“No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes.” Theodore Roosevelt on citizenship
Teddy’s quote gets at the heart of teaching citizenship to youngsters, especially youngsters who have not yet learned about the ins and outs of civics. For children, there is absolutely no need to flood them with talk of government and duties, responsibilities to the state or anything like that. Their little eyes will just gloss over.
My Dad – God love him and rest his soul – used to call that look, when I wore it, as looking “deaf, dumb and blind.” This is when I was slack-jawed and staring past him. I know. It’s offensive. What he meant was that I’d checked out. I’ve seen this look on my own kids (though to be sure I haven’t repeated that little gem!) when they just can’t comprehend what’s being said to them.
So let’s not go there with this discussion, OK?
Maybe you don’t even want to use the word citizenship when undergoing this lesson. That’s cool. It’s the definition that counts anyway, right?
Think of it as stewardship. Being a good friend. Teamwork. Loyalty to one’s group (but in a good way not a bully way). Anti-bullying, which can basically be defined as kindness, is the ultimate lesson in citizenship. Respect. Honesty. Responsibility.
Again, I’ll turn to Teddy Roosevelt and his ‘man in the arena‘ speech. In it, he talks about being an upstanding man, about not being a nay-sayer and, most importantly, about effort and failure, for there can be no achievement without failure. He says:
Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I love that sentiment, daring greatly.
Better yet, children can get behind daring greatly because their world is filled with things to conquer: walking, talking, reading, writing…you name it.
So what does this have to do with citizenship? It’s basically channeling inner courage into outward actions within a group. So the course to teach good citizenship is to start nurturing courage and then help your child extend that to family and then friends and then school. Pretty soon your kid will be running for class president!
Here are a few ideas:
1. Clean the house with your child. Have her/him help. Talk about respect for the place you live, caring for toys and clothes, engage her in a conversation about keeping things nice and neat as a show of respect. (You don’t have to use big words like respect, either. Just the idea to start.)
2. Volunteer. You can either do this with your child or simply have your child know you do it. Set the example of caring for others.
3. Donate. Most kids have so many toys and clothes that a little pruning would be beneficial. My husband and I have a rule that whenever gift-holidays come around (Christmas, birthdays) the girls go through their old toys and get rid of things to make way for the new. Then we pack these up and bring them to Goodwill. With the girls.
While we do this we talk about taking turns, giving someone else a turn with our once beloved things. [warning: do be sure that the older sib doesn't give away only the younger sib's stuff! I'm not saying, I'm just saying...It's been known to happen ]
Also, as a little departure from the ‘how to’ part, here are a few words/ideas that you can talk about, too.
2. Caring for others. My girls started with breastfeeding their lovies to show how they cared for others. So cute!
3. Be brave. In all ways, foster and talk about bravery.
So that’s how we do it. Ideas? Comments? Good Teddy Roosevelt quotes?
Previous Character Lessons: Fairness, Integrity, Kindness, Wisdom, Love of Learning, Bravery, Open Mindedness, Curiosity, Creativity, Patience, Humor, Hope, Love, Gratitude, Zest, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Grit
photo credit: Randy Son Of Robert