Learning to care: a practical guide to giving back

By Kathryn Harjula, Grade 5 teacher


On a misty day in December, our Grade 5 students boarded a bus and headed out to the Labās Mājas (Good Home) animal shelter with 209 Euros to donate as an extension of their most recent Unit of Inquiry, How We Organize Ourselves.  Later in January they took public transport to Paula Stradina Hospital with 305 Euros to donate to the oncology and neonatal departments for the same purpose.  How do these connect to learning at school? At ISR, they connect through the transdisciplinary learning of the Primary Years Programme. In the PYP, students are nurtured to be well-rounded individuals who can do more than read, write, add, and subtract.  They develop a range of Approaches to Learning (ATL Skills)- essential skills for people from all walks of life.    

In this particular unit, in addition to inquiring into how businesses operate, students deepened their conceptual understanding of change, connection, and function.  In small groups or independently, students wrote business plans, worked out projected finances, and brought them to the school’s Business Manager for approval. They learned about advertising and layout from our school’s Head of Advancement, and made logos in visual art class with their PYP visual arts teacher.  We were supported by a grade 5 parent workshop leader, TRUDE design, Mádara Cosmetics , Livonia Print , and Ikšķiles saldējums who shared their experiences starting and operating businesses.  This type of collaborative work is only possible in a school where the whole school community is on board with the learning that takes place.  

After realizing the scope of their profit, the class decided what to do with it.  Most of the students chose to donate to various charities, which they chose after researching how they operate.  Through these interactions with the community and other engagements that followed, the students were scaffolded into deepening their understanding of the ATL social skills and to develop their agency as learners and as people.  Some of these skills focus on interpersonal relationships such as practicing empathy and care for others, being socially aware, and helping others succeed. When our students are supported to make a positive difference in the local or global community, they are empowered to make positive changes. 

We are truly grateful for the wonderful learning community at ISR that makes this kind of learning possible.   Our students reflected that:

“We had a big conflict about where to donate the money… after we resolved it everyone was happy and confident about their decision…I think we should continue doing these things so everyone knows that our school is good and we think well.” – VK

“I felt happy and excited all the way through- I think we should keep helping people who really need it.” – RT

“I think it’s really good to learn this at school because we are learning to be more caring and empathetic.” – AG

“We should help other people and that means real caring” – AO