Saturday, November 12, 2011


Service has been on my mind for awhile now.

I volunteered to head up the sixth grade service project for my son's class. It was important to me that the experience be a meaningful one. In preparing for this project, I came up with some things to think about if you are trying to instill in your own children a spirit of service.

1. All work can BE service. I think there is a danger in calculating service hours or even in doing service "projects". The spirit of service can often be lost.

I have spent the last month preparing for my son's service project and organizing a benefit party for a non-profit. While on my hands and knees scrubbing my floor for the benefit, I was working through my thoughts on the goals for the service project. I stopped mid-floor and realized that I had spent three weeks running errands, sending e-mails, making phone calls, I had just done 1/2 a floor, all in service of my child's class and the beneficiary of the benefit. I had not taken one minute to consider all the preparations for the Events as service themselves. I was certainly not on my hands and knees simply because it needed to be done.

I took a moment to reflect on why I was cleaning. I was making my house welcoming for the women who would come to help raise money for Children with Down Syndrome. I offered up the rest of the floor for the children and their mothers.

The nature of the work itself changed. The first half of my floor had been a task. The rest was work with a purpose. I enjoyed it more. I felt good about the work. I probably scrubbed a little harder with less effort.

2. Let the work speak for itself.

Some service opportunities allow the work to speak for itself very easily. Visiting someone in a nursing home gives a child immediate feedback. The smile on the person's face is the reward. Service that involves an interaction with the person we are serving gives great satisfaction.

However, most service opportunities are far removed from the beneficiary: Jumping rope for Hearts, Selling popcorn for the Soldiers, Collecting canned goods for the Poor, Buying Christmas gifts for a Family in Need. We never see the faces of the people we help.

It is important in these circumstances, to let the work speak for itself. The child needs to take time to reflect on why he is getting ready to campus the neighborhood. Then he needs to continue the work in that spirit.

Children have felt the nature of work change. Everyone enjoys cleaning their room a little more when a friend is coming over for the first time. Help them to feel how jumping rope is somehow different when we think of the purpose it serves.

3. Choosing the best work and setting the best goals

I think the best type of work to teach this lesson is work which requires attention to detail. Work which allows the child the opportunity to choose to do it well or not.

For the sixth grade project we are hosting a bake sale. Instead of having moms send in cookies, we decided to let the kids bake for themselves. We chose a cookie that can be decorated with as much or as little detail as the child wishes. This allows children to decide how much effort the purpose they are serving deserves.

As the adults in the mix, this was a hard call. We had to change our goal from making the most money to making the best experience for the kids. But, if we have fewer beautiful cookies, we have done our job. The money will come from somewhere.

Amount is probably not the best standard to use for goals. While the amount of money or cans or whatever collected can be a sign of the amount of effort, it is too relative. A child can visit 20 homes and come home with $5.00 or visit one and come home with $20.00. The work is dependent more on the charitable nature of those he visits than on his own work.

If the nature of the work lends itself to setting amount goals, change the goal. Set goals the children can have control over. How many homes will you visit, how much time will you spend asking, etc. This allows the child control over the work. He can feel a sense of accomplishment about the work itself rather than the outcome. Because no matter how many cans he has at the end of the day, his service to others has not been affected one iota.

4. Let them do it.

Many service opportunities require money. We have a school wide adopt a family program at Christmas. Each class is assigned a child with a name and and age and a wish list. While the children do wrap these gifts. I bought them all. Or I let my children buy the gift with my money. Not this year.

I am making a Chore Chart and Price List. My children do not have to participate. These chores are for Service Money ONLY. They can NOT do the work and spend the money on themselves. But, they can also choose not to do the work and not to participate in the Service Project.

If they want a gift to take to school, they need to buy it. They can earn as much or as little money as they wish. Then they can buy a gift from the wish list that they can afford, or none at all.

I have started my Chore Chart and Price List.
If you have any ideas to add, I would love it!

Murphy’s oil wash the Plantation Blinds: $5. for a big one $2.50 for a little one

Rake and bag leaves: $3. per bag

Murphy’s oil base boards: $1.00 per four feet

Windows: $1.00 per window

Fold and stack Laundry: $2.00 per large load

Our goal as Christians is to work towards each and every minute of our lives being done in the service of others. Teaching our children how to make any work service is the first step.

Rather than using Service Opportunities to DO good work.

We can use them to learn how if we just take a moment to reflect, how all work done can be done in service to others, and work done well is the better gift.

And if you are a bit slow like me, in teaching our children, we can remember the lessons ourselves.


  1. This really made me think- and I like the idea of service being in just about everything and not just about counting service hours or doing something that feels good or for "show". The frustrating things for me is trying to differentiate what the kids are getting out of the experience vs. actually having an impact. I know as a scout leader and parent I struggle with this. What if kids commit to something (or have been committed by virtue of being in a group) and they do not follow through? If the adults in charge do not pick up the slack then the adopted family or charity suffers. I guess the answer is to provide a variety of experiences- some that are kid-led and some that kids take a small part in (while the adults model for them the follow-through). I like the job chart- will try to implement that for our Christmas giving.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. It made me think: We may be underestimating our kids. If your guys knew a child would not get a present if he/she didn't follow through, they would get it done, I know they would. They don't really take ownership over most of the projects we give them. They are just participating and don't have the time to consider the impact they are having. If their work is important, they will do it well.

    I think how my kids love doing the chores they think are too important for them to be allowed to do them. Like when the boys first learned to mow the lawn or when the girls get to cut vegetables with a sharp knife. When they feel the work is important, they always do a good job. Does that make sense?