It is a valuable lesson for children to understand that community service means so much more than merely fulfilling course requirements or sharpening up a college resume. Truly, there can be no real community without the service of its individual members. And nothing can prepare our children or teens to go out into the world with a wide range of understanding as to the way a community functions as a complex whole than individual personal service, and the leadership skills necessary for success in the adult world.
Service also builds a sense of value and self-esteem. It teaches compassion and empathy for the plight of others. According to developmental psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell, “research shows that civic engagement promotes higher academic achievement and develops many skills , including critical thinking, organizing, and planning. It also helps young people form an identity, an essential role of adolescence. But all volunteer jobs are not created equal and finding the best experiences for teens can be challenging.” She offers some very good suggestions for talking with your tween or teen about community service and its benefits on her site, www.rootsofaction.com.
So where to begin? Let’s look at some of the varying categories of community service. Hopefully we can give you a few ideas to discuss with your homeschool student and tweak their sense of excitement!
- Young Homeschooler. Set up a seed or plant exchange in your neighborhood. Make invitations and mail them. Come together and plant your treasures in a location where everyone can see and enjoy your efforts. Elect the youngest member of your family to be the “energy watchdog” to make sure that all lights, TV’s and appliances are shut off when not in use.
- Teen Homeschooler. Start a local environmental club. Work together and pool ideas such as building trails, building wildlife habitats and bird boxes, plant trees, or start a children’s nature garden complete with labels and learning lessons.
- Young Homeschooler. Have your child pick an art project, organize the materials, and then visit a nursing home or an elderly neighbor or shut-in. Let your child lead the project with the senior(s), and take pictures of those you have visited as a parting gift. If you can’t physically visit, you can always do the project at home, and then mail it with a hand-written letter from your child.
- Teen Homeschooler. Organize a neighborhood “helping hands” program for your local seniors — involve and motivate other friends, family members, and teens as well! There are ALWAYS tons of jobs that need to be done, especially in inclement weather — picking up groceries or prescriptions before a snow storm, and shoveling snow or mowing grass are always excellent choices. In a healthy community, the young and able should always respect and aid the elders whenever possible — without need for compensation.
Special Needs Children or Adults
- Young Homeschooler. Take some toys to the cancer ward of a children’s hospital. Although some may find it “depressing” it is an important lesson that health is a gift no matter what your age, as is the strength and dignity to deal with whatever challenge a family is dealt. Compassion learned at a young age is invaluable.
- Teen Homeschooler. Visit a rehabilitation center. Learn about patients with special needs. Volunteer to help — sometimes dealing with special needs individuals takes training and patience — both of which are important in all aspects of life.
Houses of Worship
- Young Homeschooler. If you are not already involved with a church or house of worship, contact one locally and I am sure they will be wonderfully appreciative of any volunteer efforts, no matter what your faith may be. Nursery room and bible school help are often very much needed and appreciated!
- Teen Homeschooler. Youth Fellowship is often an excellent and welcome place to hone your leadership skills and do good for others at the same time. Offer to teach a bible school study class — or a series of them depending on how many volunteers you get — and make sure that you include fun activities that the youngsters are not likely to forget (you’ll even have fun yourself!)
- Young Homeschooler. Make cards or flyers by hand with your child, and start a community drive to collect food and supplies needed for a local animal shelter. Go door-to-door if necessary and deliver your collections personally.
- Teen Homeschooler. Organize a neighborhood feral cat watch, and get involved with a safe-capture & spay/neuter program through your local animal shelter. Many clinics will spay/neuter ferals for re-release at no cost, if someone is willing to take the time to safely catch them in a special trap, deliver them, and then re-release them after the procedure. Feral cats do NOT lead easy lives, so reducing the overall population by just a few animals can save hundreds of kitties from suffering down the road.
There are quite a few additional community service ideas available for you to peruse online. Whatever you decide to pursue, remember to:
- Find a topic or cause that truly interests and motivates your children, and works well with their individual personalities.
- Make sure that the project is attainable with your current resources and timeframe.
- Once a project is selected and started, see to it that it is then followed through to fruition. A completed service, done well, will be the ultimate satisfaction for your child or teen.
And who knows — you may set off a chain of events that can change lives in ways you never even expected!