What is service learning?

Service learning offers the opportunity to enrich your students’ knowledge through real-life scenarios and experiences.

In short, service learning combines community service with your lesson plan to take learning to a whole new level. When you included as part of your teaching model, you provide a new, fresh take on education that has a profound impact on community needs as well as the abilities of your students.

Does this sound difficult? It’s not! Although it takes some planning, embracing service learning can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Service learning in action

Teachers’ responsibilities encompass more than assigning math equations and writing prompts. We have an obligation to form our students into well-rounded, compassionate individuals.

Many schools have implemented vehicles to encourage students to exemplify the qualities of a productive member of society. Student of the Month programs recognize children that epitomize respect, gratitude, and honesty, for example.

By focusing on service learning, teachers take this to a whole new level. The projects that we focus on during service learning teach kids about the desirable qualities above. When selecting a cause to which to dedicate your time, think about how these life lessons will contribute to your work in the classroom.

If you teach a science class, for example, you could dedicate time to cleaning up a stream or river. This initiative will not only show the kids how they can be environmentally responsible but it will also offer an opportunity for you to teach them about the dangers of pollution in our communities.

superhero kid pointing at the sky
Photo: Porapak Apichodilok/ Pexels

5 amazing benefits found in service learning 

Service learning gives students a purpose, helps them understand the workings of their communities and helps learners connect what they do to the real world.

1. Empowerment

Children can find it intimidating or scary when faced with a real-world problem to solve. Even with the support of an adult or teacher, a student may doubt their abilities to help the world they live in. It gives them greater confidence when encouraged to make a difference in a group setting.

When the project is complete, students can review their work and be proud of their accomplishments. They have now had the chance to realize that they are not too young or inexperienced to make a difference. This opportunity builds self-esteem and passion for taking care of the world around them.

Here’s an example: Ava, a sixth grade student, is part of Beta Club. As an animal lover, she’s thought a lot about how to help animals in her area, but with no money, she felt powerless. As part of a Beta Club service learning opportunity, Ava collected supplies for a pet shelter. As a whole, the group delivered the supplies and helped the shelter with the cleanup. When she left the shelter, Ava felt empowered. Now she volunteers for the shelter once a month.

2. Awareness

Community service projects call attention to the problems in your area, like the abandoned animal problem Ava cares about. Where many people might ignore an issue, service learning encourages recognition of societal needs. When students understand the world around them and have the tools they need, they are better equipped to change the future.

The goal is to create an environment where students can recognize needs and solve them at a young age. The school-age years of children are instrumental in guiding their moral compass and beliefs. Service learning offers a straightforward approach to promoting healthy development in these areas while adding value to what students learn in the classroom.

3. Reflection

When you complete a project, each student will have a chance to reflect on the outcome and their contribution to it. This is a real-world opportunity to reflect on how students may have done things differently to avoid mistakes or obstacles along the way. Students will feel pride and ownership when they’re asked to reflect on their own accomplishments and the outcomes of their contributions.

4. Time management

A service-based learning module is a creature of structure. Typically, each stage of the lesson splits into a few different parts. To ensure that each student gets the most out of each piece of this, you need to be especially mindful of good time management practices. Each student must adhere to strict deadlines and due dates along the way.

Requiring deadlines has a great impact. Each student will learn the importance of managing their time in the unit. This is an invaluable skill to have in the classroom and beyond.

5. Lifelong impact

Perhaps the most notable quality of service learning is that it allows students to have a lifelong impact on the world around them. Making a difference in the community around them is something they will remember forever. It can give young people a greater sense of purpose, especially if they have not yet decided what they want to do in the future.

Additionally, your students will gain valuable experience that is highly sought after by college boards and employers. The quality of college education that a student gains can impact their life significantly. By giving your students the opportunity to practice these skills early and often, you can better prepare them for long-term success in higher education.

Student-farming-felixioncool:Pixabay web
Photo: Felixioncool/Pixabay

6 service-based learning unit suggestions

There are plenty of ways that you can implement service-based learning into your class. Here are some tried-and-true suggestions that work for all ages.

1. Start a gardening project

Flower beds beautify your community, and learning to take care of a garden is a great life lesson for people of all ages. You can kick it up a notch by partnering with a younger class. This method will show children how to work together and use one another’s knowledge to achieve a common goal.

2. Draw cards for soldiers

Troops in the service often go months or years without seeing family members. Have your class create greeting cards for deployed soldiers showing their gratitude and empathy for their service. You can center this project around a lesson about history or politics.

3. Spend time with seniors

Understanding your community is vital to being a productive member of it. Allow your students to spend time with their elders. Use this time to listen to firsthand stories about events in history or to build on social skills by talking themselves. Students can play board games with seniors, read books, or chat.

4. Adopt an animal

During a lesson about animals or their environment, collect money via a penny drive. Then, you can use this cash to adopt an animal through an animal welfare charity. As a show of thanks, WWF sends out a stuffed polar bear. You can send the bear home with a different child each day and encourage them to share a story about their travels or dress it up!

5. Start a recycling drive

Begin an initiative for your children to collect recyclables to bring into class with them. You can recycle the items for cash and use it to make a donation to a charity of your choice in the class’s name. This is an excellent opportunity to teach kids how to be environmentally responsible.

6. Volunteer at the local animal shelter

The importance of spaying and neutering animals is a great life lesson for students. Volunteering at the local animal shelter allows them to see the result of neglecting to do this. Additionally, they will gain skills like cleaning, maintaining a report, and following a schedule. 

Students working outside on project with teacher
Photo: Google Edu

How to structure a service learning module 

Once you have chosen a service activity, you need to form a lesson plan around it. Here is an easy four-part process that you can use to get the most out of your community service project:

Part one: Brainstorm

Before you start any service project, set the pace for the lesson by allowing children to brainstorm ideas. You can create a list of prompts for them to consider or allow them to come up with their own ideas. Encourage the class to consider the impact that their actions may have on their community. It’s also helpful to set goals for the project as a whole.

Understanding how to plan for the future and how to set attainable goals is the primary goal of this step. These skills will help your students to develop good habits that will benefit them throughout their academic career and beyond.

Part two: Research

Guide your students in gathering relevant information. Use this opportunity to teach them how to organize information in a way that is easy to understand and access. The class can collect their data using polls, charts, or graphs. Encourage each student to use a wide variety of multimedia elements to present the material they have gathered for optimal takeaway.

Part three: Presentation

Set some time aside in class to allow your students to present their findings to the class. They can explain the process for collecting information and why it is beneficial to the assignment. Complete this individually or as a group.

Presentations help develop students’ intrapersonal communication abilities. It also motivates students to pay attention and gain as much knowledge as possible to form a well-rounded presentation.

Part four: Reflection

After you have completed the project, ask your students to think back on their journey and explain their takeaways. Instruct each student or group to express what they learned, what their impact was, or how the project changed the way they think or act.

Reflection is an integral part of the discussion, as it allows your students to take a step back and look at the project as a whole. This offers the opportunity to gain clarity and draw meaningful insights from real-world situations.

The outcome of service learning

Service learning is a vehicle that touches on many facets of shaping a student. It builds confidence, adds structure, and allows students to have a hands-on approach to learning. When a student understands their community and has the tools they need to make a difference in it, the result is a competent, mature, and successful adult.

Photo: Google Edu

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