I recently wrote about teaching children empathy and included several resources on the topic. Today I want to address how a school can create an atmosphere of empathy for others while supporting their local community.
Community service is a term that can take on a feel of an obligation such as when ordered by the courts as a consequence. It can be a box to check in order to stay in a high school club, graduate from some high school programs, or as an accomplishment to add to your college resume. When you feel like you have to do something, rather than doing it because you want to serve, you give only what you have to and you may not have a great attitude.
How do you build that drive in others to give back their time, money, or talents?
It starts young. When children observe the people they care about picking up trash on a walk, helping a neighbor mow their yard, or donating food to a food bank being kind and giving back becomes just part of their world. In your school, you can imbed opportunities for helping others in the classroom (as discussed in the previous post) and in your local community.
At my last school we coordinated opportunities for the families and staff to give back to their community throughout the school year. Every 4-8 weeks, depending on the time of year and the need, we created an opportunity for the families to talk about community services and help out in some way.
To get started you first need to find out what your community needs and what the families in your program are passionate about supporting. I recommend you look for age appropriate books about community service and possibly topic specific. For example, if you are doing a food drive find a child friendly book about a food drive. See the tips at the end of this post for things to think about when organizing a drive.
Volunteer Opportunities for Families and Schools
Greeting Cards: Encourage families to make cards that can then be delivered to a Veteran’s hospital, nursing, or children’s hospital. You can do this in February if your school recognizes Valentine’s day. You can also set up your art or writing table to work in cards at school. I encourage you to leave off any identifying information (i.e.: child’s name).
Diaper Drives: In our city we have a diaper bank where families can come get a pack of diapers if needed. Many other organizations do baby related drives. You could collect diapers (our local diaper bank will take open packs of diapers), wipes, formula, and baby food.
Food Drives: There are so many organizations that take food! Research in your community. Often schools will have a food pantry and little free food pantries are popping up all over! There are organizations that collect food then distribute food to children at the end of the week to help provide food in the home. If you don’t know a local organization, ask your parent board or email the families.
Coat Drives: In the fall or as the weather warms (people are cleaning out their coats for the season!) is a good time to do a coat drive. Inquire at your local public school or with social services to see if they take donations.
Toiletries Drive: If you have an organization that works with people who are homeless they often take toiletry donations to make a kit or you can make your own kits. Suggested items for the kit: A zip lock with shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, a pair of socks, a few snack bars. Ask parents about their hotel sized samples to add to the collection.
Book Drives: Collect new or gently used books to donate to a school, to put into LIttle Free Libraries in your community, or donate to an organization that gives books to children.
Halloween Candy Donation: After Halloween parents can donate their extra candy to Treats for Troops. There is a search box on their website for you to find a location to donate your candy to be sent overseas to soldiers.
Toy Drive- Toys for Tots is one of the biggest distributors for toys to families in need around the holidays. Many organizations have ‘adopt a family’ opportunities around the winter holidays as well.
Financial Donation: If you have a favorite local organization that you want to support raise money to donate. Ideas for raising money: yard sale, bake sale, have the children make note cards to sale, auction off collaborative pieces of art or other creations.
Animal Shelter: Collect donations of pet food, collars, leashes, pet toys to give to a local shelter.
A few tips…
Get the kids involved to make signs for the school, decorate collection boxes, and read stories about community services.
Offer plenty of opportunities for parents to contribute in ways that do not involve going out and buying things. That can be stressful on people's finances and time.
Get the parents involved. Let them help sort and bag collections. You can also ask for volunteers to deliver the donations.
Call any organization you are going to donate to prior to beginning the collections. Sometimes they have specific request of things they need or do not take. It will save you a lot of trouble knowing their guidelines in advance!
Survey the families in the school and find out what organizations they are already involved in and consider creating a donation drive for those organizations.
Working to build a sense of community in your classroom, in your school, and then in your neighborhood will create a generation of empathic, kind children that give back to their community. We love to hear about the ways your school gives back to your community. Share your experiences below!