What is Roots & Shoots? Service Learning at Its Best

For the past 6 years (and an additional 6 years when I was in the public school), I have coordinated a Roots & Shoots club for my kiddos.  Roots & Shoots is the Jane Goodall Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program.  It is a powerful, youth-driven, global network of tens of thousands of members in more than 120 countries.

Together, youth from pre-K through college take action to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.  I love the concept of Roots & Shoots and have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this organization.

Care packages for our service men and women on Veteran’s Day

The projects and activities in which Roots & Shoots groups take part are as diverse as the groups themselves.  The membership requirements are minimal, the coordinator’s handbook states that groups must:

  • plan and implement at least one on-going community service project each year;
  • address at least one of the three Roots & Shoots  themes: the environment, animals and the human community;
  • submit an activity report to the Roots & Shoots national office at least twice each year; and
  • pay the membership fee and update their contact information annually.

Interpretive sign benefiting our community wildlife

To receive a Certificate of Recognition and be considered an “active group” you must:

  • plan and implement service projects that cover all three Roots & Shoots themes.  This could mean one of two things:
    • plan at least 3 different projects a year that address care and concern for the environment, care and concern for animals and care and concern for the community;
    • plan one or two larger projects that cover more than one of the major themes.  Some groups focus on one year-long project that addresses all three themes.
  • submit at least 3 activity reports and a year-long portfolio.

We have earned a Certificate of Recognition each year and look forward to someday taking part in the leadership programs. We hope to someday also attend a Roots & Shoots summit whereby we can meet other groups.

The Benefits of Service Learning from an Early Age

I have always loved learning and believe that education is a community effort.  As an elementary teacher, I continually sought out service learning projects that enabled my students to become involved in the community while simultaneously complementing our classroom lessons and skills.  As a parent, I want my children to grow up with volunteering as an integral part of their lives.

My children and I began volunteering together in the spring of 2006 when my daughter was 3 ½ years old and my son was 15 months.   We volunteered as Living History Interpreters.  We dressed as homesteaders near Prineville, Oregon in 1880 and interacted with the public as they visited our homestead.  In this role, we utilized our knowledge of the region’s history to educate the public about the past.  With the exception of the winter months, we typically volunteered one day a week for approximately 5 hours.

We also worked with the Adopt-An-Animal program, whereby donors provided financial support for the care of the animals at the museum.  In turn, we sent the donor a thank you letter and a packet of information specific to the animal they selected which included an animal fact sheet, a certificate with a color photograph of the animal, a decal, and an activity sheet.

The children helped me by finding the necessary photographs and thereby learned to identify the names of our native wildlife.  They also learned about why the animals are in our care — all were unable to survive in the wild, typically because they were injured or became dependent on humans for food. Specific needs of the animals such as diet, habitat, and medical care provided great learning opportunities as well.  We typically worked 1-3 hours a week throughout the year.

While we no longer volunteer at the museum, I continue to involve the children in a variety of activities around our community.  We collect trash and pull non-native, invasive weeds along the river when we go for walks.  We donate canned food for the local food banks.  During the holiday season, we donate gifts for children in need.  Last spring, we began a garden to grow a few organic vegetables for our table.

Each service learning endeavor helps the children to think about what it means to take care of our community, animals, and the environment.

Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what sort of volunteering made sense for young children. In selecting activities, I take into consideration the interests and concerns that each of my children have developed.

One of the least expected outcomes was recognizing how the children have discovered themselves.  When we started, my daughter was a little timid and slow to talk with adults. In a short time, she learned to interact with the staff and other volunteers as individuals, carrying on conversations and discussing her thoughts openly.  On the homestead, she was always eager to show visitors how to pump water for the garden and can easily identify the vegetables we grow.

It is already clear that their life experiences and these service learning opportunities have helped to ensure that they will be self-assured and outgoing.

Homeschooling in 1880 :: Living History Volunteers

Shortly after we made the decision to homeschool, we started volunteering at the High Desert Museum as living history interpreters.  It was an easy decision for I had volunteered there weekly before my second was born.  I have always been fascinated by history and was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer with my children in historical costume.

We volunteer once a week – generally from 10 – 3p.m.  We thereby pack a lunch that I carefully wrap in a piece of muslin and place into a basket.  I also toss in a few historic books and games to keep us occupied – but I seldom use them as the kids enjoy being there and always find a chore or task they love doing.

service learning

My Journal Entry – Sept 19th, 1880

It was a relatively slow day at the homestead today. As the weather gets cooler, there are fewer visitors. There are fewer chores to do as the garden vegetables have been harvested and the kiddos are no longer occupied with pumping water and watering the crops. It provides ample opportunity for us to work on schooling, learning our letters and numbers. We also have more time for crafts. Sweetie would love to learn to knit but I’ll need to acquire that skill myself before I can begin to teach her.

I wanted to work with the speller book to do some copywork and spelling but she wasn’t interested. I am beginning to believe her strengths are science and math as well as the arts. It is sometime difficult to get her excited about writing tasks and doing the mundane reading drills. She will learn to read and write in time, I am confidant. I don’t want to force her and thereby kill her interest and desire.

Instead, Sweetie and I worked on numbers for a while on the slate. She can do single-digit addition with ease and so I threw in some single-digit mulitiplication. 3×5, 2×3, 2×4, etc. After my example, she drew little groups of dots to help her to visualize the problems. For 2×4, she drew 2 groups of 4 dots. I tried to trick her later with 4×2. She drew the 4 groups of 2 dots and then proclaimed with glee, “It’s the same!” I then showed her how a number mulitiplied by 1 will always be that number. 2×1 is 1. 5×1 is 5. 12×1 is 12. 100×1 is 100. She caught on to that immediately.

service learningI then introduced her to double-digit addition; 23+12, 15+4, etc. Her initial response was, “Oh! That’s too hard.” I insisted it wasn’t as difficult as it looked and showed her how to add each column (carrying and borrowing haven’t yet been introduced). She worked through a few of them with relative comfort as well before becoming distracted by the activities of her little brother.  So, while she made mud pies with her brother, I read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems aloud. She enjoyed this very much and requested another when I concluded each poem.

Reflections on Living History Interpretation

It is fun to interact with the visitors. It is becoming easier to answer their questions and remain in character. In the beginning, I was stumped by these frequent questions,

“Why do you … / What made you choose this lifestyle?”
“Do you volunteer here or are you paid staff?”
“How often do you do this?”
“Do your children attend school?”

I try my best to respond in a way that answers their question but at the same time, maintains the appearance that they are traveling through time. For example,

“I don’t know any other lifestyle. Unless of course, you mean living in the city. I am not much of a city girl myself. But Mrs. Blair – she’s from Eugene City – she is always going into Prineville to shop and visit with friends.”

“We chose to homestead here. It can be difficult with the dry climate and all but in time our efforts will reap rewards. We make do. There are some hired hands here on the Blair place. But typically we take care of our own and look after one another. Being so far from family, we open our doors to neighbors and friends.”

“My children and I come to call on the Blair’s about once a week. We have family that lives down the road and we always stop by for a visit as we return home. Our homestead is a few miles closer to Prineville so it makes for a convenient place to rest while we enjoy our dinner.”

“There aren’t enough school children in these parts just now for a school. We are hoping more young families settle here so that the community can build a school and hire a school marm. I therefore school my children at home. They do quite well.”

Sometimes, it takes a few additional questions before the visitor understands. It is fun to hear Sweetie interact with the visitors. I occasionally overhear snippets of her conversations and can’t help but smile. Children are such sponges! 🙂