Author Spotlight: Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following spotlight was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News. Click here to subscribe.

Cathryn Berger Kaye, FSP AuthorService learning expert Cathryn Berger Kaye, author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action, answers our questions on the best way to instill a service-oriented mindset in young people.

Q: How can we steer young people toward a service-oriented mindset?

A: One of the best ways is by modeling a service mindset ourselves. Young people of all ages are influenced by the behaviors they see of others, particularly by people they respect. If service is something that people only talk about, then the validity is missing. Once service learning is a valued part of a school (or youth group or other program), young people will naturally want to participate. Academic integration can create the best outcomes!

Q: Sometimes the world’s problems can seem too big for one person or classroom to tackle. How can you make service learning seem manageable?

A: I always admire that kids want to end world hunger. Me too. But that’s huge. So I often draw a large circle to represent world hunger, then make a thin slice (think pizza image) and ask, “Which part of ending hunger will we start with today?” Making HUGE ideas relatable also helps. We can’t stop a war, however, we can all work together to replace bullying at school with respectful relationships. Start with what we can do. Also, whenever service can extend from learning, then service learning becomes a vehicle or pedagogy that moves the curriculum forward and is much easier and seamless than an add on.

Q: Throughout your years working with schools on service learning, what has surprised you the most?

A: It’s easier to integrate service learning within a school community than most people suspect. Service learning is a best teaching practice. Once administrators, curriculum specialists, and teachers realize service learning engages, inspires, and elevates students to excel—and can advance school priorities for exceeding academic standards—it’s a WOW moment. What surprises teachers the most is how students of all abilities and mindsets benefit. It’s a win-win-win for students, schools, and the community.

Q: What are the biggest benefits to introducing service learning to children early in life?

A: Every age is the perfect age to engage students in a meaningful service learning process. Even in the early grades students can understand the five stages of service learning: investigation, preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration. This creates a transferable learning approach they can use in all their grades and extends this understanding of advocating for the common good both in and out of school. Plus service learning is fun. It builds on the interests, skills, and talents of the students so every child is valued. That’s another win!

Q: What are some ways service learning can continue at home?

A: At home, the idea of “service learning” transforms into “family service.” In my family, we found ways, beginning when the children were young throughout their teen years, to have significant times together engaging in service. These are treasured memories. We served Thanksgiving meals, joined others preparing food for people living with HIV and AIDS, spent time with elders in residential facilities, planted trees, participated in a turtle release, painted over graffiti, and more. During these activities we saw each other in new ways. We observed abilities we hadn’t seen before and experienced caring that brought us all closer. In a family, we don’t experience the academic element in the service learning process, though knowing about service learning helped me listen more closely to my children to build experiences from their interests and draw upon their skills and talents. For my part, I was an instigator! I would choose books to read aloud that would pique their curiosity and newspaper articles that made my kids want to know more and to do something. Within the family, service builds lifelong habits of the heart.

Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is an international service learning and education consultant and a former classroom teacher. She presents at conferences around the world and works with state departments of education, university faculty and students, school districts, and classroom teachers on a variety of education issues such as service learning, civic responsibility, student leadership, and respectful school communities. For more about Cathryn Berger Kaye and her global offering of workshops and presentations at conferences and schools or her Summer Service Learning Institutes, visit or email

Free Spirit books by Cathryn Berger Kaye:

The Complete Guide to Service LearningGoing Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & WetlandsMake a Splash: A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands

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