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Teaching citizenship and social responsibility.

Recently, some policymakers have begun to recognize the importance of civics and citizenship education. The North Carolina Legislature allocated funds in the 2003-05 budget to encourage every state high school to have elected student councils, and to encourage discussion of current events in a range of classes. The Wisconsin State Superintendent's Conference on Service learning and Citizenship focused on promoting service learning for students from preschool through college. In September, the U.S. Senate's majority and minority leaders sponsored the Congressional Conference on Civic Education, the first in a series of five annual conferences designed to address the civic mission of the nation's schools (Citizenship Matters, 2003). The North Carolina Kindergarten Competency Goal 2 states: "The learner will identify and exhibit qualities of responsible citizenship in the classroom, school, and other social environments."

Civic education teaches young people the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will, one hopes, prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives. Service learning can be an integrating force throughout the curriculum, combining needed service to the community with strong academic content and structured reflection exercises.

Burmaster (2003) writes:

Service-learning is especially relevant as a methodology for teaching citizenship education. It is the way we want to teach young people to engage in their communities and become productive citizens. In education, we have to go beyond content knowledge into experiential, active engagement. In other words, we want young people to do more than just learn about citizenship and voting. We want them to be actively revolved as citizens--to vote, critically analyze the issues, and work for the causes they believe in. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Schools have a civic mission; citizenship education is a foundation of a functioning democracy, and service-learning is the best way to ensure young people have the skills to be able to engage in democracy when they are older. (para. 3)

Service learning can foster civic responsibility by giving young people a chance to pursue activities that are important to the community's well-being. In order for service to be effective, citizenship education must be taught as individuals perform service (Maxim, 2003; Minkler, 2002).

While much of the service learning literature focuses on college, high school, and middle school students, Shoemaker (1999) points out that service learning is an excellent way to meet the needs of 4- to 8-year-olds. The "hands-on" nature of service learning is most appropriate for this age group, as it allows young children to make connections between their learning and the everyday world.

The basic steps in a service learning framework include preparation, action, reflection, and celebration. Preparation includes all phases of the planning process. Action is the process of providing the needed services. Reflection allows students to think about their service and share their experiences with others. Celebration provides recognition for their service and helps children understand that their contributions are valued (Duckenfield & Swanson, 1992). Shoemaker (1999) expands the preparation step to include needs identification, an action plan, and curriculum alignment. The preparation phase is important in selecting developmentally appropriate service for preschool and primary children that is aligned with their curriculum.

Some ideas for service learning projects are:

* Planting gardens for the school

* Offering peer tutoring

* Collecting toys for sick children

* Making get-well and birthday cards for nursing home residents

* Collecting clothes for needy children

* Organizing a book drive for homeless children

* Making food baskets for the homeless

* Collecting school supplies for needy children

* Participating in a trash pick-up day

* Making books or learning materials for lower grade levels.

All young children should have opportunities for school and community service. The service should be age-appropriate and adequately supervised. Children also should be expected to reflect on their experiences under the guidance of their teachers With these guidelines, service learning can be a valuable pedagogical strategy for teaching citizenship.


Burmaster, E. (2003, August). A democracy at risk: Engaging students as citizens. Citizenship Matters, Education Commission of the States. Retrieved August 15, 2003, from 46/74/4674.doc

Citizenship Matters. (2003, August). What states are, doing, Education Commission of the States. Retrieved September 3, 2003. from

Duckenfield, M., & Swanson, L. (1992). Service learning: Meeting the needs of youth at risk Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center.

Maxim, G. (2003). Dynamic social studies for elementary classrooms(7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Minkler, J. (2002, November). Students in service to America. Citizenship Central. Retrieved September, 2003. from

Shoemaker. A. (1999). Teaching young children through service: A practical guide for understanding and practicing service learning with children ages 4 through 8. St Paul, MN: National Youth Leadership Council.

--Bessie Gage, Vice President Representing Infancy/Early Childhood
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Title Annotation:Vice President's Vista
Author:Gage, Bessie
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Dec 22, 2003
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