When a group of first graders at Riverton Elementary School in Portland, ME, learned that many kids in Uganda, Africa, didn’t have bedtime stories to read, they were shocked. To solve this problem, the students came up with a plan to write and send bedtime stories to a school in Uganda through the non-profit “Books of Hope”.

Service-learning projects like the Books of Hope project at Riverton teach kids new academic and problem solving skills as they work to address local and global problems. “Service-learning,” says Nelda Brown, director of the National Service-Learning Partnership, “gives kids an opportunity to show what they can do and make a real difference.”

Getting your child involved in service learning will help him grow as a student and as a person, and it's a great way to keep your kids active during summer down time too. Looking for ways to get started with your child? Encourage him to solve a problem that’s important to him with these eight service-learning projects for young children:

  • Create and Donate. Ask your child who in your community might need something and what you could make to help them. It could be as simple as making a meal for a family that has a new baby, or making get well cards for a friend who is sick. Whatever you do, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money to make a huge difference!
  • Raise Money and Give. Is there a cause that your child is passionate about - perhaps a local homeless shelter, kids’ museum, or zoo? Help him create a plan to raise money for his favorite organization. Then implement your plan over the course of a few weeks or months. Research the organization so your child can explain why it’s important for your community and keep a graph of the money you’ve raised. As you fundraise by washing cars, soliciting donations, or sending out an email campaign, your child is learning about numbers, money amounts, and communication. When you’ve reached your goal, drop off the donation in person.
  • Create and Distribute a Community Guide. Would other families benefit from a kids’ tour of your community? Fran Rudoff, executive director of the KIDS Consortium, suggests working with your child to create a guide to your neighborhood or favorite place. It could be a kids’ map of the downtown or a brochure to her favorite museum. As you’re working on the project, consider: What places does your child like? What places might another child want to know about? When your guide is finished, ask local businesses or organizations if you can print and distribute it.
  • Advocate for a Cause. Is there a cause that your child or family cares deeply about? Perhaps playground safety, animal conservation, recycling, or eating healthy and organic foods? Think of ways to teach other kids and families about it. Your child can prepare a presentation for the city council, organize and participate a clean-up or awareness event, or make a YouTube video about the cause.
  • Start a Community Garden. Rent or select a plot of land in your neighborhood and start a community garden. Invite friends to join you and set up a plan to buy the seeds, plant and maintain the garden. During the process, your child will learn math, measurement, and science skills as he watches his plants grow.
  • Start a Giving Campaign. Reach out to your child’s school or your neighborhood organization to collect anything from recyclable goods to deliver directly to a recycling program, food for a food bank, or stuffed animals and toys for a local fire station or homeless shelter. When you deliver your donation, ask what will happen to it to make sure it's going toward a good cause.
  • Plan and Host an Event. Think of an event that would affect a community need that your child cares about. It could be a “tea party” at a local senior center, or a community-wide recycling drive. As you plan the event, your child will learn skills such as communicating the importance of connecting with seniors, or sorting and categorizing recyclables.
  • Continue a School-Based Project. If your child’s school does service-learning during the school year, ask if he’d like to continue the school project during the summer. An afternoon each week working on the school garden or visiting the residents of a nursing home will teach him that it’s important to continue to work on improving our communities all the time, regardless of the season.

Service learning will not only benefit those involved and teach your child important skills, but it's also a great way for you and your child to spend some quality time together doing something meaningful. Whatever your project, focus your experience around the academic skills that you want your child to gain. As you work, talk about the skills you see your child developing and what you hope he’ll take away from your project. You may be surprised at the impact even a young child can have!