Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, so it’s never too early to start teaching children about citizenship.
At Primrose schools, we use Mia® the mouse and the other Primrose Friends to exemplify what it means to be a good citizen: someone who contributes to their community and cares for their neighbor.
“Citizenship is not something you learn in a few lessons. It’s a lifelong lesson,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of early childhood education at Primrose Schools®. “By the time our students leave Primrose, they’ve learned the vocabulary of citizenship, role-played good citizenship and practiced being a good citizen in real life.”
Teaching Citizenship in the Classroom
Young children can’t vote or run for office, but they are stakeholders in several communities, starting with their classroom. In Primrose schools, children learn to show respect and care to other students, their teachers and their materials.
“Being a good citizen means we take care of each other,” Shaheen says. “It means if someone falls down, we help them up.”
Children learn the Rules of the Roost, which establish expectations for “citizens” of the classroom. (For example: Be kind to yourself and others.) Through service-learning opportunities, such as the annual Caring & Giving canned food drive, they learn the importance of giving without expectation.
Teachers use Mia in lessons about the American flag and set up “voting” booths for elections in which the candidates might be two Primrose Friends or competing flavors of ice cream.
“They’re learning how their voice counts and that they don’t always win, and how to handle that and still respect others who feel differently,” Shaheen says.
Children learn how citizens work together to help all members of the community. For example, they learn about first responders and community helpers and their work. Often, these lessons are especially resonant because students have family in helping professions.
That’s the case at Primrose School of Midlothian Village in Virginia, says Franchise Owner Benita Petrella.
“The children see them as real-life superheroes, and we remind them that these workers can be of different races, ethnicities, genders, big or small,” she says. “We encourage them to talk about ways to help others within our community.”
Teaching Citizenship at Home
For parents, the best way to teach citizenship to your child is to model what being a good citizen means to you, Shaheen says.
That could mean doing volunteer work, advocating for a cause you care about or speaking up when you see injustice.
You can take your child with you when you vote and talk about why it’s important that every voice is heard. While moving through your city or town, explain why there are laws and why it’s important to follow them (“traffic laws help keep us safe”).
If you have military veterans or front-line workers in your family, talk to your child about what they do and come up with simple ways to thank them, such as drawing a picture or baking cookies.
Remember that citizenship is not a one-time lesson, but something that all of us, from children to grown-ups, practice every day.
For more on how we encourage character development in children at Primrose schools, read:
- Teaching Children Courage, in the Classroom and at Home
- Teaching Children Responsibility: Start Early and Make It Fun
- How to Nurture Generosity in Young Children
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