Using Stories to Inspire Service Projects

service projects, Books focused on Service

Using Stories to Inspire Service Projects

We all have hopes and dreams for our children: values we hope they develop, a vision for the world we want to one day see in their future, and our children’s place in helping to achieve that vision. When I imagine the traits I want my children to develop and embody, empathy, kindness, and compassion come to mind.  Incorporating service projects into your secular homeschool journey is a great way to promote these. 

This is a hope that they will view the world through a broader spectrum of ideas, philosophy, and understanding than I had the guidance or opportunity to explore when I was growing up. A hope that they will feel connected to their communities and the rest of the world and that they will be able to see themselves in others. That they will have the inner want to make the world a better place in any conceivable way.

Nurturing empathy in children can be a lofty goal that requires more intention than we sometimes realize is necessary.

Life is beautiful and full of joy, but at the same time, the world can be a dark and heavy space, and the instinct for self-preservation and the development of fears can be more pervasive than we realize. There is a great importance in guiding children in their ability to look at the world from the perspective of others, to understand that the way we treat people and the choices we make, what our government does, how businesses behave, how we treat the earth and so much more ALL HAVE AN IMPACT.

Sociologists refer to this as the development of sociological imagination, which is the awareness of the relationship that exists between personal actions and our greater society.

What better way to bridge the gap between the realities of our children’s lives to the experiences of others than through storytelling? Everybody and everything has a story. Storytelling is an essential piece of what defines and binds us to our humanity. It draws on our connections between ourselves and those that might otherwise be felt or defined as OTHER.  Stories hold power; they aid in the forging of our values and our dreams, as well as shaping our prejudices and our hatreds – all because they tap into our emotions.

Books focused on Service can be the first step in raising conscientious children.

We can utilize great stories to connect with the world in a way that is different than our normal daily life, expose our children to new ideas, inspire community action through service projects, and more. Volunteering our time is a good way to connect with others, makes us feel good, and improves lives.  It shows that kindness passed to others has a spiraling effect. Using great books focused on service to explore citizenship, poverty, pain, fear, community, love, heart-break, struggle, and hope can be the first step in raising conscientious children.

This blog post is full of book recommendations! First up on the docket, check out If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World’s People to encourage children to look outside of their neighborhoods at the greater world and its diversity, and Because Amelia Smiled to see the way people across the globe are connected.

Big Juicy Conversations

Great stories are a wonderful springboard for sparking “big juicy conversations,” as Julie Bogart calls them. These are just conversations that explore new ideas and ask meaningful questions. You can explore things like…

  • What does it mean to be a good citizen?
  • Can one person positively impact the world?
  • What is something we would like to change? Is there an action we can take to impact that change?
  • And, of course, questions & ideas that are specific to stories you are enjoying together.

My Book Club Experience

Earlier this year, I took on the task of running a book club for my homeschool cooperative with the book The Family Under the Bridge. The Family Under the Bridge follows the experiences of a French family as they struggle to survive homelessness under tough economic circumstances, and the relationship they build with a fellow homeless man who learns to love them and share his resources. This book offered a great opportunity for the children to explore local programs that help people in their community through outreach to those at risk for homelessness and those currently homeless.

As a group, my book club discussed possible ideas for community service projects.  They decided to work on three projects during the course of our time together: making sandwiches for distribution to the hungry, a food/goods drive, and creating care packages for the homeless.

We worked directly with the Midtown Assistance Center in Atlanta for our food/goods drive and sandwich making distribution. (Be sure to check them out if you’re an Atlanta local! They are a crisis center working the help prevent homelessness.)

My kids collected a trunk FULL of goods for our drive that included food items, as well as diapers, blankets, and more. They made over 200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to feed the hungry. The pride they felt in the work they undertook was palpable, and when all was said and done, they voted sandwich-making as their favorite volunteer effort!

More Books focused on Service & Service Project Ideas:

Refugees & Immigration

Big Juicy Conversation Starters:
What is a refugee? What kinds of experiences influence people to flee their homes? How would you feel if faced with this situation? How can we help to make refugees feel more at home in our communities?

Book Ideas:
Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams
I Will Always Write Back, How One Letter Changed Two Lives, by Martin Ganda
A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park
Check out this list of additional books that build understanding in the struggles experienced by refugees from Doing Good Together.

