving even further this holiday season.

Here are just a few more ideas to get the kids to give back:

1. Donate books to the library or another deserving organization that could use new or gently used books. It’s a well-known fact that books are a gateway to learning and a ticket to other worlds. The gift of well-loved books always goes a long way. Have the Elf sit on his shelf—a bookshelf, rather—and ask the kids to select books to donate with a written note.

2. Donate to the local SPCA or animal shelter. Hide the Elf in the pet food or within a pile of stuffed animals and leave a note encouraging kids to bring pet food to the local SPCA or animal shelter because the animals that don’t have homes yet deserve a little love too.

3. Donate gently used toys to local organizations where children could benefit. Being in a hospital for an extended period is never any fun, especially around the holiday season. While toys aren’t a cure-all, special playthings can help distract kids from treatments and can brighten someone’s day. Contact your local children’s hospital or children’s organization to inquire what donations are needed and how to donate specifically. This one is an easy one for the Elf. Have the Elf stack toys or pile them into a sack and leave a note for the kids asking them to donate to kids in the hospital who could use all the smiles they can get. To find organizations that accept donations near you, check out Child’s Play Charity.

4. Send cards to strangers. So many people are dropping the beloved tradition of sending Christmas cards due to postage costs, but if you’re one of the people who still loves old-fashioned snail mail and sending holiday cards, consider having the Elf ask the kids to send letters to sick children through Send Kids the World. If you’re a room parent or involved in a club, consider having the kids organize a group effort.

5. Donate ice cream money to the Red Cross. A few cents could mean so much to others in need. The past few years, natural disasters have ravaged parts of our country. Time after time, the Red Cross is always there to help out. By having the Elf explain the Red Cross and then encouraging the kids to give up one luxury in favor of helping someone else out, kids will learn a sense of charity and humility. And while the American Red Cross is a worthy organization of donations of any amount, the people of the Philippines could use help as well. Because my parents are both from the Philippines, we’ve been teaching about culture and geography of the Philippines much more following the devastating typhoon there. We’ve pledged some donations to the Philippine Red Cross to help the thousands and thousands of displaced families.

Regardless of what silliness your Elf conjures up, consider creating a conversation about charity. Although an Elf isn’t needed to pay it forward, using this tradition as a platform to reinforce the giving aspect of the holiday season makes those smiles even more significant.