Sunday, January 30, 2011

Developing Children of Service and Compassion

Black History MonthImage by zsrlibrary via FlickrFebruary is Black History Month and teachers are reading stories about Martin Luther King, his life and his legacy. Teaching students about Martin Luther King's dream and encouraging them to think about how they would like to change the world is a great way to help children recognize the injustice in the world and instill in them the attribute of service.  However, whenever you are working with young children their perceptions are often just enough off the norm to give you a chuckle.  Here's a few stories I have heard that have put a smile on teacher's faces:  Grappling with the civil rights leader's long name is sometimes daunting.  One kindergarten student called him 'Martin Lulu King' . A first grade teacher had her students write about what they would do to change the world if they had a dream.  One student in her class said she would provide coats for all cancer patients.  And finally, a friend of mine reported that her grandson was quite upset that his grandmother who works "right around where Martin Luther the King went to church' had not reminded him of the birthday. This same child, newly reminded of the segregation injustices of Martin Luther King's time, pointed out to his mother with great concern and indignation that Egg Beaters cartons clearly states on the front of the carton 'Whites Only'. I just have to say, if you haven't laughed today...just hang out with a child for an hour or so.  Your perspective will change.

Developing the notion of service however, an important antidote to the self-centeredness of the typical child, is one that parents often overlook.  It is something that can be started early in small ways and then developed into bigger projects as the child grows.  Determining the child's interests and concerns and then finding ways to serve in those areas is the best way to get cooperation. Too many children (and adults for that matter) are  insulated from the inequalties, the hardship in the world.  Developing service projects as whole families is one way to overcome this.  For instance, I know one family that went to the Union Mission to serve lunch on Martin Luther King's birthday. Even young children can learn to give food, toys or clothing to those in need.  The best and most life changing service however, is service that involves giving of more than our excess.  It involves giving something more substantional such as spending a Saturday morning in a soup kitchen for the homeless, or volunteering in a nursing home to visit with residents who have no family.  Service that moves us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to make a difference in the world develops children and ultimately adults, of compassion and character.

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