5 Steps Towards More Meaningful Service

Imagine yourself without a skeleton. You’d be a big blob of tissue on the floor. While strange and uncomfortable to think about, this is an important analogy to consider in terms of your family’s service efforts. Philanthropy by itself without adding structure and context might not fully serve its purpose—like a body without a skeleton. Adding structure to your service process can help you get the most out of the experience. In addition to the important support you’re providing to others, there is much for your child to gain from service: becoming a more informed citizen, a sense of gratitude, a leadership opportunity, a chance to practice organization, social skills, advocacy, and seeing family members in new roles. The list goes on. What steps do we take to make the most of these opportunities for learning and growth? 5 Steps

I’d like to share a framework that many teachers use to add substance and context to their class’ service learning curriculum. Looked at through the eyes of a parent, this structure offers a supportive guideline to help you get the most meaning possible out of your family’s philanthropy endeavors. This framework was developed by leading service learning advocate, author and consultant, Cathryn Berger Kaye. The steps are summarized here (with adaptations for a parent’s perspective).

Stage One: Investigation
What’s up?! Take time before you volunteer to define and get to know the community you will be serving. What do you know or need to know about this community and the social issue in order to be most helpful? This question can help you distinguish what actions will lead to a meaningful contribution. And most importantly, what topics interest your child? Do they comment on trash in the park or people who appear to be in need as you are driving home from school.

Stage Two: Preparation & Planning
Get organized! When your child has an idea all their own for helping people, animals or the planet, this is especially important so that when it comes time to act, they’re most effective. Have your child consider the “5W and H” questions many of us were taught as young writers to help guide their efforts: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Stage Three: Action
Act Up! Provide a service. Keep in mind that there are many types of actions to choose from. You can directly impact a community or organization by working face-to-face or alongside whom you are trying to support. You can indirectly contribute to an issue through drives, collections, or making things. You can advocate for a cause. You can research an issue and discover important information that will motivate others to act or that an organization focusing on the same cause can benefit from knowing about.

Stage Four: Reflection
Press pause and ponder! Often times, people see reflection as something you do when an experience is complete. Reflection can actually happen amidst all of the stages listed above.  Simply modeling your own reflections throughout the experience can be an effective and subtle way to help your child think about their participation. You can describe what you thought was special about the shared experience, what you learned or what emotions came about for you during the process. Hearing about everyone’s part in the process shows how valuable each family member’s contribution is.

Stage Five: Demonstration
Get the word out! Your story isn’t over when the activity is complete. Share your process with others. This is a great place for your child to practice advocacy. Tell people about what you’ve done. You can start with your inner circle of family and friends, however others in the community will benefit from knowing what you’re up to also. What media resources could you use to spread the news? Remember that stories can be told through words, images, or even more action for the cause.

Put together, these five stages for service offer your family a chance to build meaningful experiences that not only enact change, but also incorporate personal growth and learning too. Instead of a standalone philanthropy activity, you can use these five stages to develop your child’s voice for a cause they care about and that they are knowledgeable of too. Most of all, celebrate the joy of family time spent together contributing to your community.

*This 5-stage model originates from The Complete Guide to Service Learning (2nd Edition), by Cathryn Berger Kaye, Free Spirit Publishing, copyright 2010. For a more in-depth look at her curriculum visit her website and check out The Complete Guide to Service Learning.

*This article is adapted from a previous post.

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