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Volunteering or donating items is something often reserved for the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays; however, using summertime for service learning can help children be active while building character. Volunteering as a family can also create lasting memories.
Sally was 9 years old and her sister Emily was 7 when they began volunteering at their local food bank with their family. Volunteering included sorting boxes and cans of food into different groups and then packing family boxes for the low-income families the food bank serves. The first time Sally and Emily volunteered, they asked lots of questions and enjoyed the can conveyer belt tremendously. The food bank volunteer manager had things well organized, so the kids were engaged the entire time. As they were leaving the food bank, the volunteer manager heard Sally say, “This was one of the best days of my life!” Her sister Emily piped in with, “That was fun!”
Service learning can be a teaching strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. Service learning also builds character and teaches civic responsibility as youth participate in service projects in education, public welfare, health, public safety or the environment. Families can volunteer together and reap all the benefits of service learning while making a memory.
Teaching service is most effective when children give something meaningful to them. For instance, an age-appropriate, meaningful service project for first and second graders is a teddy bear drive for children with chronic illnesses. Kids can be encouraged to give a stuffed animal of their own that is in good shape, or earn the money by doing household chores to make a purchase themselves. Children can also travel to the hospital to drop off the stuffed animals so that the giving is concrete.
Children may come up with their own ideas about service projects that have special meaning to them. Older children may work together to sell candy or crafts at a profit to purchase items such as children’s coats for less fortunate families. Service learning studies show that children who serve are more likely to grow into charitable adults.
Volunteering can be done as a family. Here are a few suggestions.
(This may involve several pieces: announcing the food drive at various classrooms, making posters, decorating the collection boxes and finally taking the cans to the food pantry or food bank.)
Working together as a family for others not only strengthens communities by helping the cause of your choice, but also models good character and strengthens family bonds.
Laura Reagan-Porras is a social issues freelance writer and sociologist. She is the mother of two volunteering daughters.