The week between Christmas and New Year tends to be family time without the frantic preparations of the week before. If parents are off work and looking for meaningful activities for the whole family, this is a great time for service projects and service learning.
Service projects encourage children to connect with people and learn that giving can mean giving of yourself just because you want to or just because someone else really needs you.
Spending our time serving others and modeling this service for our children is an important way to help them learn about real problems close to home. In the case of longer term projects, they might see problems solved. Even with one-time volunteering, they will see problems addressed. Either way, service learning gives children in particular a safe way to learn about their own community and actively contribute by serving others.
Where Can You Volunteer?
Winter can be an especially difficult time for those facing economic hardship. Even after the first big rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas, food banks and shelters still need your help. Families can collect, sort, and distribute food. Nursing homes will continue to welcome volunteer families as the residents’ own families finish their holiday visits. Goodwill and Salvation Army often need help sorting and preparing donations.
Smaller local charities need help as well. This week in particular, the last week of the year, charities are looking for your financial donations as they close out the year. This week is your last chance to get a tax deduction this year for your donation to a charitable nonprofit.
I find the movement that has grown up around service learning very intriguing. Service learning brings together experiential learning with community service. Because of the focus on education, a lot of the resources and support within the movement are focused on schools. Still, there are a lot of resources parents can use with their own children, particularly if they are homeschooling.
The Canadian Alliance for Community Service-Learning primarily supports and networks serving learning programs in colleges and universities. They focus on research, best practices, and making community service learning (CSL) more effective. It is also their goal to develop a uniquely Canadian model of CSL.
In the U.S., Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (NSLC) provides referrals, resources, and assistance for service-learning projects. Learn and Service America is a project of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a U.S. federal agency. They focus on integrating service-learning into curriculum. Though most of what they offer is for classroom learning they have a service learning guide for parents, and they also provide a listing of local opportunities at Serve.gov.
There are a lot of smaller organizations providing service learning opportunities for children. I just want to mention one of them. Roots and Shoots, a project of The Jane Goodall Institute, is an international organization providing youth with a structure through which to identify and address community issues. Service-learning is their focus. For young people who want to build relationships with others interested in similar kinds of service, an organization like this can be a great way to build on their desire to serve.
Like Roots and Shoots, a lot of service learning organizations and projects that work with K-12 students emphasize youth voice and youth-led projects, encouraging young people to work together to determine the Why, What, and How of the projects they work on. They learn through every stage of the project.
Quick Volunteer Opportunities
If you are looking for a short-term volunteer opportunity rather than an ongoing project, try Volunteer Canada’s list of volunteer centres or Serve.gov’s search for local volunteer opportunities by zip code.