Many primary teachers are already aware of the value of developing social action in their school. They’ve seen how it can enhance their school culture, and the impact it can have on pupils’ personal development and academic results. But if you’ve yet to discover this, and are not really sure what social action is, where should you start?
Social action is ‘practical action in the service of others to create positive change’ or taking action to address social or environmental issues affecting our communities.
Here are our top tips for developing successful, meaningful social action projects with primary children.
1. Remember ground rules
To create positive change, children need to know about, and understand, some of the negative things happening in our communities. You may be surprised by what they already know! It’s essential therefore to be clear about your class ground rules before discussing issues that might be sensitive or controversial. Some children may be personally affected by issues like poverty or homelessness. Ensure your ground rules establish a safe learning environment for all pupils to explore community issues and engage in social action.
2. Child-led social action
Find out what social and environmental issues your pupils care about. Think they are too young to know? In our experience, even KS1 children can tell you what upsets them about the world if you ask the right questions. Have any world issues come up in recent classroom discussions? Has an assembly or something in the news caught children’s imagination or made them feel concerned? Child-led social action projects are more successful than those initiated by teachers. They provide children with the time and space to explore things that matter to them, on a personal and emotional level.
3. Scaffold children’s learning
Even projects that are child-led need teacher support and guidance. Just because the social action is child-led, it doesn’t mean you should leave your pupils to it. The teachers’ role is key. You need to facilitate the learning and guide children to their desired outcome. The best way to do this is by providing a structure for children to follow. The TASC Wheel scaffolds children’s learning so they can see the next steps.
4. Research, research, research
For children to develop a meaningful social action project, they need knowledge of the social or environmental issue they are trying to address. What are the causes of the problem? What are the effects? Who is affected and who is already trying to help? Encourage children to do plenty of research to find out as much as possible. This can be done for homework, with parents help, or carried out as a class. It may involve writing to charities, local government and other organisations to ask for information.
5. Develop children’s empathy
If the children are taking action to address a social issue, try to find ways for them to connect with people affected by the problem. This might be achieved through visits, such as taking children to visit a local care home, or by inviting visitors into the classroom where appropriate. If this isn’t possible, are there any stories or poems about fictional characters that could help children to stand in the shoes of people affected by the issue?
When young people engage in social action there is a double benefit. Young people benefit themselves through the knowledge, skills and real-life experiences they gain. This has a positive impact on their character, sense of well-being, employability and even academic results. The community also benefitsthrough the practical actions taken, money raised for charities and campaigns run that help to highlight hidden problems or change attitudes. While the children’s social action project might not change the world, it may plant a seed. Try to ensure there are some tangible outcomes that have a positive impact on individuals or the wider community.
7. Involve the wider community
Speaking of the wider community, don’t forget to involve them! Community cohesion may not be as high profile as it once was, but children are still expected to ‘participate in a variety of communities and social settings, including by volunteering’ and learn how to ‘contribute positively to life in modern Britain’. Your community is also a great source of knowledge and support. Tell your headteacher about the children’s project. Involve parents. Encourage children to think about who else in their community might be able to help them. In our experience, the projects that involve the wider community have a greater impact and leave a lasting legacy.
8. Think beyond fundraising
Finally, think beyond bake sales and fundraising for well-known charities. While this still has an important place in many primary schools, teach children about other ways they can make a difference to issues they care about. Use the children’s social action project as an opportunity to teach children about democracy and the role of local councillors. Invite your local MP into school to hear their views on the issue. Are there any bills going through parliament? Has this issue been raised in the House of Commons before? Show children how to search websites such as Change.org to see if there are any petitions gathering signatures related to your issue.
If you want to learn more about social action in a primary school context, why not sign up for our free online course 'An introduction to social action for primary teachers'.