"Who usually does this?" the 11-year-old asked as she cleaned tables at the church. She worked hard – to remove the dirt and to uncover the answer.

As she made the effort to serve the church, she also learned significant lessons in hygiene, time management and problem solving. She soon realized that people she saw in the congregation on Sundays completed most of the church’s needed projects.

Learning through service

Service learning can be a valuable resource in the parental toolbox, both educationally and socially. By engaging their children to work alongside them, Mom and Dad can give instruction in a variety of academic areas even as they help others. Math, English, science, geography and other subjects find practical applications in the context of service.

How can parents promote service learning? Consider these examples:

  • If a family prepares a monstrous tub of spaghetti for a homeless shelter that houses 54, they must use math to convert a recipe that serves six.

  • Collecting goods to send to an overseas mission can turn into a geography or history lesson.

  • Families who take a short-term missions trip can sharpen their foreign language skills.

  • Children can gain an understanding of botany as they pull weeds in an elderly neighbour’s yard.

Practical knowledge, practical help

One teenager realized that needy children in his community did not have the opportunity to own bicycles, so he decided to help. He found an old bike and set out to recondition it and give it away.

As his idea caught on and people donated other bikes, he learned more and more about the mechanics of bicycle repair. Along the way, he received lessons in writing (as he publicized his idea), finance (as donations began to arrive) and team building (as he recruited friends to help with repairs).

The right attitude

Aside from teaching academic lessons, parents who encourage their kids to help others also instill attitudes of service and erode feelings of entitlement.

After scrub-a-dub-dubbing the church’s 20 tables, the 11-year-old washed out her rag and said with smug satisfaction, "The big church down the road probably hires people to wash their tables – but I bet they don’t get them any cleaner!" There’s a young lady who understands the phrase at your service.

Chuck Johnson is a former school principal. Together with his wife, Gwen, he worked with senior adults in California at the time of publication.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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