Citizenship for all ages
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“I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill, and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill,” sings a scroll of paper to a young student in one of the many “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons that helped teach a generation of youth about English, math, history and civics. Years later, adults who watched the TV program can still sing some of the catchy lyrics.
Civic engagement is one the three program areas for 4-H, and there are ways for youth of all ages to learn about citizenship. Whether a 4-H member or not, learning about citizenship can be done in a variety of ways and even from home.
But why? According to the National 4-H Council, “civic engagement programs empower young people to be well-informed citizens who are actively engaged in their communities and the world.”
Five to 8-year-olds, or “Cloverbuds,” can learn about an American symbol, such as the bald eagle or our flag. Another activity would be drawing a community map and labeling important landmarks to the child as well as public buildings. Schools, the post office, fire stations, police stations, the county courthouse and public libraries are all examples.
If youth have not learned the Pledge of Allegiance, that is another age-appropriate option.
As youth grow and mature into early childhood, they are easily motivated and eager to try new things. If they’re in a 4-H Club, this is a great time to look into officer positions or serving on committees in active ways to learn about citizenship.
Also for 9 to 12-year-olds, they can learn how to lead a meeting, look at questions on the citizenship test, and discuss good characteristics of people or consequences of breaking laws.
At home, youth these ages can think about ways to be a good citizen in their school next year or in their neighborhood right now. Maybe they will plan to have a Fourth of July display in the yard this summer. Families can also discuss house rules and why they have them with their children.
Moving on to 13-year-olds and youth up to age 18, these young people can learn public speaking skills, visit historic sites and monuments, and watch public debates. Other suggested activities for this age group are to learn who their community officials are, investigate how to register as a voter, and address a community issue.
When addressing a community issue, teenagers should answer the questions, “What is the issue?” and “How do I make community members aware of the issue?” Then, they can search for a solution. There may also be local organizations who work to address the issue close to home.
Beyond our community and country, youth are also global citizens. As a result, collecting postcards from different places, having a pen pal, and learning about other countries’ cultures are beneficial.
In 4-H, youth learn about civic affairs, build decision-making skills and develop a sense of understanding and confidence in relating and connecting to other people; so this is one piece of youth development.
If someone is asking where to start with all of these ideas, it can be as simple as pulling up the old Schoolhouse Rock program “I’m Just a Bill” on the internet and singing along.
For more citizenship ideas or information about the local 4-H program, visit our website, caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu or give us a call at 828-757-1258. Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships.