“Why do I have to do this?”
Maybe you’ve gotten this complaint disguised as a question from your homeschooler. Honestly, it’s not a bad question. You and I understand that completing just about any writing project in earnest builds the writing muscles kids will need to be skilled writers for advanced academics and life as a successful adult, but for kids it may not always feel that way.
Just like all of us, kids want authentic experiences. They want their work to have a life beyond being just a checked off requirement on a teacher-parent’s to do list. And just like us, kids want to feel that what they do is meaningful and that it helps someone else.
If you find that language arts has lost its luster at your house, consider trying a service learning project. What is service learning? Service learning is a project-based approach to education that incorporates community service. Kids who complete service learning projects make real-world connections to what they’re learning about. It’s a chance to do work that’s really meaningful and a chance to build kids’ self esteem by seeing that they are capable of easing someone’s loneliness or anxiety, of making a difference in the life of someone else.
As with all project-based learning, to get the most out of the project, it’s best to turn over as much ownership as possible to the student. From choosing a project to delivering the final product, the adult’s role is to offer guidance and mentoring, and students should be doing the work. After all, it’s the person doing the work who does the learning.
Ready to give it a try? Here are a few ideas to inspire you and your kid:
Record an older person’s stories
Visit with an elderly person, perhaps a lonely family member or a resident of a nursing home or assisted living facility. Prepare a list of questions, consider interesting historical events that your subject may have experienced, and bring a recording device along or take notes as you listen to your subject. After your interview, polish what you have learned into an interesting narrative that incorporates imagery and dialogue. Present your subject with a copy of your finished product.
Read to shelter animals
Connect with your local animal shelter to volunteer your time reading to shelter pets. My own kids are eager participants in our local Humane Society’s “Reading Team.” Kids enjoy reading to the animals, and animals benefit from the human socialization by becoming more adoptable.
Write a brochure for your co-op for new kids
Being the new kid anywhere can be daunting. Create a brochure that can be distributed to kids who are new to your co-op that helps them understand the rules, culture, and opportunities.
Write a play (perhaps a retelling of a favorite story) and perform it for seniors
Adapt a beloved story into a script or create a drama of your own. Practice, practice, practice, and then perform your creation at a senior center, adult daycare, assisted living facility, or nursing home.