Summer is just around the corner. While it’s a great time for kids to take a break from the pressures of homework and grades, it’s an even better time to bring on a different kind of learning—learning that connects the hands, head, and heart. Service-learning not only helps others but also generates impressive developmental benefits for teens.
Research shows that volunteering helps develop important skills for young people, including critical thinking, organizing, and planning. It helps them learn to collaborate and increases self-confidence. Volunteering plays a key role in helping teens form an identity, an essential role of adolescence.
Through hands-on work that benefits others, teens learn to critically think about the world around them—about social and environmental issues that bring purpose to their lives. They discover heart-felt connections that remain with them a lifetime, shaping their civic identities. Often, these volunteer jobs lead to future careers.
But not all volunteer jobs are created equal and finding the best experiences for teens can be challenging. Parents play an important role in helping children get the most from summer volunteer experiences. Now is the time to start discussing how your teen will spend a part of his or her summer!
Service-Learning often refers to an organized school curriculum that gives kids the opportunity to link what they learn in the classroom to real world situations in their communities. Teachers work with a variety of community agencies that agree to work with schools to provide rich learning opportunities for youth.
But service-learning need not be confined to the school year – or to classrooms. Opportunities abound for rich summer experiences where young people can come together to work for a cause, build relationships, and apply their skills in the real world. During the summer months, lots of organizations provide service learning experiences for youth. Some are in foreign countries but many exist in their own backyards.
Service can embrace a variety of volunteer jobs, including visiting elderly people, tutoring children, raising money for nonprofit organizations, working in community gardens, cleaning up public spaces, monitoring environmental sites, creating websites, filming video segments, and working in food banks. Perhaps your teen wants to start an entrepreneurial service venture! Encourage them!
Learning occurs as teens discuss their experiences with others, when they write about issues, and when they reflect on the meaning of their work. In practice, it’s often easier for learning to occur when it’s structured into a classroom process. But it’s also just as easy to approach service and learning together when parents take an interest in their child’s volunteer work and when young people connect with adults in their communities who have an interest in their development.
Building homes can lead to learning about why people are homeless. Working in food banks can lead to learning about poverty and hunger. Working on trails can lead to learning about the environment. But this kind of learning may not come naturally, particularly if kids view volunteering as just a way to pass the time during the summer and meet new friends. Critically thinking about service can be fostered by parents, mentors, and other adults. So get involved! Your child will be the beneficiary!
©2012 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.