Service learning provides opportunities to grow


Most of us have done some type of a community service project. Maybe picking up trash along a roadway, donating resources for a food drive, or visiting residents at a nursing home.  

This is one step to be more community focused for youth audiences.  A core activity of positive youth development programs should deal with service learning opportunities for youth. What does this mean? 

Youth are able to examine the issues in the community and develop a plan to achieve the project.  They are able to apply knowledge, skills, and critical thinking to the problem. There are four types of service learning. They include the following:

Direct: the project directly meets a need in the community (trail building, mentoring, visiting the elderly)

Indirect: the project supports direct service that meets a need in the community (organizing volunteers, mailings, raising funds)

Raising Awareness: the project outcome is designed to enlighten and educate a group on an issue or problem (community health campaign, texting and driving, etc.)

Advocacy: the project selects one side of an issue and advocates for or promotes it (writing letters to the editor, researching and testifying for legislation, creating a protest or rally)

There are three components to a service learning project: youth involvement, meaningful service, and reflection. Youth will be able to learn valuable skills as they plan, organize, and implement the project. They may see a need in a community that adults have not addressed before, and adults play a critical role in helping youth prioritize the community needs.  

A key component of service learning is reflection which occurs before, during, and following the project.  They are able to reflect on the experience to discuss the “What”, “So What”, and “Now What”. Youth are able to make the connections of the service project and how it will influence lifelong learning.  Here are the five steps to implement a service learning project:

•Assess and identify the need;

•Plan and prepare;

•Experience meaningful service;

•Analysis and evaluation;


Service learning ties in well with citizenship and leadership development for youth audiences. 

What does citizenship mean to you? The definition of citizenship is the character of an individual viewed as a member of society.  This definition happens to follow the mission of the National 4-H program to empower young people to be well-informed citizens who are actively engaged in their communities and the world.  

4-H is a valuable program to teach all youth about using positive character traits to help within the community.  The service learning projects that youth are able to address can fall into the 150 different 4-H projects offered in Nebraska 4-H.    4-H youth can challenge themselves to try new service activities within their projects to develop of sense of volunteerism for their community. 

Learning about service learning, citizenship and leadership happens all the time within 4-H activities.  Youth might serve as an officer of a club to learn about parliamentary procedure, join a committee to plan out an event for the club, or be a part of the service learning project.  

One of the capstone events familiar to many is the 4-H CWF (Citizenship Washington Focus) trip that youth attend during their high school career.  4-H teens learn about citizenship and how they are a contributing member of society; travel to Washington, D.C., to see the United States government in action and learn about the past through historical sites; and plan a service learning project that they could complete after the project.