By Barbara A. Lewis, author of The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects
Would you like your students or child to grow excited over something besides getting the latest Furby, Nintendo 3DS, or Super Mario game? Would you like them to get turned off from iPods, tablets, and TV and turned on to something that will grow their character? Of course you would, but what else is as exciting to kids?
Service! Do not groan. It is possible, and it will greatly improve the life of those children you live or work with. It’s a great time to involve kids, because January 20 is set aside as a National Day of Service. But how do you inspire a young person to beg you to let her read to some golden oldies at a senior center?
One mother took her son to a food bank to feed homeless men in order to inspire him to catch the vision of service. Her son’s heart responded when he watched the bedraggled men who wandered in—one man with the soles of his wet tennis shoes flapping open. Her son took off his own shoes and gave them to the man.
A group of school kids learned one of their classmates had a serious type of carcinoma and made bracelets to raise over $3,000 to help with the surgery. And in Carlsbad, California, a Kindergarten class donated their own toys to a school in Mexico.
The secret lies in letting kids discover a problem, as did the kids in both of these examples. Young people are mostly sleuths by nature and like to solve mysteries. So don’t give them a project—let them find one. Here are some suggestions.
- Go on a scavenger hunt for problems or needs. Look in the air, on the ground, at houses, all around you. Encourage children to take a notebook and pencil to jot down ideas and locations. Do they see any scraggily landscape that needs trimming? Do they see an older person sitting on a porch who might need help? Are there young mothers who could use a break from taking care of babies? Do they see stray animals needing a home? Ask the children if they see anyone or anything that might need their help.
- Sit in front of the TV with your child or children and watch the news (if you dare). Ask the kids what they think should be done to address a problem you see. Seek their opinions. You may be shocked at their good ideas. Did someone just lose a home in a fire? Is there a homeless shelter that needs books or toys for families? Are there families who have fathers leaving for the military and who might love a teddy bear?
- Read a book that might inspire kids to think about service. Books such as The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and Curley by James A. Bryant Jr., all set the stage for a good brainstorming session of something kids might do to serve another.
- Play a “Pay It Forward” experience with your child or group. Each child secretly chooses someone to do a good deed for, or you can draw names from a hat so that all children are chosen. When you receive a gift or kindness, you pass it on anonymously.
- Join an organization that already has a project. This is an easy way to do it, but it does have drawbacks. The children won’t be initiating the service. As a result, they won’t have the leadership, and it probably won’t totally turn them on to service, but it can help.
Here are some quick ways you might help your kids discover a service project:
- Adopt a grand friend. Work with a senior center or rest home. The kids could record the stories of the “good old days,” compile them, and make booklets to return to the seniors.
- Collect groceries, mittens, toys, school supplies, or other useful items and find a worthy place to donate them.
- Set up a buddy system at school to care for kids with special needs. Make a schedule of young volunteers.
- Find a forever home for an animal at a local shelter.
- Plant a tree in your yard or on your school grounds, or shovel snow for someone who needs help (depending upon where you live).
- Collect used books and donate them to Books for Kids.
It doesn’t matter so much what the young person does, only that he or she does something. But remember the secret: the more children are in charge of the service, the more the service will charge them up. Something wonderful happens when you serve others. You find excitement that goes beyond playing video games. You grow more confident, you develop leadership, you feel there is a reason for your existence, and most of all—you can develop caring for others as a habit.
How will you mark National Day of Service?
Barbara A. Lewis is an author and educator who teaches kids how to think and solve real problems. Her elementary school students initiated the cleanup of hazardous waste, improved sidewalks, planted thousands of trees, and even instigated and pushed through several state laws and an amendment to a national law. She has been featured in/on many national newspapers, magazines, and news programs, and her books have won Parenting’s Reading Magic Award and been named “Best of the Best for Children” by the American Library Association, among other honors.
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