Do you have a student in your class who is always willing to help out? You can send them to the front office with a note, ask them to hand out papers and clean up messes, knowing they will always say yes?
Teachers often dream about having a classroom of students who are looking to help them and help each other. The good news is you can develop a classroom of service-minded students who want to help others and make their schools and communities better. Here is how you can develop future-ready skills like caring, giving and helping among your students.
Kids are Never Too Young to Learn How to Help Others
No matter how young your students are, they can all start to learn about helping others and being kind to each other. Journalist Tim Scott profiled one daycare owner who takes her kids to ring bells for the Salvation Army every holiday season. Barb Sinner’s been doing this for the past 24 years.
Because they’re young children, volunteer opportunities are difficult to find, Sinner says. “It’s something they can do and feel like they’ve given to someone else.”
She’s found that some of those children continue the tradition as teens and adults. Even if they don’t turn into bell ringers in the future, the joy of giving back and making a difference sticks with them.
“Charity is a learned behavior,” agrees Aaron Hanson, director of development at Shriners for Children Medical Center. “The developmental milestone of putting others before oneself is significant and can be a predictor of greater generosity, positivity, perseverance, and altruism later in life.”
Helping Others is a Learned Personality Trait
For some people, it may seem like helping others comes naturally. But as Hanson said, altruism and giving back are learned behaviors. The more your students are exposed to these concepts, the more they will be able to put them into practice.
“I think that even when the abstract understanding isn’t there, it’s important to model these values so when your child is old enough to understand, it’s not a big shock to their lifestyle,” Taslim Jaffer tells Chimp, an online giving platform. “If they have grown up always putting aside some of their allowance for charity, or choosing items in a grocery store to donate to the food bank, they will think nothing of it at any age. The younger you start, the more it becomes just a part of who they are.”
This can be applied to teachers as well. Schools that introduce the concept of helping others in lower grades can reinforce the message as students grow and eventually graduate.
“Civic engagement is much like a sport; you can’t jump into a game without understanding the rules and practicing it,” says Jennifer Bloom, the executive director of the Learning Law and Democracy Foundation. “But many people think that citizens can get to age 18, jump in, and do well and care about [community service].”
Bloom’s comments come after a report that student volunteer levels have decreased since 2005. About 25 percent of teens volunteered in 2015, down from 28 percent in 2005 and ending a 30-year rise in teen volunteer rates. “Unfortunately, some students aren’t seeing kindness in their homes, and haven’t been taught by example,” writes primary teacher Elyse Rycroft. “So anytime you can take a moment to teach children how to treat others with kindness, you should seize the opportunity.”
It is better to reinforce a learned lesson than to skip over material that you think your students should already know.
Build Acts of Service Into the Curriculum
It is important to tie the act of service to other aspects of students’ lives, showing how a small act can have a big impact and be relevant outside of the classroom experience, explains Ellie Kapsalis at Children’s Bureau.
For example, if there is a natural disaster nearby, students can understand how their acts of giving or helping can benefit the families affected. Teachers can also look for ways to tie service initiatives to their lesson plans. Fortunately, it isn’t hard to incorporate the concepts of giving back and helping others into your lesson plans, no matter what students you teach or what lessons you focus on.
The team at the nonprofit organization Lifewater shared two ways students raised money to provide water for communities that need it. When kindergarteners in São Paulo, Brazil learned about water shortages, they created posters and an awareness campaign in their school and went to other classrooms to make presentations. This tied into science, activism, and public speaking.
Meanwhile, fifth graders in California held a safe water fundraiser where they created a “wax museum,” where they dressed up as important historical figures. Their living wax museum event raised over $1,800 while tying the activity into history lessons.
There are also entire programs available that your school can adopt to make sure each student is exposed to the skill of helping others.
In another example, the fifth graders at Sawgrass Bay Elementary in Clermont, Florida opened a “care closet” to help their peers. More than 74 percent of students at the school qualify for free or reduced lunches, and the closet is meant to help students support their peers by stocking it with various necessities. The closet has clothes for students of all ages, non-perishable food, school supplies, and even diapers for families that need them. While fifth-grade teacher Katie Self introduced the idea of the closet, her students took over, making it a resource for the rest of the student body.
Sawgrass Bay Elementary is a designated Leader in Me school, which prepares students to succeed outside of the classroom. Learners don’t focus only on math and reading, but develop their critical thinking, problem solving, public speaking, teamwork and social awareness skills. The Leader in Me program was developed by Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Its goal is to give kids the tools to become successful adults — and this includes future-ready skills alongside technical knowledge.
Resources for Encouraging Service In the Classroom
If you’re looking for a place to start to teach students to help others, turn to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which encourages students to become “Raktivists” or students who use random acts of kindness or service to make their schools better. They provide lesson plans for students K-8, lists of kindness-related activities and share videos of students participating in acts of kindness. Their pages have everything you need to bring RAK to the classroom.
From there, check out an article by teacher Christine Sarikas listing 129 service project ideas for students. These range from general ideas like organizing a car wash and registering people to vote to specific sections of ideas related to kids, senior citizens, pets, and the environment. She has a section for kids looking to perform acts of service in school, including tutoring other students, providing free music lessons and donating books and stuffed animals to younger peers.
There are also tech tools teachers can recommend to parents to encourage charitable giving. RoosterMoney is an allowance app parents can use to pay their kids and see how much they save, spend and donate to charity. There are 25 thousand charities to choose from, and making a donation from their “Give Pot” is done by a tap.
Along with encouraging kids to help others with part of their allowance, these allowance apps help kids learn how to better manage their money. Kids can learn good money habits along with the importance of developing a service-minded focus.
Additional Benefits of Developing Giving Kids
While service-minded students might help in the classroom, there are additional benefits to giving back that can help kids and teens throughout their lives.
According to a survey conducted by x2VOL, an organization that tracks and reports community service hours, 58 percent of college admissions personnel nationwide agreed that a student’s community service hours has a positive impact on their admissions potential.
Of course, service hours alone won’t get kids in. Instead, 53 percent of admissions professionals said that volunteer work serves as a “tie-breaker” between equally qualified students. When GPA, SAT and other aspects are all equal, then service hours can push one student ahead of another.
Plus, students who care about each other are less likely to bully each other. Teacher Jennifer Gunn writes that one out of every five students reports being bullied, including being called names, having rumors spread about them, and being excluded from activities. Bullying kids turn into bullying teens, with 25 percent of adolescents saying they have been bullied on their phones or on the web.
Encouraging students to acknowledge and compliment each other can go a long way toward reducing negative thoughts and the temptation to bully or harm their peers.
As you develop giving and service programs in your school, you may be surprised how enthusiastic kids are to join in. For example, many students at Sequoyah Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee participate in a Helping Hands after school program where they assist with various chores and activities. When asked why they joined, many students simply say that they like helping people.
There is no downside to incorporating giving and service into your classroom. By spending a few minutes each week teaching about giving back and showing your students how to find ways to help, you can develop skills for the future that will make them caring, thoughtful adults.
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