How can children learn to build a better world? According to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the answer is in the title of her new picture book: Just Help!
Throughout the day, a young Sonia discovers many ways children and adults can help transform their neighborhoods and the world. From making room for someone on the bus, to donating toys for hospitalized children and distributing political flyers, kids can see other kids making a difference.
Explore this story of empowerment and community with children ages 4-10, using one or more of these activities to help them discover ways they can contribute to the common good.
Set a regular helping goal. Every morning, Mami asks, “How will you help today?” and then, in the evening, she inquires “How did you help?” Anticipating these questions encourages Sonia to look for ways to help all the time. Adopt a similar routine in your family or group. Invite each person to share a goal of helping in a specific way and encourage them to pursue their goal for a set period of time (a day or week). Later, reflect together on how you did.
Share a helpful message. After picking up litter in the park, Lucas uses sidewalk chalk to leave the message: “Keep our park clean. Please do not litter!” Engage children in a helping activity, such as collecting canned goods for a food bank or scrubbing graffiti off walls. Afterward, ask: What message would you like to share with the community so others can help too? Provide chalk so they can write their sidewalk message. Or make a sign for a local bulletin board or a yard. Kids could even create a social media post for a virtual community.
Research ways to help. Brooklyn learns about the threat that plastics pose to her favorite ocean animals and decides to start a school recycling program. Research together an issue children care about and ways they can help effect change. For example, if children are concerned about kids going without healthy food, explore how composting food scraps for a community garden helps provide vegetables to families without nearby grocery stores.
Imagine the outcomes. As Kiley collects donations for American soldiers, she pictures how her mom, and other soldiers, will feel when they receive a package. Invite children to participate in a helping activity like gathering blankets for persons who are homeless or planting wildflower seeds in a vacant lot. Then ask them to draw what they imagine will happen as a result of their help. Post their images as a reminder of how helping makes a difference.
Notice all the helpers. At night, Sonia remembers all the children and adults who have helped. Encourage children to think about all the people they have seen helping this week. Write who they are and/or what they did on individual strips of paper. Then, create a chain by linking the paper strips together. Challenge children to continue adding new links as they notice future helpers, until the chain hits a predetermined length (e.g., 20 or 50 feet).