There are few experiences that can have a greater impact on a student than serving others. Children can do incredible things in their community with support and encouragement from caring adults. The children at the Lutheran Social Services Childcare and Education Programs participate in monthly service learning activities that are developmentally appropriate and fun for students. The staff working with toddlers, preschool and elementary school-age children support students at their level, ensuring students have success in their experience. The benefits for kids are enormous. Kids learn that they are able to be helpers, they practice good decision making skills, they gain confidence and they learn to demonstrate generosity. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Start with their passion: Find out what a child cares about and allow their giving to become an extension of their passion. If a child loves animals they might enjoy volunteering for a local animal shelter. The experience will have a long-term positive impact on the child if they enjoy it and can see how they are helping.
- Prepare: Ensure that kids know what to expect when they are volunteering. Children will be more comfortable visiting an elder-care facility if they know that some of the residents might have a hard time hearing them or that some might use a wheel chair or walker to move from place to place.
- Link with learning: If a child is learning about plants in school consider a garden where the produce. If they are working on reading, visit an elder-care facility to read to a resident. If they are writing consider a letter to a service member, hospital patient, firefighter, or someone else.
- Allow kids to think outside the box: The Hilltop After-School kids were learning about community and discovered that our snowplow drivers are unsung heroes. They made goody bags and thank you notes to show their appreciation for those that keep the roads safe.
- Make opportunities developmentally appropriate: The students at Southern Hills After-School Program made fleece tied blankets to give to hospice patients. Students at different ages and abilities could do different parts of the project. Some picked fabric, some measured, some cut and some tied.
- Keep it real: If your child chooses a project that they can work on at home, try to make the experience more real by taking the child to see who they are helping. For example, kids can make sock cat toys and other gifts for animals at the Sioux Falls Humane Society. (For instructions visit: http://www.sfhumanesociety.com/content.asp?secId=78&ParentId=45 ) Having the kids participate in delivering these items is an important part of the experience.
- Plan for reflection: It is absolutely essential that children and youth be provided with an opportunity to reflect on their experience. Kids will have questions as that is an essential part of learning. It is important for them to think about what they did well, what they would change next time and what a sort of impact they made. Reflection is key to kids deciding to volunteer again.
Get started! To brainstorm with your child you can start with three categories: Helping people, helping animals, helping the environment. If you are in the Sioux Falls area you can start at the Volunteer Helpline: http://www.helplinecenter.org/VolunteerHelpline.aspx
If you would like to learn more about the LSS Childcare and Education Programs please visit: http://www.lsssd.org/children_services/infant_toddler_enrichment/
If you are an adult reading this article and want to make a difference for children, please consider becoming a mentor: http://www.lsssd.org/children_services/mentor_program/
Together we can make a difference. Make a financial gift to LSS today.
By Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services