by Emily Peters, Lower Elementary Teacher
Beginning with Hero Worship
Elementary children admire qualities in others who have made a difference in people’s lives. Maria Montessori calls this “hero worship.” During the Covid pandemic, teachers needed to create more space in their classrooms for students to physically distance. Steve Gillis, Arbor Montessori School’s head of maintenance, moved bookcases, chairs, and tables with his hand truck at a moment’s notice. The children saw how he worked hard lifting and moving heavy furniture to help our class communities stay safe in uncertain times. One child wrote and illustrated a thank you card. Steve is a hero to the classroom; this hero worship extends to people all over the world and throughout history.
Children have great interest in reading the biographies of people who stand up for others or who faced injustice in their lives and helped to improve the lives of others. In our Great Stories, the children hear about a certain kind of love that separates human beings from all other living creatures: a selfless, empathetic love. We care about people we don’t personally know and wish them well, hoping their fundamental needs of shelter, housing, clothing, and nourishment are met.
Service to the Elementary Classroom
Community service grows from the elementary child’s desire to make a difference in the world and to help humans and all living things prosper. It begins with service to their own class community. At the beginning of the year, students discuss and agree upon what makes a community. Also, each person is different, so each person should get what they need. People in a community take care of one another, value and accept one another, and teach and guide one another.
Children collaborate to care for their classroom environment by dividing up the jobs and each doing our part:
- When there are repairs to be made or even shelves to be built, they volunteer to contribute their talents.
- They engage in group work, sharing their unique ways of thinking, their skills, and talents, enriching the experiences of their peers, and benefitting from their peers’ contributions.
- They prepare snacks for one another and collaborate to make and serve a community feast.
Service Beyond the Elementary Classroom
Students research ways they can act outside of the classroom in the community. They have written letters and made Valentines for residents in assisted living when they were unable to visit. They have sorted and packed food at The Atlanta Community Food Bank. Several students were shocked to hear that some schools have far fewer books than Arbor does. They organized a book drive, created flyers and collection boxes and donated books to a local organization called Children Read that cleans and repairs books for children.
Students tirelessly crafted cat toys out of felt strips, string, and dowels for shelter cats who need mental stimulation and exercise. They visited the shelter to deliver them, and happily put some of the toys to use coaxing the shy felines from their cages.
Students had a coin drive to raise money for elephants and rhinos who they discovered are endangered. Others decorated boxes and created posters asking for donations of gently-used coats for refugees living in Clarkston and delivered them to the community center.
Creating a Culture of Service and Activism At Home
Community service and activism doesn’t have to stop at school. Here are some ideas for elementary students and their families:
- Keep a scrapbook of newspaper articles on issues you care about in the community or world. Write letters to elected officials (congresspersons, senators, the President, city councilors, etc.) expressing your opinions about issues you’ve read about.
- Participate in an environmental clean up. This might be as simple filling up a big trash bag with all the trash you can pick up at the park. Save recyclable bottles and plastic in a separate bag to recycle later.
- Help younger children learn to do something they want to do.
- Visit an elder. Look for opportunities to assist the elderly.
- Volunteer at a local animal shelter or zoo.
- Offer to help neighbors with pet sitting, picking up their packages when they’re out of town, etc.
- Have children help out with household chores such as washing clothes, folding laundry, polishing furniture, vacuuming, mowing the lawn. Work alongside another family member whenever possible.
- Cook together as a family. It can be more fun than cooking by yourself.
- Have children be responsible for one or two meals per week. Plan the menu together, then have children lead in making the shopping list, doing the shopping, and cooking the meal.