NEW CANAAN — When you’re eight, it’s hard to imagine people living on the other side of the world who need your help. Yet, elementary school is a crucial time where kids develop a sense of community and giving back, which is why East School in New Canaan has begun KidsCare, a monthly, hour-long program before school.

“The mission is to develop compassion and a sense of citizenship in children through hands-on, local service projects,” said Laura Prior, co-chair of the program. “[We use] things that are tangible to them and not remote far away places that are hard for them to imagine at this age.”

Prior, who is also a part of the East School Parent Teacher Council, said she and her KidsCare co-chair, Kristie Breed heard about the same program at West School. The two parents liked the idea and decided to extend it to East School with their own kids.

The two began planning the program last spring and gained approval for it from the PTC and school principal. The program meets once a month before school; there are three meetings in the winter and three in the spring, each with a new group of 25 to 30 students in grades one through four. The group meets from 8 to 9 a.m. and allows for 45 minutes of activities before giving free time at the end so the students don’t get too overwhelmed and lose focus.

KidsCare held its first meeting on Oct. 14. It introduced kids to the idea that small acts can make big changes in the world.

“Every meeting they’ll bring in pennies, so they can see how much small changes make a difference,” Prior said. “Then we’ll choose a local cause to give the pennies to.”

The kids made and shared posters full of ideas on small acts they could do that would make big changes, such as making a lemonade stand and giving the money to charity, donating their extra toys and complimenting others. Tara Whiteley, a social worker at East School, and Dr. Whitney Buckley, a psychologist at East School, also spoke to the children about how they can give back.

The program will try to tie in seasonal activities as it moves forward. The next meeting will occur on Veterans Day, where Prior said they hope to help welcome veterans who are guest speakers to their school. Moving forward, the group is considering activities like an Earth-Day cleanup to tie their community service into the world around them.

Though the program is fairly new, Prior said that it’s already been gaining a lot of traction.

“I had emails asking to get in when it was too late. I had to tell them to wait for next session,” she said. “I think people are excited about it.”

Prior said kids don’t have to be in the program to gain the idea of community service. She said she’s hoping the kids who participate in the program spread their goodwill around.

“We’re trying to also spread the word to make these kids ambassadors for community service — whether it’s hanging posters about different causes or passing on KidsCare name tags to friends,” she said. “We don’t want to overdo it, because I think sometimes the concept of getting these kids involved is overwhelming, so we wanted to start with little things.”

Kris Woleck, principal of East School, said she is thrilled about the program as it aligns with the school’s goals and message.

“We are very excited to have KidsCare as an opportunity here for our students,” she said. “It’s a really wonderful partnership between our school and it supports our school motto which is ‘Work hard and be kind.’ I think it’s going to be a wonderful program that will help our students understand the needs of the community, the resources and organizations we have in our community to help meet those needs and also the ways that our children here, our students can impact and support the local community and larger community in our world.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata