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It's hard to imagine what life would be like without community in our classrooms. So much of what we do is based upon encouraging our students to engage in their classroom and school communities through personal connections, activities, and kindness. It's so natural to extend that community outside of our school walls and into our towns and cities! For the past few years, I have participated in a few activities a year that help my students give back. I've noticed my students feel more interested in learning about our city and helping people nearby AND within our own classroom. By working together to help others, we are building our own community... which enables us to be better teammates and cooperative learners. It's a win/win! So, here are some ideas for getting your students involved in your local community.
1. Write a Letter
It seems simple, doesn't it? Just write a letter! Well- here's the thing- it is simple. You and your students can create a batch of letters in just one or two class periods. Their impact is big though. Send them to a local nursing home or hospice around the holidays to bring happiness to the elderly or ill. Write thank you notes to the Firemen and Policemen for all that they do in your community. Let your city councilors, school committee, and Mayor know how much you appreciate their hard work for the school system. Send cheerful "hello" notes to a local shelter for people that are "hard up." Or, just write a letter to someone you admire in the community. Doctors, nurses, mailmen- the options are endless. I always make sure that my students only sign their notes with their first name to maintain confidentiality.
2. Organize an benefit
Giving to others makes us feel inherently good. Why not capitalize on that? Do something for the community- organize a canned food drive, collect spare change, or ask for old winter coats and hats. See if a representative from the charity can come to your classroom to pick up your donation so your students can see the impact they are having! If not, bring back pictures of the drop off to help them make the connection.
3. Create craft bags
Put together small craft bags for local shelters that cater to families with children. When families are put in a bad situation, any little distraction can be helpful for children. Sometimes nursing homes will be able to use these, as well! I have had success with finding something simple on pinterest, copying easy directions (sometimes with photos), and putting all the necessary bits in a bag. Usually, a messy craft isn't very well received, so I recommend no glitter, minimal glue/paint, and lots of clean-up supplies (if needed). If you want to really stretch your funds, the most inexpensive bags I have made have been a few crayons and some printed our coloring pages. My classroom dropped these off at our local police department to be given to students in crisis. It makes a tough time in life better just a little bit better.
4. Make pet pillows for the local shelter
Take old scraps of fabric or pillowcases, stuff them with batting, and use fabric glue to close them. Instant pet pillows for animals in need of a home! This one can be tricky for younger kids, but my fifth graders had no problem. I did end up running the pillows through my sewing machine as well to ensure the seam would not let go, but I think that could be avoided with a better fabric glue. Don't get yours at the dollar store like I did... lesson learned!
5. Grow plants to donate to public city buildings
Such a fun way to integrate science and community involvement! Last year, my students grew plants in small pots (donated by the local hardware store). We are lucky to have a greenhouse at my school, so we could grow them year round. Once they were flowering, we decorated the pots and brought them to city hall to be displayed. It was fun for the students to see the flowers when they went with their parents to city hall.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!