Over the years, our family has made a point to spend our summers engaged in vacations, camps, and light school work to prevent the infamous Summer Slide. As a former overnight Camp Director, I would find the best camps for my children to ensure they walked away with amazing memories and experiences.
Three years ago, my husband and I decided to throw away our familiar summer strategy and take on a new adventure. We loaded up our van and created a mini camp of our own! We enlisted the help of our older children to serve as counselors and decided to help create amazing memories for 15 children from undeserved neighborhoods.
It was at this moment, we decided we would strengthen our own children’s natural gifts and abilities, prevent the summer slide and enrich the community around us using Service Learning.
What’s the Difference between Service Learning and Community Service?
One day, your family is driving down the street. On the corner, there is a homeless man asking for food. Your child reaches into their backpack, takes out their sandwich, and hands it to the man. That night at dinner, your child asks to collect snacks for homeless people and take them to a homeless shelter. You are delighted to see the compassion and love in your child’s heart and eagerly get started. Before you know it, your family has collected over 500 snacks. You load them in the car, drive to a homeless shelter and your child drops them off. They walk away thrilled and excited that they were able to help someone in need.
Community Service is the act of helping others and can be done at any time and any place. The emphasis is placed on the people being helped and the service that is offered. Community Service is designed to impact or improve the quality of life for those being served.
Now, take the same encounter with a homeless man your child experienced and take it to the next level. You decide that not only will your child collect snacks, but they will also use this experience to dig deeper into the homeless epidemic in the United States. Your child is given the opportunity to research data, watch documentaries, write reports, speak with various individuals who work with the homeless population, and ultimately have a chance to present what they learned to family, friends, or before their class, youth group or community.
Service Learning is a dynamic approach that incorporates real-life, real-world experiences with academic skills to create an authentic learning experience. Service Learning is a powerful approach to enriching the community and the lives of our children because it accomplishes multiple areas and can be easily accomplished during the Summer months. Our family uses Service Learning to beat the Summer Slide for these 4 reasons:
1. Kids are interested in learning because they have selected the area to explore.
Having multiple children has helped me realize how different learning styles can be. Service Learning gives kids a chance to use their interest as the launch pad for their learning. Our 16-year-old son absolutely loves sports. We decided that we would incorporate an All Sports Program into our family’s non-profit organization. This program gives our son the chance to complete service while learning how to implement and manage an entire athletic program in an area that engages his interest.
2. Multiple academic areas are developed and strengthened at the same time.
Incorporating multiple academic areas in Service Learning not only saves time, but it also helps kids develop a well-rounded, real-world approach to learning. After we gave our son the title of Youth Leader, he was also given several administrative responsibilities that were critical to the success of the program. He was responsible for maintaining the database of participants, writing donation request thank you letters, keeping football stats on each player and maintaining inventory. Service Learning is an excellent way to integrate problem solving, critical thinking, cognitive development and several academic areas at once.
3. Character building skills and values are identified and refined.
Our family’s non-profit mission is to strengthen the community by supporting, educating and empowering families. Each of our children are being given the opportunity to be the hands and of feet of Jesus by helping others. These character skills and values are ones that our family holds dear. In addition, our family’s experience with servicing the community has lent itself to ongoing dinner conversations, leadership skills, communication skills, and their ability to be comfortable sharing the gospel of Jesus. While beating the Summer Slide, Service Learning integrates character building and values in a unique way because it benefits the recipient and those performing the service.
4. Kids are empowered because they realize they can make a difference in the world.
In a world filled with ongoing crisis of violence against others, drug addiction, and racism, children are constantly bombarded with negative messages. Rarely are they hearing messages of love, compassion, and understanding. As we raise our children, we wanted them to see that they too can make a difference. We wanted them to know that their voice, gifts and abilities can one day be a legacy that others read about in a history book. Service Learning empowers not only the community but also makes a lasting impact on a child.
How Do I Plan A Service Learning Project?
All Service Learning is comprised of a few basic elements: Community Need, Community Partnership, Student Input, Preparation, Connection to Academic Learning, and Structured Reflection. These elements are all addressed using Three Sanity Savers for Planning Service Learning:
This first step is extremely important to the success of a project. It gives those involved time to find an area of interest they are passionate about. This can be done through research, reading, and talking to community members to identify the needs.
- Appoint role- individual family members, co-op students, or neighbors, or groups can be assigned roles and task
- Plan- Determine which materials and resources are needed to accomplish the project
- Develop a timeline- task should be measurable and have specific dates to keep the project running smoothly
Don’t get stuck planning and not implementing! I am the kind of person who can get stuck in the planning phase and never move. Service and Learning can’t happen if all you do is plan.
- Get Started- service learning often is more than just a one-time experience. During the implementation phase, it is important to check in to review what you are doing and the why behind it
- ·Communicate- Don’t forget to share your story with others. Social media, newspapers, and community leaders are great places to not only tell your story, but also rally the support from others.
3. Reflect & Celebrate
Service Learning is so much more than just helping those in need. Taking to reflect on the project is necessary. This is a great time to look over how things went, highlights of the experience, and changes that need to be made. Be sure to thank those who supported the project as well as celebrate those who made it all possible.
The dreaded Summer Slide is real for many students. The idea of just completing a summer packet or workbooks to beat the Summer Slide is dreaded even more. Service Learning is the ideal way to incorporate learning, connect as a family or neighborhood and help build the community. Take some time and talk about what needs are in your community.
Chime in: How can you use Service Learning to beat the Summer Slide?