Two pupils carefully carry piles of shoe boxes wrapped in brightly coloured paper into the county hospital, the results of a class campaign to ensure inpatients have something special to open on Christmas Day.
Down the road, in another school, young carers are busy recording a video message about the causes and effects of homelessness in the local area. It will be played on screens around the school to remind pupils to donate to a festive clothing collection.
Every December, scenes like this play out in thousands of schools around the country. Whether it’s a fill-a-shoe-box campaign, carol singing to raise money for a favourite charity, organising a reverse advent calendar for food bank donations or a ‘wear a Christmas jumper for charity’ day, most pupils will be involved in some kind of activity to help those in need and spread ‘Christmas cheer’ this term.
However, far fewer will be given the opportunity to really reflect on why their support is needed. This is a key missed opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with pupils about social injustice, inequality and other social issues happening around them.
‘Tis a season for social action
In these programmes we advocate allocating around only 20% of the total time taken to carry out a social action project to the ‘doing’ part – with a large chunk of time spent developing empathy and understanding for the issue or cause before any discussion about what activity pupils might want to develop.
In this way pupils really get to grips with what the problem is, why it exists in the first place, and the different effects the problem can have, all of which is learning crucial to creating a new generation of change-makers.
Festive giving campaigns are also a good opportunity to develop those personal and social skills such as planning, communication and teamwork – allowing pupils to design rather than simply front an activity is a great chance for them to develop personally in ways that can surprise both them and you.
Whether it’s calling the manager of the local supermarket and practising their skills in negotiation and persuasion to get them to donate double the number of mince pies than they originally promised, or using their budgeting skills to work out how best to spend money donated to support the maximum number of homeless people, using every opportunity for multiple learning points is a great way of making your festive giving more meaningful.
Make it meaningful
If you’re not delivering any of our social action programmes (and why not?!) then here are our five top tips for ensuring you make your giving more meaningful this festive season:
- If you’re collecting for charity, ensure the pupils know which charity, what it does, and most importantly why its work is needed in the community.
- Don’t immediately opt for the usual or most obvious activity because it’s easy. Why not have a discussion with the pupils about what they’ve seen in their community that needs support right now?
- Make it youth-led. Involve pupils in more than standing behind a stall that’s been organised by adults. Let them design the activity, collect together the resources needed, manage the publicity – developing important personal and social skills as well as their self-confidence.
- Make their charitable giving more than a transaction. Can the pupils be involved in handing over the donations/money to the chosen charity so they can see first hand the difference they are making?
- And remember, charitable giving doesn’t always have to be about money. Getting children to make a card or draw a picture including a personal message can be more impactful for someone staying in hospital over Christmas than simply giving them a pair of socks and a bar of scented soap.
Social action is for life, not just for Christmas…
This festive season and beyond, we can help you to run high-impact, youth-led social action projects in schools and youth organisations.