Living Columns & Blogs

Try service-learning projects to keep kids busy this summer

“104 days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end it. So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it ...” so goes The Disney Channel TV series “Phineas and Ferb” theme song.

Summer brings to mind images of cookouts, fireworks and unstructured time. While families appreciate breaks from schools, parents may worry about how to fill the summer days.

“Phineas and Ferb” suggests climbing the Eiffel Tower or fighting a mummy, but allow me to suggest more practical adventures.

Service-learning projects are a great way for families to bond this summer. What’s more, according to Youth.Gov, service- learning helps to develop moral character and connectedness with the community.

But “service-learning” involves more than dropping change into a red bowl outside of markets — it requires action and conversation. It’s a chance to build social consciousness and compassion while creating lasting experiences along the way.

While many groups would benefit from the service of willing families, those who are homeless or food insecure could especially benefit due to the heightened vulnerability in the summer. Food insecurity affects more than 20,000 people in Centre County, according to reports from the Coalition Against Hunger. And with school no longer in session, free or reduced-price meals for struggling families are, in many cases, suspended.

Below is a small list of fun ideas your family can do to help combat this issue in Centre County.

Fruit picking: Way Fruit Farm in Port Matilda allows families to pick fresh fruit by the pound. This activity is fun and allows participants to interact with nature. To turn this into a service-learning activity, families can use the fresh fruit to create lunches for the homeless.

Play date/barbecue: Host a play date or barbecue for friends or members of your religious center. Instead of requiring that everyone bring a dish, request all attendees bring canned goods or dry foods. Donate these items to your local food bank. For an added twist, as guests arrive, have them vote on which institution receives the bounty.

Scavenger hunt: Compile a list of nonperishables and assign each item a point value. For example: canned vegetables, 10 points; box of pasta, 15 points, etc. Split the family into groups, ensuring at least one adult is in each group then go from door to door trying to collect the largest quantity of the items on the list. For an added twist, challenge another family to participate. (Check with the local food bank for acceptable items.)

Each activity affords you the ability to discuss why helping our neighbors is important and how our actions, good or bad, affect others. Even if homelessness isn’t an issue close to your heart, these activities can be adapted to other service projects. Regardless of your decision, I implore you to be intentional with your summer days and lead by example; lest our children end up with idle minds.

Anay Pope is a Penn State graduate student in the College of Education.