When you want to really drive home a concept about the importance of your community and civic responsibility, service learning provides a perfect opportunity. The concept is very common in higher education, but its purpose and value is just as needed in K-12.
What is Service Learning?
In essence, service learning describes a way of teaching and learning that benefits not only the students but the surrounding community as well. It works by teaching concepts in the classroom, which can be applied within that community; as a result, it is mutually beneficial to everyone involved. Although this type of learning breaks away from the traditional classroom, it offers students a chance to connect what they are learning with action, while at the same time helping to improve the lives of others around them.
The History of Service Learning
Jane Addams is one of the founders behind the idea of applying education toward help in your community. And clearly, her idea was successful. In 1904 she published a work entitled, "The Humanizing Tendency of Industrial Education" in which she talked about the benefits of essentially trading knowledge with one another while working together.
At the time of writing, she knew that this type of learning environment was successful because she and another woman, Ellen Gates Starr, had already been applying it for 15 years at the Hull House.
At the Hull House, immigrants were able to learn things like English, cooking and sewing. In return, they would help out with the nursery, kitchen and kindergarten that the house provided to the neighborhood. As a result, it taught the immigrant valuable skills that happened to be applicable in their community--the essence of service learning.
Another founder is John Dewey, a naturalistic philosopher who believed that it was in our best interest to reflect and use our knowledge gained through experience to further our growth. He felt that learning by doing was the best type of education, and that by teaching and exposing students to all different parts of a community they could learn different points of views and experience.
Instead of sitting in a room with a teacher and learning theoretical concept, you are applying the knowledge learned immediately by going out in the community. That, in turn, will not only help you better understand the concepts learned in the short term, but also instill a bigger message: the importance of using your skills to help your community and giving back.
Addams, Dewey, and others eventually spearheaded a movement for service learning that now permeates our society. For example, the Peace Corps employs thousands of individuals each year who simultaneously apply their knowledge in helping their community, and learning about themselves in the process.
How Service Learning Can Benefit Students Of All Ages
Most people come across service learning in college, before they forget about it again. However, its benefits are just as true in a K-12 environment. Here, each lesson is created to be appropriate for the age of the child, fitting in with their developmental stage and skills to apply (and learn) the same basic lessons..
For example, service learning in an elementary school may result in the older students helping to teach their younger counterparts essential reading skills. After working and collaborating together, all of the students gain something: the younger children learn how to read, while older students begin to understand patience, understanding, and taking the time necessary to get a point across.
In another example, Clifford the Big Red Dog provides a service learning for younger children. As participants are learning about the importance of sharing, they are also provided with an opportunity to apply the concept. Students may help to color or create nice messages, which can then be used in the community. In the process, the students will learn that by sharing their kindness, the impact of their new skills and knowledge can have an impact beyond themselves.
Of course, as children get older service learning concepts and applications will become more advanced. For example, learning about the history of a river within a community can be followed up with a collective effort to remove trash from that river. As a result, the students can make the connection between the history of a local landmark and its continued importance today.
Another way to add practicality to knowledge learned about the river is a more scientific approach: collecting samples, identifying life in the river, and looking for toxins or pollution. Once students have identified the problem, they can come up with a clever solution, such as creating flyers that remind the community to not litter or throw hazardous materials into the river.
The possibilities of service learning within a school environment are almost endless. After doing some survey research, one school in Philadelphia found that the number one problem facing their community was foster care. Students learned that in many situations, these children are taken from homes with only the clothes on their back.
The students then decided to have a suitcase and toy drive, so that social workers could take suitcases for children entering foster care to take their belonging and have a toy--making a stressful situation for a child less traumatic. The project not only addressed the needs of foster children who are removed from abused and neglected homes, but taught the participating students the importance of being kind to others, how to come together for a great cause, and how organize a community event.
Service learning is an amazing way of education. It not only prepares your child in the classroom, but gives them valuable insights into the community and practical application of their knowledge in the real world. In turn, it helps them to not only be successful adults, but good people. Finding a school that embraces the concept helps your children advance and grow, both in the short term and for the rest of their lives.