Children are part of our society from the moment they are born.
With their first breath, we welcome them into the world and their first cries let us know that they are here as the newest members of society.
Children are citizens.
Think about that for a moment: Imagine what that means for them and what it means for you as a parent.
I recently wrote about what today's children really need. In the article I indicated that:
- Children need to feel they are part of the community.
- Children need opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way to society.
However, what does it mean to be a citizen? How can our children give to society? What can we do to help our children understand that they are important members of the community and that they can have an impact our world?
Over my 20-year career as an early childhood educator, my view of children shifted greatly. When I started working in childcare, I viewed children as cute little beings who needed care, love, attention, and protection.
However, I now hold the philosophy that children are competent and capable of more than what most people would give them credit for. Children are people who need care, love, attention, and protection while being empowered to reach their fullest potential. It is our job to help them explore, question, and challenge the world around them.
Here are some suggestions on how to raise our children to be passionate and involved citizens.
Help children understand the different parts of their community.
Before becoming an active part of the community, children have to be properly introduced to it. The first step is to take children out of their fenced yards to explore their neighborhoods. Ditch the car and walk to as many places as you can.
What captures your child's attention? Perhaps there's a construction site nearby. Take the time to observe the work and the transformation of the site. Return every few days and discuss the changes taking place.
Allow your child to take pictures of the things they see. Usually children photograph things that adults overlook or take for granted. Use these pictures as prompts for discussions and further exploration.
Another idea is to work with your child to draw a map of the community. Where is everything in relation to their house? Where are other people's homes? Attach names or photos to the map.
Also, children can assemble a photo book and journal about their neighborhood. The pictures they take on walks can be placed into the album with a short paragraph describing each photo.
Help children feel like they are part of the community.
While you're walking and exploring your community, look for ways to help your child feel included.
Neighborhood walks are a wonderful way to meet fellow community members. Say hello to the people who pass by. If you run into a neighbor, take a few minutes to talk and allow your child to speak to the neighbor as well (only if your child is comfortable doing so). The playground also provides ample opportunities for children connect with one another.
Pick up a couple of items from a nearby grocery store. Bring cash to the grocery store and perhaps your child can pay for the purchases.
Walk to the post office to mail a letter to a friend. Encourage your child to speak with the postal worker and purchase a stamp from them.
If you have a nearby library, spend some time there and encourage your child to speak to the librarians about the types of books they are interested in.
If there is an election taking place, bring your child along with you to the polling station. If they can read, you can introduce them to a simplified version of the candidates' platforms and ask them who they would vote for.
Give children opportunities to contribute to the community.
Once children are introduced to the community, we can provide opportunities for them to contribute in meaningful ways.
Children can help shovel a neighbor's sidewalk. They can also work in a community garden. Children can make and deliver welcome letters for new families in the neighborhood. Children can also keep the community clean by regularly picking up litter.
As someone who has previously used the food bank, I try to encourage my children to understand the importance of donating food to people who need it. When grocery shopping, I may ask them to choose a few non-perishable items for us to donate. At the end of the grocery trip, my children place the food items in the donation bins.
Pay attention to your child's interests and passions. If they are concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps you could give them opportunities to volunteer at your city's animal humane society.
If they show concern for homeless people, collect some clothes to give to the needy or deliver coffee cards to a homeless shelter.
This is just the beginning. We're not just raising children, we're raising a future. We're raising hope. We're raising the next generation of citizens.