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Plan a Mini-Service-Learning Project for the Holidays

Kim Haynes

To Do Today: Plan a Mini-Service-Learning Project for the HolidaysIt’s a good time of year to give back. But service learning projects can be dauntingly long, and at this point in the school year, you have less class time, not more. Try this plan for a shorter service project that mixes a dash of giving back with a taste of skill development for an educational holiday treat!

Service Learning Project Recipe
• Choose your cause.
• Choose your project.
• Prepare.
• Provide the service.
• Report back.

As you complete these steps, there are several good opportunities to integrate curricular content and academic skills.

Step 1: Choose your cause.

Could you find a way to connect the cause to something your students are learning about? For example, a beach clean-up day if they’re studying ecology or helping a local animal shelter if they’ve been studying animals? Here’s a brief list of common causes/places that can benefit from your help.

See if you can make any connections to your curriculum:

  • Retirement home/nursing home
  • Food pantry
  • Homeless shelter
  • Troops/veterans/families of troops or veterans
  • People with disabilities
  • Animal shelter/animal rescue group
  • Environmental group/beach or trail clean up
  • Hospital/hospice
  • School (especially one in an impoverished community)

These are local options, but remember that there are national and international charities that can also use help. Choose what is best for your class.

For older students, choosing the cause could be an assignment in itself. Provide them with some parameters (distance from school, time required, etc.) and have them research potential causes and make a proposal to the rest of the class. Let students vote on which cause they will support this time.

Step 2: Choose your project.

What are you going to do for the retirement home residents, for veterans, or for the local children’s hospital? Here are some possible ideas:

  • Collect goods (canned food, blankets, toys, supplies for animals)
  • Bring holiday cheer (make cards or holiday decorations, throw a holiday party, put on a show)
  • Raise money (host a bake sale, car wash, etc.)
  • Visit and perform a service (read to kindergarten class, shovel snow from elderly people’s driveways)

Next, consider how to incorporate academic skills into the project:

  • If you’re collecting goods, have students write before and after stories. How do the animals feel when they’re alone in a cage at the animal shelter? How do they feel after they get blankets and toys that your students collected? It’s a good creative writing exercise that also develops empathy. Too grim for your students? Have them create posters, advertisements, public service announcements, or commercials to encourage people to give. This builds persuasive writing skills and can increase your overall collection totals.
  • Bringing Holiday Cheer? Turn it into a “how to” exercise. Have students write out how to bake holiday cookies or how to design an ornament. For older students, make it a research assignment. What kind of tree branches would make the best holiday wreath? Students can research it and then create the wreaths. If you’re planning a holiday party or show, why not make it a “period piece” by choosing a different era in history for your theme? This can be especially effective at a retirement home, where the residents might have great stories about the way they celebrated the holidays in the 1940s or 50s.
  • If you’re trying to raise money, it’s a perfect time to work on math skills. Have students figure out what their costs will be, how to price what they’re selling, how much profit they will earn, and so on. You can also work on persuasive writing skills by having students create ads to promote the bake sale, car wash, etc.
  • Visiting and performing a service in person? Students can practice communication skills by emailing, writing a letter, or calling on the phone to arrange the visit.  Students can also write up instructions or make brochures on how to behave during the visit.

We have no money for field trips. How do we do service projects?

No money, no problem! There are still things your students can do without leaving the classroom. Collecting goods or raising money can be done on campus, with a few volunteers (or even just you, the teacher) arranging to get the goods or money to the people who need it. If you want to spread holiday cheer, consider making a holiday video that could be shown at a retirement home or in a hospital. Here are some other projects that don’t require buses or permission slips:

  • Have students write, illustrate, and publish children’s books with a holiday theme. Send the books to a homeless shelter that serves families, a hospice that cares for sick children, a children’s hospital, or a local elementary school.
  • Believe it or not, there are increased dangers around the holidays – the risk of home fires because of holiday decorations, and increased risk of pets becoming ill from eating poisonous plants or humans’ holiday treats. Have students research these risks – maybe even bring in a guest speaker from the fire department or animal shelter to discuss them – and then have students create brochures or PSAs to inform family and friends about how to stay safe during the holidays.
  • Students can create a “guide for giving” that identifies local charities that need help. This project builds research skills, and can encourage students to think more about helping others. The guide for giving could be published as a pamphlet or on a class website, allowing parents and other members of the school community to learn about worthy causes that could use assistance.

Step 3: Prepare.

Determine what steps need to be taken in class and what steps will be taken out of class. Depending on the age of your students, this is an excellent time to model project-planning skills that they can benefit from. Don’t present them with the dates, times, and deadlines all planned out – work through it with them so they start to understand the process involved in arranging something like this.

Step 4: Provide the service.

To the students, this might be the “fun part,” especially if you’re going somewhere or taking class time to do something different. That’s okay – if you built in academic activities before and after this, they’re still getting plenty of intellectual benefits from the project and also building character.

Step 5: Report back.

This is the final chance to incorporate academic skills into the project. After performing the service, students can write about their experience and what they learned. This could be anything from a personal reflection to a newspaper-style report on what occurred, depending on your preference and what writing skills you want to encourage.

If you were able to connect the service to some other part of your curriculum, your post-service writing options are even wider. It’s one thing to read about people with disabilities or children with cancer; it’s quite another to interact with those people. Did the service experience change their view of the story or content they were studying? Why or why not?

By combining skills and curriculum with service, you can create a new academic way to celebrate the holidays and broaden your students’ understanding of the world while helping others – so everyone wins!

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