Service Learning & Community Service
Teaching children about community engagement is often called “service learning”. It is a process of involving students in community service activities to enhance both student growth and the common good. In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, it is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”
In many cases, the idea behind this is two-fold or reciprocal in nature. A project is designed to teach students about the community and providing service to others. By participating in a community service or service learning project, the students and the community both win. For elementary school kids, a community project teaches them about helping others, community partnership, citizenship, social awareness, and more. Here are the top 10 reasons to love projects like this:
- Help students learn about abstract issues – Kids learn by doing. It is difficult for children to understand that some folks do not have enough food. When you have students collect, donate, and distribute food to a food pantry, they begin to better understand how they helped others that are struggling. The experience helps solidify the learning. As Confucius says: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.
- Build pride – Children take pride in helping others. Community service can help build personal identity and even promote spiritual growth.
- Reduce stereotypes – When kids help at a food kitchen or a shelter, they meet people of all different ages, abilities, and, ethnicities. Students learn how much all people have in common even though their backgrounds may be different. This, in turn, helps to break down barriers and reduce stereotypes.
- Improve social responsibility – When students have the opportunity to meet with important community figures like firefighters and police officers, they see how the leaders in the community offer caring support to others.
- Teach empathy – When children spend time with other less fortunate people, they begin to learn empathy. Volunteering in a food kitchen, helping the elderly, or spending time with other kids that have disabilities shows students first-hand what others are going through, what the real needs are, and how they can help.
- Build citizenship – Working on a project with a group of fellow students will help build comradery amongst themselves and improve a sense of self, while building and understanding citizenship.
- Develop leadership skills – While working on a service project, children learn to communicate and collaborate together, while gaining confidence in their abilities and building leadership skills.
- Connect with members of the community – Even a small project where children bake cookies or create a piece of art for a person in the community will help strengthen their connections and better their relationships with others in the future.
- Develop critical thinking skills – While working on a real life problem, students will begin to develop their own critical-thinking skills. For example, having children work at a Habitat for Humanity job site can help them learn the importance of improving the front porch steps to a home, providing a run-off area for water, or teaching them other valuable problem-solving concepts.
- Being kind – At the root of it all is just helping kids to remember the golden rule: working on a project to help others will provide the foundation to build compassion and become more caring individuals.