Service Learning: Empower Students to Change the World

Service Learning

When it comes to solving social problems, preschoolers and elementary students are often overlooked as people who can make a difference. Children are natural helpers. They love assembling care packages, sorting donations and making toys for shelter animals. Not only that, these projects are empowering for kids, who marvel at their ability to improve the world.

Here are 10 simple projects parents can do at home or suggest to teachers to try in class that benefit North Carolina nonprofits and build our local community.

1. Help your homeless shelter. The Raleigh Rescue Mission, or any local shelter, enjoys receiving artistic, laminated placemats to brighten up their dining area and make it feel more like home. Kids can paint or write inspiring quotes to the residents on the placemats.

2. Make treats for animals. Kids easily empathize with animals. Find recipes for animal treats and have a family or class cooking project. Have kids create tug toys for dogs by braiding felt fabric and knotting the ends. When you’re done, visit the cute puppies at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or any nearby shelter to deliver the treats or toys.

3. Comfort kids with terminal illnesses. Sending homemade cards packed with colorful stickers and friendship bracelets is a great project for any holiday. Zach’s Toy Chest in Wake County collects these items, as well as toys, to cheer up children in hospitals.

4. Help senior citizens. Art for Hospice, a program created in 2008 by then-11-year-old Emma Astrike-Davis of Durham for young painters, asks children to create a beautiful canvas, then donate it to a local hospice or nursing home. Some patients rarely receive cards, so a colorful painting is a much-appreciated gift.

5. Beautify the environment. Learn about science while planting a tree or flowers in your neighborhood or at school. Organize a litter pickup in your neighborhood. Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax is an excellent partner for this project.

6. Collect and sort donations. Rather than just collecting clothes or canned foods and shipping them off, ask your kids to fold and sort clothes by size, just as volunteers do onsite. Go through your canned foods and brainstorm what dishes the families might prepare. Help your kids connect with the impact their donations make.

7. Smile rocks. Random acts of kindness are exciting, especially when they’re sneaky! Teach your kids to be “Kindness Ninjas” with this project. Buy multicolored fish tank pebbles. Ask your kids to draw smiley faces on the pebbles, then hide them around school. Leave them on the table when you go out to dinner, or hide them in a vending machine where change comes out.

8. Personalized compliment posters. Ask kids to write their names in the center of piece of construction paper, then form a circle and pass the sheets around. Each child writes an anonymous compliment on each friend’s paper. Laminate and hang the posters up as a reminder of the good qualities the children appreciate in each other.

9. Thank-you cards. Encourage kids to write thank-you cards for teachers, new students, grandparents, classmates or neighbors. Then, either hand-deliver or leave the card anonymously — like a kindness ninja.

10. Random flowering. Buy a bouquet of flowers at the grocery store and ask your child to give a flower to people who seem like they need a lift, or ask her to take them to your neighbors’ houses and tape a flower and sweet note to their door.

The biggest problem you’ll face with these projects? Your kids leave random acts of kindness all over the place, and it makes a big, beautiful mess.

Heather Leahwood is the editor-in-chief of, where she writes about solving social problems and shares inspirational stories from around North Carolina. She has been teaching for 12 years, developing lesson plans in volunteerism and kindness to empower kids to make a difference

Find volunteer and community service opportunities in the Triangle in our updated roundup.

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