Wednesday Wisdom

June 05, 2024

SuperKind Social Action

By Dr Cassie Rhodes

SuperKind Social Action

Reflect

A week or so ago at Tooled Up, we interviewed Professor Geoff Thompson MBE. Amongst numerous other achievements in the world of sport, Professor Thompson is a five times karate world champion and founder of the Youth Charter, a charitable organisation which promotes the role and value of sport, art, culture and digital technology in the lives of disaffected young people from disadvantaged communities.

When listening to the conversation, I noticed how frequently Geoff stressed the vital importance of community in our children’s upbringings, and how grounding and connective it is to feel that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. He talked movingly about the positive impact of intergenerationality (which he considers to be an underused resource in the UK) in both combating social alienation and disaffection, and promoting social and cultural growth.

It got me thinking about a little community initiative in my village called ‘Loaves and Fishes’, a monthly pub lunch where the older generation meet and talk. For some attendees, it’s their main opportunity for socialising with friends and is much anticipated. Over the last year or so, children from my daughter’s school have been joining Loaves and Fishes to chat to the villagers during their after-dinner coffee. At first, some of the children felt a little apprehensive about talking to these adults who, although their neighbours, they generally didn’t know. What would they speak about? What things did they have in common? Might it be a bit boring?

To break the ice, all of the children took along a piece of school work, which gave them something to talk about when they first arrived. But conversations flowed quickly onto other topics including hobbies, interests and village life, and were mutually enjoyable, exposing both participants to experiences and perspectives that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. After my daughter’s first visit, she came home bursting to tell me all about when the village famously flooded many years ago and how the army arrived with sandbags to protect everyone's houses. At Christmas, her primary school hosted the Loaves and Fishes festive dinner, where pupils served food and pulled crackers with their new friends. It’s a lovely, ongoing opportunity for intergenerational contact, for building community bonds, for developing empathy and kindness, and for encouraging children to become open-minded, active citizens.

As a parent, I’m a little ashamed to say that I often find that one day turns to the next, and the next, and the next, without me thinking much about the outside world. At times, it’s a challenge just to get through all of the commitments in our own family lives - work, school, activities and running a home. But Professor Thompson’s interview reminded me just how important it is to zoom out and think more broadly about how we can contribute positively to the wider community.

It brought to mind one of my favourite ever interviews in the Tooled Up platform, with Professor Robin Banerjee, an expert in children’s social and emotional functioning and founder of the Sussex Centre for Research on Kindness. Throughout the discussion, Professor Banerjee repeatedly spoke about the importance of teaching young people that a significant part of becoming a successful person is looking outwards and really focusing on the beneficial impact that we can have on others. Kindness and compassion are everyday habits that we should all be actively striving to cultivate. Empathy is, in fact, one of the top 10 qualities and skills highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, 2023, which lists core skills required in the workplace today and in the years to come. To really get on as adults, children today need to grow up to be problem-solvers, empaths and community-builders. The good news is, these empathetic skills can be taught and valued, and we can model them to our children every day within family life in numerous ways.

Motivate

At a recent educational conference, the Tooled Up team was fortunate enough to meet Keren Mitchell, founder and CEO of SuperKind, an active citizenship and fundraising platform for children. Chatting to Keren reiterated the fact that taking practical action to create positive change for individuals and communities is one of the best ways to teach these qualities and skills to our children.

Social action, Keren told us, “can include everything from volunteering, to fundraising, to raising awareness about causes that matter, and is one of the most important, yet under-taught, parts of young peoples’ education - for both them as individuals and for our society as a whole”. I learned from Keren that there is a significant and expanding body of research highlighting how social action fosters character development in various essential areas including empathy, compassion, emotional literacy, active listening and connections with others.

“Youth social action”, Keren continued, “can provide a platform for young people to enact the change they wish to see. It allows them to choose the causes that resonate with them and decide how to support them, ultimately influencing and transforming areas they care about in their community. By taking initiative, setting goals, and actively participating in social change, young people develop a sense of agency, understanding that their actions can lead to positive transformations”.

Research shows that social action can provide young people with opportunities to lead, to inspire, guide and motivate others towards a shared goal. It can build confidence, improve communication and hone problem-solving skills. A 2016 Ofsted report found that schools engaging in social action saw improved academic standards, increased attendance and reduced exclusions. There is also well-documented evidence of a positive relationship between helping others and overall wellbeing and levels of happiness - sometimes known as the "helper's high”. Taking action on issues we care about can offer a powerful remedy for the anxiety and helplessness that big problems, such as climate change and global events, can cause. Interestingly, an extensive study on youth social action commissioned by the Cabinet Office found that children involved in social action projects experienced a decrease in anxiety levels of up to 22%.

Support

This all sounds like a win-win situation, but does the thought of integrating social action into our already busy lives sound a little daunting? How can we encourage our children to take meaningful social action at home or school? Well, thankfully, it doesn’t actually need to be elaborate or large-scale to be effective. Participating in a sponsored walk, tree planting initiative or community litter pick, collecting items like toys or books for those in need, or using art, stories or posters to raise awareness of a cause, are all excellent and attainable ways for children to make a tangible difference.

