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How to integrate service learning into the classroom

Amanda ClarkMay 22, 2019

four kids hugging

One popular trend in education is service learning. But what exactly is it? Well, it’s just as it sounds: a way to get your kids out into the community and to help others.

Naturally, teachers may wonder how they can do this while still meeting the standards. Fear not, though — many of these community lessons teach valuable educational and life skills. It’s really a win-win for all from the school to the community, and, of course, the kids.

I always admired that my high school — Burr and Burton Academy — required students to have 50 hours of community service by the time they graduated. Although my class had only 130 students (we’re talking about Vermont here), if you multiply that by 50, that’s a lot of community aid.

In addition to requiring service learning, you can also integrate it into your curriculum. If you’re curious to learn more, we’ve done the leg work for you.

8 fun service learning project ideas

Recycle bin with plastic bottles on grass
Photo credit :

1. Go all out for National Clean Up Day

Why not kick off service learning by taking part in National Clean Up Day? When I was in middle school, a bunch of us gathered with trash bags in hand on this environmental holiday to do some good.

We had read articles about this day in class, so the connections and enthusiasm to pick up garbage were already flowing. One teacher even told us the history of National Clean Up Day and statistics about waste before we started.

This service learning activity can relate to lots of subjects. Here are a few ideas for your classroom:

  • Discuss waste with regard to science or ecology. How does waste pollution impact the environment or our own quality of life?
  • Have your students journal their service experience for a language arts or communication class. You can ask them to discuss specific accomplishments or simply let them write freely.
  • Study the effects of waste on other countries in social studies. For example, you could explore China’s air pollution crisis or India’s waste problem.

The list is endless, and it all starts with an environmental holiday (which isn’t well known but should be). Plus, getting kids to clean up their community isn’t a headache to organize!

Woman holding a fruits and vegetables basket
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2. Donate money to the food shelf

Food pantries are always in need of extra help. This is a great activity for a few reasons. First, it doesn’t require too much of a commitment from anyone in particular — the larger your student body, the greater your impact. It’s also something that any level, from class, school, or even district.

In the past, I organized a penny drive with our whole school. We studied hunger in the United States and raised money for the local pantry. Then, we took a field trip and learned more about the process of volunteering and donating.

Some students didn’t even know that the local food shelf existed, so the mere awareness that they took away from this experience was priceless.

green house being build
Photo credit : Pixabay

3.  Build a house — seriously

There’s a great organization known as Habitat for Humanity that builds houses for people in need. Schools are hopping on this bandwagon by having students take part — why not?

In high school, I took a shop class. I was ecstatic after making a stool — which obviously doesn’t compare to building a house, but it was close enough for me. Not only would volunteering at Habitat of Humanity have helped others, but it would have also benefited my household. You can save a lot of money if you don’t have to hire a handyman!

And just like with other service projects, you can add an academic component. Think about measurements, architecture designs, and calculating square footage, as well as environmental considerations and the necessary communication skills to work as a team.

cute puppy being pet at a shelter
Photo credit : Helena Lopes

4. Volunteer at the local pet rescue

Abandoned puppies and kittens need of love — and students have plenty of it to give. Nonprofit organizations are always in need of helpers. Think about how meaningful it is to walk a dog or pet a cat (and how fun it is, too!).

Kids love animals, so this opportunity is about as perfect as it gets! And when you visit your local pet shelter, you could learn the history and statistics of these wonderful organizations.

Volunteering at a rescue could give your youngsters a better idea of what it takes to care for a pet — and what happens to them if you don’t.

four teens washing a car with buckets
Photo credit : Isaac Taylor

5. Organize a car wash and donate the money to charity

You may have participated in a fundraising car wash when you were a kid. I always had a blast playing in the suds. Who doesn’t like soap fights while washing people’s cars and raising money for a charitable cause?

To add to the learning, students could make informative signs about the organization and practice their communication, artistic, and marketing skills.

Sure, preparing a car wash takes some effort and work, but you can raise money for any good cause. (People will be psyched for the help!)

Even better, this helps students brush up on their math and personal finance by estimating how much money they’ll need to spend on supplies and how much they’ll end up raising.

Young person holding an elderly's hand
Photo credit : Matthias Zomer

6. Volunteer your time with the elderly

Consider “adopting” a nursing home and taking part in every holiday. This can come in many forms:

  • Making Valentine’s cards.
  • Helping to decorate the Christmas tree.
  • Dying eggs during Easter.

You don’t just have to limit it to the holidays, though. At one school where I worked, a couple of kids volunteered to help out at a nursing home every few days. They enjoyed playing board games and the Wii with the residents!

Others interviewed a retiree and then wrote a paper on their experience helping others. You’ll find that there are countless service learning opportunities to help out elders.

Shovel with dirt planting seeds in a garden
Photo credit : Lisa Fotios

7. Create a school garden

When I was in grad school becoming a teacher, I studied abroad in New Zealand. There, I stayed with other educators and learned about their excellent middle school strategies.

One of the coolest service learning activities that I noticed was that a lot of schools in New Zealand were making community gardens. The whole school took shifts to maintain these fresh fruits and veggies as they grew. (They also used the vegetables in their lunches!) I had never seen a school do this before — and it’s actually a brilliant idea.

It takes hard work, and I haven’t personally experienced implementing it, but I’ve always wanted to. If you could get the whole school involved and take shifts just like they did in New Zealand, it would be an incredible service learning opportunity (and a healthy one, too).

8. Offer tax prep assistance to the community

I don’t know about you, but I never learned how to do my taxes in school, and I sure wish I had. So how about teaching kids this necessary life skill and then taking it a step further by opening a tax help session for the community?

Here are two reasons why you might want to consider this task:

  • It teaches kids an essential life skill that many (if not all) of them lack (including myself until after I graduated!).
  • According to Bloom’s taxonomy, teaching and creating material is the best way we learn.

This service learning project could excite your students’ parents, too! Everyone has to fill out taxes at some point — it’s always better to learn how to do so early on than to wait until you grow up and find yourself unprepared.

You could easily relate this activity to a unit on government or economics and discuss the important role that taxation plays in our society.

Be realistic about service learning

You probably can’t do service learning every day, and that’s totally understandable — but how about shooting for once a year? If you do more, kudos!
Service learning projects help your students develop community awareness AND life skills. Seriously, it’s a win-win for everyone — there’s a lot to gain by taking part in these types of projects.

Photo credit : Archie Binamira /

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