Young volunteers with box of donations indoorsIt is indeed though giving to others that we receive. This invaluable lesson must be experienced to be learned. It is critical for all students—our nation’s future leaders—to understand the value of giving and the benefits of selfless volunteerism first-hand. Even if you work in a public school system with a diverse population of students, not all of whom celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, every student can appreciate dedicated time helping others at the end of the year—a time of inherent appreciation and optimism.

We asked some of our PLS Instructors to share the creative ways that they have engaged the young people at year’s end in collaborative efforts to spread cheer to those less fortunate. Their answers inspired us, and we hope these eight ideas inspire you too.

  1. Focus on the Universal Value of Peace. No matter a child’s religious beliefs, everyone from every background and culture values peace. At year’s end, focus not on holiday messages, but on the theme of peace. Instructor Judy Lalli, told us, “My second graders interviewed family, friends… bus drivers, cafeteria workers, anyone they could think of, and asked the question, ‘How do you make peace?’ The answers were incredible. We decided to turn the project into a book illustrated by my students.”
  2. Sponsor a Family. Several members of our PLS team including our instructor Shawn Robbins sponsors a family in need each year. As a teacher, you can talk to your students’ parents and gain their buy-in on sponsoring a family in need. Encourage parents to take their child shopping for some of the items on the family’s needs list. At a time of the year, when so much focus is on consumerism, toys, and other gifts, children will learn a valuable lesson when they realize a family just like their own needs such essential items as toothbrushes, sweaters, jackets, and gloves.
  3. Say ‘Thanks’ to Well-Deserved Staff. Many teachers receive gifts from grateful students every year, but what about all the other staff members who work just as hard to keep the school running and students safe? Encourage students to thank crossing guards, bus drivers, and maintenance staff. Ask your students to write cards or create messages of gratitude for your under-appreciated school staff, and surprise them before the New Year with a bundle of thanks.
  4. Encourage Students to Practice Random Acts of Kindness. One PLS team member and mom, Chris Juhasz, told us, “[My kids do] ‘25 days of unexpected kindness’ in December, where we each do something for someone else each day, and share the stories at dinner. Today our next-door neighbor will find his trash cans placed up by his house rather than in the street, and an elderly couple had an able-bodied mom and her son bring their groceries inside.” You can bring this concept into the classroom by declaring December “Random Acts of Kindness Month”. Showcase a bulletin board in your classroom where students write their good deeds on sticky notes and place them where everyone can see. You can also encourage your students to share their ideas and stories each morning before the day begins.
  5. Remember Furry Friends in Need. The holidays are a time to remember all those in need—including animals. PLS Instructor Melanie Christopher shared the following: “We sponsor…the adoption fee of a cat in the North Carolina shelter that my cat Ivan is from” shared one Instructor. “We also donate items for ‘fospice’ pets who have been lucky enough to make their way to rescue. This year, those pets we sent items to are part of the rescue group [that] helped me save six five-week-old Pitbull puppies from my playground … When I taught fifth grade, the kids and I would make toys for the cats and dogs at our local shelter for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.”
  6. Adopt a Grandparent for the Day. “This year, our students visited a nursing home to spend time doing crafts and games with the elderly,” said PLS Instructor Brittany Frey. Seniors living in assisted living facilities may not be able to spend as much time with their family and friends as they’d like during the holidays and throughout the year. Caroling, crafts, or a day of board games with students from the local school will brighten up their day—and help form new friendships.
  7. Clothe the Homeless. A little can go such a long way to those lacking basic necessities. Instructor Judy Gehr shared the following best practice. “Our curriculum and instruction department assists the local homeless shelter by collecting clothing that they request. This year it was socks.” Ask every student in the class to bring in one clothing item that your local shelter has on its wish list.
  8. Send a Soldier a Care Package. Ask your students to write letters and bring small gifts to send to a soldier who is deployed overseas and will be missing the holidays with his/her family. Encourage them to be creative with what they include in the care package.

It’s Your Turn! We want to hear from you.

What do you, your students, or your family members do at the end of the year to reach out to those in need? In what other ways can teachers inspire a sense of empathy and outreach among today’s young people? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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