Children are open to vanity as to all other evil dispositions possible to human nature. They must be educated to give and to help without any notion that to do so is goodness on their part. It is very easy to keep them in the attitude of mind natural to a child, that to serve is promotion to the person who serves for indeed he has no absolute claim to be in a position to pour benefits upon another. The child's range of sympathy must be widened, his love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home should appeal to him equally; and always he should give some manner of help at real cost to himself. Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 66.
Charlotte Mason evokes several principles in her call for children to serve:
• Service is a deliberate work – they must be educated. Children must see adults serve and must be given some instructions on how to serve. What must a young person know about visiting the elderly at an assisted living home? How might they give? How might they help?
• Service widens one’s sympathy - love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home. Children must be informed about the persons they are visiting. What are their distresses?
• Service involves self-sacrifice - some manner of help at real cost to himself. What is the personal cost? Discomfort? Time? Work?
An Ambleside teacher shares his experience with service:
Over this school year my ten and eleven year old children have been going to a local nursing home once a month. There have been several interactions between students and residents that demonstrate the presence of God in these visits. I would like to share one such occurrence. The residents range in ability, some able to communicate well and others only able to utter a moan or move a few fingers.
The first time we went I knew it would be uncomfortable for some of the students. Most adults have trouble being genuine at these places. Many students were shy and unwilling to touch the residents’ hands or even the game pieces they had touched. When we got back to school after the first visit one boy asked why we went there. “They can barely stay awake,” he said, with many other students agreeing. As a class we discussed these things not in an attempt to win over the cynics but to actually ponder the legitimate question from the mind of a child. ‘What a glorious question for a young mind to struggle with,’ I thought to myself. The ‘least of these’ teachings given to us by the Savior had an application now and we read several scriptures where Jesus cared for those that were ignored by others.
However, instead of thinking that it was our class caring for the ‘least of these’ I discovered I was wrong. A student new to our school has had some past experiences with being bullied and on random days he may withdraw from others as a defense. Our class happened to be visiting the elderly on one of these days. When we arrived he tried to sit in the corner of the small room away from everyone. I called him out into the hallway where I saw his hands trembling and tears in his eyes were on the verge of spilling over. I did my best to help him regulate himself.
To my surprise an elderly gentleman, who must had been watching, called the boy over to sit next to him. The man was masterful at pulling the boy out of his anxious state. He asked for help when he did not need it, used the boy’s name like he had known him for years, and clapped wildly when my student won a round of the game. The friendliness of this stranger almost brought me to tears, especially when he looked up at me and winked, as if to say, ‘I’ll help him out, Teach!’
Near our time to leave I always allow my students to go look at the fish tank on display. As they were enjoying the fish, I went to the man and thanked him for his kindness. I found out he had been an educator in New England as a younger man. It was clear he was passionate about the life he lived pouring support into young people. He told me about two boys he befriended while they were in middle school and his friendship with them continues to this day. I would have enjoyed continued talking with him, but I had to shorten the conversation to get back to my students. I thanked him again and as I stood I realized that it was the residents, even the invalids, which were serving us. I went to each person and thanked him or her for playing with the children and asked the students to do the same. I watched as the students went around the room thanking the residents. It was not difficult to see that it was the elderly men and women that felt they had accomplished the service that day.
At the beginning of each visit, the students walk down the hall, find a seat next to a resident, and start playing a game, interacting, and just being with them. In the beginning, I thought we came to shine the light on those less fortunate than us. I pitied them for the monotonous days, lack of visitors, and having to be wheeled everywhere. But now I see how God’s ways are so different yet much more perfect than our ways. By coming to serve, we allowed them an opportunity to serve us and in so doing their sense of worth and value shone bright upon each of their faces. These ministers of grace, both young and old are a revelation of the kingdom of heaven on earth.