Tips and Blueprints for successful Service-Learning Projects to maximize student success!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when embarking on service learning:
1. Don’t worry about age! We never separated the kids, they can all participate in some capacity. Let them work together.
2. Don’t have any expectations and don’t let the kids have expectations either. When we have fundraisers, we never let the kids think about how much money we would raise. We always reinforce that the human participation was most important, as long as someone came, and something was raised, then it’s still service.
3. Expect to spend some money, that’s life. It’s important to be realistic. Not all of the projects require money though.
4. 100% of the money collected is always donated to the charity. Use a money order, take photos of it for transparency and make the image available to those who want to see it. Transparency is key for future trust and participation.
5. It’s natural for the kids to want to keep some of the money. Let them know it’s natural, but it’s not right. The point of the project is to assist others. The reward is increasing our capacity for heart, humanity and compassion. Sure, this concept is obscure to kid's at first, but serving with their friends is FUN and eventually, the patterns of service bring great enjoyment! It's no different than encouraging a musical instrument or sport. If they put forth some effort, even when they are inclined to quit, the reward is inevitable. Having said that, service should be encouraged, not forced.
6. Have a “no pressure” approach. We never rang door bells or confronted people for their participation. When distributing fliers, or dropping of gifts, we left them on door steps or rolled and inserted into screens, etc.. that way people could collect the flier and consider our project without feeling pressured. This is very important, be non-invasive and teach the kids to be considerate and non-invasive.
7. When possible, hand out thank you gifts or cards to the people who participate in the project.
8. Employ LOTS of enthusiasm, even if the project is mildly successful, let the kids know that if they make a difference for even just one person, it’s a big deal and some thing to be joyous about!
9. When consulting the kids for project ideas, have a back-up idea. They might have great ideas, and if so, use their ideas. However, be realistic, especially with young kids, some of the ideas aren’t practical. Instead of critiquing, branch off their ideas into something you know will be successful. Use the art of influence to lead them if necessary, until they are old enough to be more practical. However, if their ideas are doable, then definitely do it!
10. Remember, always use the method of consultation-action-reflection! Always consult with the kids, always ACT on the plan (teach them to follow through, no matter what!) Some projects will go through a “boring” phase, especially getting ready for a craft sale or braiding bracelets, it’s natural to get tired of doing something repetitive. This is a perfect opportunity to teach the kids to keep their commitments regardless of fun-factor. When the project is complete they will understand the joy that comes with a completed service project. Equally important is the reflection stage. Though, take note of the flaws and listen to the kids, they are really “reflecting”. You’re there to offer encouragement and guide their key points if necessary. This can be done by keeping a journal, but really, face-to-face verbal reflection is best.
11. Try to avoid external rewards and celebrations. The only project we ever concluded with celebrations were the Nature-Preserve cleanups. After the clean-ups we relocate down the street to a local beach for lunch and swimming. The cleanups are laborious though, so this makes sense. Otherwise, try to encourage the kids to feel really happy and fulfilled from their job well done and fun with friends. Take comfort and a sense of peace for having made a difference.
12. Don’t be afraid to ask charities for a thank you letter. Most charities and organizations will automatically send a thank you letter for donations, but if you’re in doubt, it’s okay to ask. Just let your contact person know how much it would mean to the kids, to receive a special "Thank you".
It is entirely possible to set up a school year around service projects and still teach the necessary academics. This was a big component of our class project and as we continue through the years to come, service learning will take center stage in our class structure. If we can inspire the spirit of service in our children, then I dare say, the future is quite bright. Service Leaning encourages an outward view. Active and creative service projects are a wonderful tool for all types of learners (especially kinesthetic learners). I believe it could be the future of education. Kids will have fun doing service with friends. Encourage them to reach out to one another and build friendships. All obstacles are transcended in the field of service, the playing ground is leveled. Laughing, creating and in motion, they have fun! Service projects provide an atmosphere for all of this, but are devoid of the self-focus we experience in most everyday activities. Encourage your kids to reach out to one another, and we might just have a generation of people who care and exert effort to improve the quality of life for one another (not just themselves).
When contacting an organization about volunteering, it's good to compose a simple letter or email. Often, contact info can be found on organization's websites. I prefer this method to "calling" because it gives the coordinators time to consider your proposal without feeling pressured. Here is a blueprint intro email for volunteering:
My name is Jaime and I have a group of kids (ages 6-10) who love to be of service. We truly enjoy volunteering. I was wondering if you would consider allowing us to volunteer with your organization in some capacity? Of course, with kids this young, we understand the opportunities might be limited, but we're happy to serve in any way possible. Naturally, the kids will be well supervised and accompanied by myself and another adult.
I would love to discuss this further, if you think you have something with which we can assist.
Thank you for your consideration,
Jaime Manfra & approximately 7 kids (ages 5-10)"
You can use this blueprint and personalize it to fit your group/needs. This has always worked remarkably well for us.
Hospice, children's hospitals, habitat for humanity, homeless shelters, youth run away shelters, community farms, animal rescues, animal shelters, local petting zoos, friends who provide animal-fostering, neighborhood good-deeds, local nature/park cleanups, neighborhood cleanups, day-cares, reading to elderly or young children, Assisted Living Facilities, holiday food/toy drives, neighborhood canned food drives, book collections and distributions, bagged lunches for labor pools or food shelters, soup kitchens. I'll add to this as more come to me. feel free to contact me with more suggestions.
Also-reach out to religious communities, Baha'i, Ministries, Mosques and other houses of worships and temples. Tell them you have kids and want to connect on an "interfaith" level. Offer to bring a craft to do with your kids and their kids at their church or temple, build friendships!