This service-learning project was a very satisfying and fun experience. Getting to teach early elementary school students about what we have learned about fairy tales was a great experience. I learned a lot from this opportunity by seeing the fairy tales from the eyes of a young child. By teaching these children, I was able to understand how a younger child would interpret the Grimm fairy tales. As a child, I was only familiar with the Disney versions of these fairy tales and I had not read most of the actual Grimm fairy tales until this year, as a college student. I had already learned a lot in class, but I was unable to see how a child would understand the tale. The tales we chose to teach the children were meant to be read to children. I think it is important to fully realize how children can interpret these tales. For example, the “Golden Key” leaves the ending up for the reader to decide. As a college student, I would have appreciated actually reading an entire tale, rather than coming up with my own. However, the children at the Boys and Girls club were thrilled to come up with their own fairy tales. They could not have been more excited to make up a story on their own.
This project was much better than a final exam. I liked that it allowed for some creativity in what we could choose to do with the children. It was also very hands-on, which was great. Rather than reiterating the same thoughts and interpretations that we’ve been talking about all semester, this gave us an opportunity to apply our knowledge in a real-world setting. This project was probably a bit more challenging, since we not only had to know about the tales, but we had to adapt our knowledge to communicate an abridged, but still educational lesson. It was harder to decide what was appropriate and would be interesting to children that young, and also teach them something new. This project really required us to apply the information we’ve learned in a whole new format, which was challenging and fun.
This project did have some difficulties, though. One of the main issues our group encountered was the size of the group of children. It varied quite a bit, and sometimes the groups simply were not divided up evenly. The first week, we had five children, which was a great size. The second week, we had ten followed by three the next week. That same week the other group had eight children, making the groups very uneven. The last week we had five children, which was once again very good. While the Boys and Girls club cannot control how many children show up on any given day, the different sizes of the groups was difficult to plan for. In retrospect, it would have been better for us to have planned activities for large groups and small groups. Some of our activities were easily adapted, like the play we had them act out for Hansel and Gretel. We only had to make up roles on the spot when we had a large group of children. However, our jumping jacks activity the next week would have worked much better with a larger number of children, and we had to cut it short. We discovered that it was better to over-plan, than to hope that our activities took the time we thought they would. When we had more activities than necessary, then we could always skip something if one activity did not pan out.
Another difficulty was behavioral problems. For the most part, the Boys and Girls club staff would be there to help if a child was not cooperating. It was still difficult for us to make the children focus sometimes. This definitely could have been fixed in retrospect by planning more active activities. As tired college students, I think it was easy for us to want them to do quieter activities, like draw. However, the children often had more fun when they could get up and do something, even if it were as simple as acting out “Hansel and Gretel”. As for motivating them to stay on task, we used candy as bribes. It was a fairly effective way of getting the children to listen to us, because we could threaten not to give them candy at the end.
The only advice I would have for future service-learning project students is to really focus on planning more activities than you would think you need. It is hard to budget time with these activities, because some take a lot longer than others. Also, because the children were not the same each week, it is difficult to know ahead what they will like. Some groups loved to draw and some groups loved to get up to do activities. Therefore, it is important that you have a detailed, varied plan before you go, and that you plan one extra activity than you’ll think you need. Then, you will not be caught off guard when you run out of things to do with the children.
I think if I were to do this project again, I would definitely plan more, from a preparation stand point. As was already stated, plans were crucial to being successful. Even with good plans, one cannot predict how the time will go, which is why it’s important to have more activities than necessary. However, on the project overall, it would be nice to have larger groups of children. Perhaps by splitting up the groups over a longer period of time would be more beneficial, because the groups would be a bit larger and therefore a bit easier to work with.
Overall, this project has been beneficial in my opinion. It was definitely fun, but also educational for me. I learned a lot more about children and got to see the material from their perspective. It was challenging to make sure everything was age appropriate while still being interesting. Working in a group made the project easier because you could work together to come up with really creative ideas. The group could then get to interact more closely with the students because there were four of us, and we could split our time between the children. That individual time is when I learned the most about their different ideas and opinions about the fairy tales. This is where I learned the most throughout this project. The project was a great experience and I would gladly do it again.