Children Love to Help, Part III

Little meaningful academic learning happens when students’ prerequisite needs go unfulfilled.  I often cite the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow in these matters.  His famous Hierarchy of Needs explains that cognitive and aesthetic needs (those addressed by academic instruction)  can only become ripe for fulfillment when more fundamental needs are met.  Assuming that schools see to physiological and safety needs–and not all learning environments do–students must have their belongingness needs satisfied before they can begin to flourish intellectually.

The vast majority of healthy human beings thrive on fitting into a constructive, functional whole.  Families, peer groups, and athletic teams can all give young people this important sense of inclusion and acceptance.  Schools, however, have a unique potential to offer this, and more importantly, their very mission for learning and growth depends on students feeling that they belong and that they make a contribution.

If we have ever felt the pride when we were children of being asked by a teacher to pass out papers to the class, or to lead the line to the lunchroom, or to greet classroom visitors at the office prior to escorting them to the room, we understand that students crave opportunities to feel important.

And to be sure, students can do more than perfunctory motions.  Service rotations, whose tasks are adapted to meet the abilities of every age and ability, can take place in a variety of contexts: light tasks in the main office, monitoring of hallways and the cafeteria, leadership on the playground, assisting in the school library, custodial and supply work, school tours for prospective new students and their families, peer mediation, sorting recycling materials, logistical and materials assistance for special subjects (physical education, art, and music), consultative committees to plan school lunch menus, and projects for beautification of buildings and grounds are all merely a sampling of possibilities. Students also get to spend valuable time with staff members that they often see but would otherwise barely know. This invaluably enriches the social dynamic of a school overall.

To be sure, many schools have safety patrols and leadership programs, but even the best schools barely begin to activate the potential energy stored in our students.  When all students engage in service experiences on a regular, sustained basis, they not only build that critical sense of being part of something larger than themselves; they also develop a more profound understanding of the value of their schools in their lives–and the value they add to their schools.

Students love to help.  For everyone’s sake, we should let them.

Photo credit: Polina Zimmerman of Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

6 thoughts on “Children Love to Help, Part III

  1. A consultant came in during my second year and counseled teachers to never do anything a kid can do. Still use this one to this day. We have so much untapped potential right before us, thanks for the reminder.

  2. I love the ideas for service rotations you provided. We should let them help as stakeholders in the community. I am always trying to move my 7th-graders from being self-centered to being more other-centered. I could see many of my kids thriving when given more responsibility. You’ve given me something to think about!

  3. So true, Paul. From being asked to pass out papers or even just turn on the lights, to being consulted in a discussion or being asked to serve on a committee as an adult – all of us like to be validated and feel like our contribution matters and that we matter to the community. Your post is a great reminder and what you encourage is not very hard to do; even the little efforts can make a difference in making someone feel included and affirmed. Thank you for a beautifully spelled out series of posts. I have not commented on each, but I appreciated them all.

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