Service Project Idea:
There are over 200 detention centers located across the U.S. You can visit
Freedom for Immigrants to view their interactive map to locate the detention center nearest to you and the visitation programs available in your area. You can make a difference in the lives of detainees, many of whom are detained great distances away from their families and would receive no visitation if not for visitation programs. A friendly face and a listening ear can make a huge impact.

Hunger, Poverty & Homelessness

Big Juicy Conversation Starters:
What do you imagine when you hear the word “homeless?” What factors contribute to poverty and homelessness? If you were President, what might you do to prevent homelessness? Is it fair that some people sleep outside?

Books Focused on Service Ideas:
Beatrice’s Goat, by Page McBrier
Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt
Fly Away Home, by Eve Bunting
Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story, by Cynthia Rylant
Check out these other books that illuminate the issues of hunger, poverty, and homelessness from Doing Good Together – Chapter books & Picture books.

Service Project Ideas:
Plant a community garden, join a gift-giving project, cook or help with meal distribution at a homeless shelter, organize a food drive, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, or volunteer with emergency assistance centers.

Other Issues

Below are some other book lists that might inspire service projects for your family! Be sure to search for opportunities in your local community for different ways you can help, and support organizations doing the deep work by hosting fundraisers, too.

Books for Environmental Activists

Service Project Ideas: Plant trees, start a recycling initiative, pick up litter

Books for Animal Lovers

Service Project Ideas: Volunteer at an animal rescue, shelter, or wildlife conservation center, sponsor an animal, foster an animal

Books to Celebrate Seniors & Aging

Service Project Ideas: Visit an assisted-living facility or nursing home, help seniors in your neighborhood (grocery shopping, yard work, laundry, etc.)

Books for LGBTQ Activists

Service Project Ideas: Volunteer with The Trevor Project, work with local organizations that assist the LGBTQ community

Do you have other book & service project ideas to share? What ways can you help a fellow human today? Comment them down below!

Check out our graduation letter to home school students here.

Lecture Series on Teaching Evolution

Lectures on Teaching Evolution

Lecture Series on Teaching Evolution

SEA Homeschoolers is partnering with the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES), a division of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, to offer a series of lectures for our homeschool community.  Filled with great information on teaching evolution to middle schoolers, these lectures are suitable for all ages.  Attend and ask questions from your own computer absolutely free!

Visit the TIES website for tons of links to free resources on teaching evolution.

This is the first time that TIES has collaborated to bring these resources to homeschoolers, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.  Spread the word and be sure to register for these great lectures!

Register now for the following lectures:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
8:00 pm – 9:30 pm EDT
“Meeting Naledi – The Discovery of Our Nearest Human Relative”
Join SEA Homeschoolers as TIES teacher John Mead shares with us a presentation about the greatest human fossil discovery since Lucy! This presentation for all ages will cover how these fossils were recovered and studied.  For more details and to register for free, visit the registration page.

In September of 2013, dedicated amateur cavers in South Africa exploring beyond the edges of the well-known Rising Star Cave came across a collection of human looking bones. Over the following months, a remarkable team building effort led to the discovery of the richest early human fossil site on the African continent and the naming of a new species – Homo naledi. TIES teacher John Mead will share his experience getting to know and work with the team and detailing the once-in-a-lifetime experience of how these new fossils were recovered and studied. If you do not know about the greatest human fossil discovery since Lucy, then please join us for John’s presentation.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018
8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT
“The Evolution of Human Skin Color”
Join SEA Homeschoolers as Dr. Leslie Jones deconstructs the misconception that “race” has any biological basis in this presentation, and take away lessons you can use with your learners.  For more details and to register for free, visit the registration page.

Genomic technologies have recently led to a dramatic increase in our understanding of relationships among early members of our species. With access to genetic markers that distinguish different populations, we have been able to reconstruct a much more accurate picture of migration out of Africa and the various paths our ancestors took on the way to the colonization of most of the world. As a biologist who is committed to using science education to deconstruct the widely held notion that “race” has any biological basis, Dr. Jones has developed lessons on human evolution that explain visible diversity within our species. The centerpiece of this approach is why skin color, the ultimate marker for racist distinctions, varies within indigenous populations. These lessons are always coupled with explicit instruction on the history of how racial categories were fallaciously invented to justify European imperialism and the social construction of race.

These sessions can fill up, so be sure to reserve your spot right away.

Watch for details on future TIES lectures:

Date to be announced: Classifying Life (Phylogeny and Cladistics)
Date to be announced: The Theory of Evolution Explained

Check out our review of Pandia Press Astronomy 1 here.