‘Tis the season of giving! And it’s also the perfect time to teach students the importance of community service and giving back. Volunteering can help students develop into compassionate, socially-conscious citizens, while fostering a lifelong commitment to serving others in need.

And research shows service learning, an instructional method that incorporates meaningful community service, has the potential to:

  • Increase student engagement
  • Improve academic performance
  • Promote personal and social responsibility, and
  • Benefit social and emotional growth.

While volunteering benefits students in a number of ways, it’s important to note its impact on the community. The most recent Census data shows one in four Americans take the time to volunteer. And according to another report, those who volunteer tend to engage in their communities at higher rates than non-volunteers. They also participate in civic organizations, fix things in the community, discuss local issues, vote in local elections and attend public meetings.

Giving back benefits both the volunteers and communities being served. Below are a few tips for getting your students involved in community service.

1. Discuss the importance of giving

Giving back can come in different forms, such as money, time or goods. To emphasize the importance of giving, have open, thoughtful and age-appropriate conversations with your students. Also, ensure the discussions are “others-centered” and focus on how giving positively impacts those on the receiving end. For more insight, check out Teaching Charity: 7 Tips For Cultivating a Giving Spirit in Students.

2. Involve students in the project planning

Give students an active role in planning community service projects. They can identify a particular need or problem to address and even vote on the specific activities to support the cause. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Coordinate a food or clothing drive
  • Write holiday cards to active service members
  • Host a charity walk
  • Spend time with seniors at a nursing home

Involving students in the planning provides a real-world connection while giving them a sense of ownership of the project. In this way, they’ll become fully invested in its success.

Check out Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back to serve the community as a family

3. Partner with local non-profit organizations

Based on the needs you want to address, choose 2-3 organizations that you can support year-round. You can work together to identify volunteer opportunities, design projects and measure students’ impact. Leaders in the organization can also visit students to discuss their mission and how volunteering makes a difference in their community. Establishing these partnerships can help students build meaningful relationships with those in the organization, which may foster a long-term commitment to giving back. 

4. Take time to reflect after each service learning activity

Allow students to share any challenges or impactful moments they experienced while giving back. This can be an open discussion or a journaling/writing activity. Not only can you gather their feedback for future projects, but you can better understand their experiences and feelings about helping others in need.

The holiday season is a prime opportunity to give back and teach students the value of helping others. However, many people and organizations need extra support year-round. You can help by incorporating service learning into your afterschool program.

To get started, read Be the Change: Empowering Youth to Effect Positive Change in their Communities. Then start a Service Club and allow students to participate in a range of community service activities after school. The result: local organizations will receive extra help and your students can develop a lifelong passion for giving back.