Are you a helpful person? When your parents need some work done around the house, are you willing to lend a helping hand? What about in the classroom? When your teacher needs assistance cleaning up the classroom, do you ever volunteer to help?

We all need help from time to time. When we're very young or very old, we often need help with just about everything. Sometimes that help comes from people whose job it is to provide certain types of assistance. Much of the time, though, that help comes from volunteers: people who freely give their time to help others.

Volunteering your time has many benefits. Of course, making money is not one of them! If you volunteer your time to help others, though, you'll notice that it doesn't really matter that you don't get paid.

The simple smile or "thank you" you receive is enough to let you know that your efforts were appreciated. In addition, volunteering to help others can give you valuable experience, help you gain new skills, and even lead to making new friends.

Volunteering can also be very educational. Some teachers and community groups have developed programs that specifically combine volunteering with educational goals. This unique combination of community service with teaching and learning is known as service learning.

Let's look at one simple example. Picking up trash in a park after a local festival is a good example of community service. Sorting through various items to figure out which materials can be recycled in your local community is an example of hands-on learning. Combining the two — picking up trash and sorting through it at the same time to separate recyclable materials — is an example of service learning.

Service learning projects are often developed by teachers and community groups. It doesn't have to end there, though. Developing a service learning project is something your own family can do. All you need to do is identify a community need that can be addressed by volunteering your time. Then look for ways you can use that volunteer time as a way to learn something useful.

With a little practice, service learning projects can be developed that greatly benefit both students, their families, and the community. The projects can be simple projects that last a few hours or complex projects that last for months.

There's really no limit to the types of subjects that can be taught via service learning projects. Taking water samples from a local river can teach you about scientific and mathematic principles. Spending time in your community can help you learn about the history of the community and how its government works. Communicating your findings with community leaders can bolster your language arts skills.

Service learning projects have obvious benefits to the community. They also benefit students in many ways. You learn new things through hands-on experience in the real world. These lessons often stick with students far longer than simply reading about them in a book.

Students also learn the importance of volunteering and how they can make a positive impact on their community. Communication and leadership skills are developed. Students also get a glimpse of possible future careers as they interact with community members from a variety of fields.

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