One of the most consistent messages we’ve heard throughout this pandemic is to stay at home, but what can we do when “home” starts to feel like a lonely place? One solution is to encourage children and youth to get involved with community service and volunteering projects. Community engagement gives students the chance to make meaningful contributions beyond the classroom.
As challenging as the past few months have been, I have noticed that the students who attend Oak Learners for day school, drop-in classes and tutoring are becoming more aware of how their actions can positively affect their community. They know that small actions (like wearing a face covering or properly washing their hands) can make a big difference. Introducing students to community project ideas and volunteering opportunities can help nurture their sense of social responsibility, in addition to developing other important skills like communication and organization.
So, how can we teach students to be part of a community when we are constantly social distancing from family, friends, and neighbours? With the help of technology and some creativity, students of any ability, age, or income can be involved in community projects and volunteering while staying safe.
Everyone has a talent or interest that can contribute to their community. Start chatting with kids about what their strengths and interests are, and how they can use their hobbies and talents to help out different people. Here are some ideas of activities that students can do to get involved:
- Make a playlist of songs for a friend or family member or neighbours: find songs that remind students of their loved ones or introduce them to their new favourite songs!
- Make or write a “Wish You Were Here!” postcard: you don’t need to travel to send a postcard! Students can find a postcard from their hometown and write a nice message to someone that they wish they could spend more time with. They could also do a “reverse” postcard in which children or teens write about a place they want to travel to in the future. If students are creative, then they can make their own, and also enjoy some of the other Oak Learners crafts. After the postcard is complete, drop or mail it off- that lucky person will be thrilled to get some mail that isn’t a bill!
- Students can record a video of their hobby to share with extended family, friends or neighbours: some possibilities are recording singing, dancing, playing music, reciting a poem or short story, a pretend cooking show (accompanied with a recipe!) or performing a short play or magic show.
- Set up a “Reading Buddy” Zoom to help other students practice reading
- Interview a grandparent or elderly community member about their life’s story and write a biography.
- Offer to practice speaking English or other languages with fellow language learners.
Try out some of these community activities in your neighbourhood:
- Organize a seasonal decoration event for the neighbourhood; encourage neighbours to design and hang up decorations in their windows and doors (like Easter eggs, snowflakes, etc.) and stroll around the neighbourhood enjoying everyone’s artwork. This event could easily be turned into a scavenger hunt for younger kids- challenge them to see how many decorations they can spot!
- Similar to an “Earth Hour”, organize an “Unplugged Evening” event in which people of the same household turn off their electronic devices and do an activity together. Send out posters explaining fun screen-free activities like making a meal together, playing board games or reading stories.
- Even simple things like shoveling snow, raking leaves and mowing lawns can make a huge difference in a neighbourhood!
Despite all the disruptions of the pandemic, there are still ways that people can volunteer locally and globally. Chat with students about which organizations they are interested in supporting or learning about and how often they would like to volunteer. Even short term commitments can make a big impact.
- “Sending Sunshine”: Children can write letters and make artwork letters for seniors and mail them to this Mississauga-based organization
- High school students can look for opportunities to fulfill their community service hours by using https://volunteer.ca/index.php and https://www.sparkontario.ca/
- Elementary school students can develop their vocabulary and practice their times tables while donating rice through the United Nations by play games on “Free Rice”
- Students can choose from a variety of “social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts” on the “Games for Change” website
- Volunteer proofreaders, translators and transcribers are all welcome to volunteer with “Project Gutenberg”
- Older students can be inspired to join or create their own community projects by checking out the campaigns from https://www.dosomething.org/us
Start a Discussion
Some of the first steps of nurturing an interest in community service and volunteering is to help children and youth become informed. Talking about current events is one way to gauge what your child is interested in. CBC Kids is a great place to start because these newspaper articles help kids understand current events and complex issues, like the Black Lives Matter organization and movement. CBC Kids also offers games, videos and contests.
- CBC News Kids “What Canadian Kids Should Know About Black Lives Matter”
Some of these topics are sensitive, and no one expects you to be an expert, but opening up the floor to talk and learn about social justice will equip students with inclusive vocabulary, and critical thinking skills. For more resources about social justice and equity (that don’t involve screen time!), check out these links:
- “Strong Nations”: A First Nations, Metis & Inuit bookstore based in Nanaimo, British Columbia
- “Second Story Press”: Feminist-inspired books for children & adults based in Toronto, Ontario.
- “A Different Booklist”: Black owned bookstore based in Toronto offering a selection of books for adults and kids by authors from Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities
- “Glad Day Bookshop”: The world’s oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop located in Toronto, Ontario
- The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s List of Disability-Themed Books for Kids and Teens
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