Keren alerted me to the #iwill Movement, which has developed some simple principles that help to keep social action meaningful and relevant, providing useful guidance for everyday life. Ideally, social action is something that we initiate when children are young. In fact, early participation leaves children twice as likely to continue ‘habits of service’ throughout their lives compared to those who start at the later age of 16-18.

The #iWill principles state that social action should not be isolated or tokenistic. Instead, we should strive to embed it into everyday life and interweave it throughout the school curriculum. Teachers could, for example, incorporate social action themes into lesson planning across all subjects, and in family life, we could talk about causes that we feel passionate about and let our children see us giving to others. If you are able, help out a neighbour in need or perhaps regularly encourage your children to choose an item or two for the food bank when shopping. For social action to be meaningful, it should also be progressive, developing over time. For instance, Keren suggests that discussions and actions surrounding events like Harvest Festival at school might evolve as children grow. Younger children might engage in simple acts of giving and sharing, while older children might have debates about social issues like food inequality or even take practical steps like working with a local food bank.

Meaningful social action should be led, owned, and shaped by young people themselves with adults offering only support and guidance, providing children with a sense of agency and responsibility. We can help them to explore the various ways they can help others, empower them to choose causes they are passionate about and then let them decide how they want to take action. Commitment is crucial, so we should encourage them to stick with their chosen activities. At home, you might create some new family traditions around acts of kindness and charity, and cultivate a spirit of philanthropy by talking to children about the things that they care about. Perhaps you could have a family ‘giving’ jar, which you all contribute to, and then decide together on where you’d like to donate the proceeds. Adults should support young people to set clear goals for their actions that are challenging, but achievable, and encourage them to respond to genuine problems with clear, intended social benefits.

Finally, meaningful social action always requires reflection. Children and young people should be encouraged to evaluate the effectiveness of their actions critically. Keep the conversation going by regularly discussing their experiences and encouraging self-reflection. Did their actions achieve the intended outcomes? What could they do differently in the future? Always celebrate and reward social action to encourage more young people to get involved. Within school, critical review sessions and peer evaluations could help students to learn from their experiences and inspire others to follow suit.

It’s also worth considering whether we explicitly praise our children when they consider someone else, offer to help out, or make another person feel happier or good about themselves? Do we applaud them when they look beyond their own needs and think about those of others? We often ask our children how they got on at school, but how often do we ask if they were kind? Or if they noticed someone else doing something kind? If children and teens get involved in a fundraising activity, write a letter or card to someone who is ill, help a neighbour, make mindful choices, support a cause, or simply do something nice for a sibling or friend, they are making a real difference. Make sure that their actions are noticed and valued.

If you’d like further inspiration, visit the #iwill movement website. The Charities Aid Foundation also has a search function which can help you to find charities that are local to you and match your children’s interests. If your teen is interested in volunteering this summer, there are various websites to check out. The Red Cross has various opportunities for young people, Volunteer Now is a useful site for our Northern Irish readers and the Duke of Edinburgh website contains a list of great volunteering ideas and opportunities. School staff might like to read this report on high quality social action and consider signing up to Professor Thompson’s Youth Charter movement (and make use of its free Youthwise resources).

Finally, we highly recommend that anyone looking for more inspiration and resources to take your children on a social action journey should check out SuperKind’s website. It features a fantastic free educational platform which educates children about important causes, inspires them with case studies of amazing young change-makers, and empowers them to take action through their brilliant toolkits for action. It’s empowering to know that by incorporating some of these ideas and practices, we can help foster a sense of community, empathy, and responsibility in our children, making social action a fulfilling and integral part of their lives.

SuperKind is also used by several hundred schools across the country for its free resources, award-scheme for schools and for its charity-fundraising platform for children, which is the only fundraising platform in the world that allows children to create & manage their own fundraising pages (replacing paper sponsorship forms & cash). Teachers and Senior Team Leaders can find out about the full range of SuperKind's offering to schools here.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

You can tune in to our interviews with Professor Geoff Thompson and Professor Robin Banerjee now. Former researcher of the month, Dr Jess Datu, also chatted to us about the far-reaching psychological and social consequences of kindness.

You might also be interested in our family fundraising ideas, our kindness passport (great for use in or out of the classroom) and our list of inspiring books that can help to cultivate kindness and empathy. Help your children to notice their own kindness by encouraging them to complete our self-esteem building activity, What Makes You You?

You might also like to use our conversation starters to prompt discussion about your family’s values and our wider role as citizens.

On a different note, we have a wide range of webinars on offer in June, many of which are especially relevant to anyone with children embarking on a transition to a new setting. Join us at any of the following:

Getting Children Nursery School-Ready: Tips for Parents and Carers (June 17th, 7pm BST) - Book now.

Getting Children Primary School-Ready: Tips for Parents and Carers (June 18th, 7pm BST) - Book now.

Getting Children Senior School-Ready: Tips for Parents and Carers (June 20th, 7pm BST) - Book now.

Supporting Young Boarders: Tips for Parents and Carers (June 24th, 7pm BST) - Book now.