Service learning projects show up mostly in middle and high schools, with very few in elementary schools. Conversely, I started a service learning project with my daughter Charlotte when she was entering kindergarten. Inspired by the strength of service learning to motivate children to learn and create needed outcomes in the community, I approached elementary school teachers in my community. Grade by grade, I worked with teachers to create age-appropriate service learning projects that would trace experiential learning and leadership roles, beginning with kindergarten. The goal was to sustain a thread of experiential learning through graduation in a well-conceived, sequenced, and integrated curriculum—developed among ourselves as Americans.
My idea of a K–12 national service learning curriculum would include:
- Grade-specific educational service projects that support community needs
- A checklist of community projects managed by our schools
- A sister-city relationship between every community in the United States and a developing global community
- Outstanding, field-tested project models
- Communication, prioritization, and ongoing project development
- Sequenced leadership roles for our children
Specific Models in Specific Grades
Distinct from other areas of study, a service learning curriculum would be most effective as a nationally coordinated effort that would have a framework of grade-specific projects in elementary school. From a young age, students would gain inspiration by their contributions, joining with their peers nationwide.
If specific projects are matched with specific grade levels, younger students can look forward to projects they have seen older students manage, anticipate activities and leadership roles, and build on the work of previous classes. Older students can mentor younger students and contribute advanced components to projects managed by younger students.
The premise is to begin with simple, signature projects in early grades and expand with more-complex project components in middle school and high school. Beginning experimentation has revealed the following possibilities for sequenced, grade-specific project areas and leadership roles that begin in kindergarten:
- Kindergarten—Animal Shelters
- 1st Grade—Hospitals
- 2nd Grade—Shelters
- 3rd Grade—Sister Cities
- 4th Grade—Disabilities
- 5th Grade—Food Banks
- 6th Grade—Recycling
- 7th–12th Grades:
- Continuation of Food2Share and Recycling
- Environmental Issues
- Expansion of project areas supported by a national checklist of projects