Service based learning builds empathy

Demonstrate and build healthy relationships by showing empathy and kindness towards others.

Increasing emotional and social development in youth environments includes encouraging experiences that draw awareness to others’ struggles, challenges and realities. Service learning does just that by allowing students to contribute to something bigger than themselves, work side by side, and care for others’ needs.

One such example was a middle school club that stuffed 300 bags of essential hygiene items for community members. Students were grateful for the chance to make a difference and contribute to the world around them. Other projects include city and county beautification efforts (for example painting park benches, pavilions or trash cans), community gardens, peer mentoring, serving at a free meal site and many more.

Michigan State University Extension promotes strategies for developing empathy through its BeSAFE bullying prevention curriculum and trainings, including:

  1. Creating safe settings (homes, schools, afterschool programs, faith-based groups): An environment where youth are respected and not judged opens communication and sharing.
  2. Exploring connections to human differences: Talking about disparages and injustices to minorities affirms realities and encourages critical consciousness.
  3. Working in partnership with youth: Involving youth in the brainstorming, planning, action and follow-up process fosters ownership of a project and in a group.
  4. Positive adult modeling of empathy and respect: How adults treat each other and youth in community settings speaks volumes. Being kind and caring towards all, versus being harsh and judgmental sets a tone and a level of expectation.

Empathy is the flip side of the coin to spiteful and mean spirited behaviors behind bullying. Creating opportunities for youth to see themselves and others in a new light is a gift that continues to give. This principal is a foundation of many afterschool programs, 4-H youth development clubs, scouting organizations and why many schools include a service learning project as a requirement for graduation.

Do what you can to cultivate service based learning where you have influence and youth engagement. Practice this as a frequent occurrence, not just a one-time event. The benefits will be two-fold; those benefitting directly from the projects and the gained empathy of those participating.