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January 13, 2014 0

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Five Tips for Work­ing with Chil­dren, Tweens, and Teens 

Martin Luther King Jr.

As we honor Mar­tin Luther King Jr.’s legacy through the National Day of Ser­vice on Jan­u­ary 20, 2014, we encour­age teach­ers, par­ents and fam­i­lies to pro­vide com­mu­nity ser­vice oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren and youth.  Below are tips to help make the expe­ri­ence meaningful.

 

“Every­body can be great…because any­body can serve. You don’t have to have a col­lege degree to serve. You don’t have to make your sub­ject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul gen­er­ated by love.”

—Mar­tin Luther King Jr.

 

1.     Gen­er­ate ser­vice learn­ing ideas from chil­dren and youth.

Engage young peo­ple in a dis­cus­sion and brain­storm­ing ses­sion about their com­mu­nity, encour­ag­ing them to think crit­i­cally about its most impor­tant assets and what areas need more sup­port. The more buy-in youth have from the begin­ning, the more invest­ment they will have in the project, and it will have a more last­ing effect on them and their communities.

 

2.     Think beyond com­mu­nity ser­vice to social action.

While it is impor­tant for youth to help oth­ers, the expe­ri­ence will have more mean­ing if they see the big pic­ture.  It is one thing to spend a few hours at a home­less shel­ter dis­trib­ut­ing lunch;  take the ser­vice project to another level by help­ing young peo­ple under­stand why peo­ple are home­less and what they can do about it.  Engage youth in social-action strate­gies, such as writ­ing let­ters; social media cam­paigns, includ­ing online peti­tions and dona­tions; engag­ing in advo­cacy to get a law or bill passed; cre­at­ing PSAs (pub­lic ser­vice announce­ments); and deliv­er­ing speeches.

 

3.     Use the expe­ri­ence as an oppor­tu­nity to build empathy.

Ser­vice pro­vides a rich oppor­tu­nity for youth to develop empa­thy for oth­ers, espe­cially those who are in need.  As they are serv­ing, make sure young peo­ple see the com­plex­ity and human­ity in the peo­ple they serve.  Pre­pare chil­dren for the expe­ri­ence by answer­ing their ques­tions, lis­ten­ing to their fears and dis­pelling their misconceptions.

 

4.     Be aware of bias-related lan­guage and be care­ful not to per­pet­u­ate stereotypes.

Make sure the expe­ri­ence helps youth con­nect with the peo­ple they are serv­ing rather than per­pet­u­ate stereo­types. Address think­ing that focuses on pity or sim­plis­tic under­stand­ing of people’s cir­cum­stances. Guide to move beyond think­ing of peo­ple as the “other” (i.e., “not one of us”) to under­stand­ing and respect­ing their human­ity.. Remind youth to use lan­guage that does not equate peo­ple with their char­ac­ter­is­tics or actions (i.e., say “peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, not “dis­abled peo­ple”; say “youth who bully,” rather than “bullies”).

 

5.     Inspire chil­dren and youth to change the world.

Con­vey the mes­sage to youth that they can change the world.  Even a small, one-time action of help­ing their neigh­bors and com­mu­ni­ties can have a deep impact on a young person.

 

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