Poll your kids on whether to have pizza or Veggie Delight for dinner, and you’ll likely see a swift show of hands. Kids are capable of weighing in on much meatier matters, though. By encouraging children to be good citizens now, many people believe these young students are more likely to grow into adult voters. And not just warm bodies at the polls, but informed, engaged voters. In other words, good citizens.
To raise a good citizen of your own, try these ideas:
Bring democracy to your dining room table. Illustrate the power of voting by asking younger kids, “Have you and your friends ever had to make a decision about something that was hard to agree on? Well, voting is a fair way to make decisions.” Then take a vote on something – like what activity to do next.
Engage older kids in political debate by talking about issues that interest them – like making college more affordable, raising the minimum wage, or lowering the legal voting age. Then help them turn passion into action by writing a letter to the editor or volunteering for a campaign.
Make community service a must. You don’t have to save snow leopards in Nepal to show your children the value of giving back. Doing good in your own backyard fosters civic engagement, not to mention a deeper sense of connection to the community. Volunteer to stock shelves at a soup kitchen or clean up a local river. Get more ideas at The Volunteer Family (www.thevolunteerfamily.org).
Whet their civic appetites by giving kids the vote. If you don’t already have a Kids Voting program in your community, consider starting one. You need a public school population of at least 50,000 and a handful of volunteers to get started. Find out more at www.kidsvotingusa.org.
Stock your library with civic-minded reads. For grades K-2, try Being a Good Citizen (Way to Be!) by Mary Small. The book explains that by picking up trash or planting flowers, you’re being a good citizen. For grades 5-8, the ABC book D is for Democracy walks kids through concepts like immigration, taxation, and even zeitgeist.
Both drive home the fact that being a good citizen isn’t just about rights. It’s also about responsibilities.