Article | Encouraging Good Citizenship

Last week we talked about encouraging students to recognize and find out about the heroes of their own country as well as those of other countries. Those heroes were, at one time, ordinary citizens. They were people who were placed in unusual circumstances and drew upon their belief that their actions could make a difference, to do great things. We want that to be inspiring to children and it can be. We also want children to understand that being a good citizen is something that is expected of each one of us. As teachers, we need to believe that good citizenship can be taught.

Strong and deliberate citizenship education consists of 4 main elements:

  • Identity – the sense of self as an individual and as a member of various communities (eg, local, national, global, religious, ethnic etc.)
  • Attributes – the character traits, values and habits of mind that one exhibits
  • Structures – an understanding of the many systems within society and the powers of these systems (eg. legal, judicial, financial etc.)
  • Active Participation – working for the common good within the various communities of one’s life

Here’s what this might look like in the early years i.e. for those students less than eight years old.

  • Identity – Ask students what roles they have within their family – son/daughter? brother/sister? grandchild? niece/nephew? ¬†Have them illustrate these relationships using a mind map or graphic organizer of your choice. This allows them to see and understand themselves themselves as a member of the community of the family – the very first community that they know. From that understanding, teachers can move outward to the student’s place in the school community or their place of worship.
  • Attributes – What character traits are learned through our associations at home? Honesty? Respect? Empathy for others? Asking students to express these thoughts in picture form is often easier for them than putting them in words. Once drawn, students can explain their pictures to their classmates.
  • Structures – All institutions, from the family to the nation, have rules for their members/citizens. Survey the students as to the basic rules in their home. Graph the results to illustrate the most common practices, eg. taking shoes off at the door, never speaking with food in the mouth etc. Compare these results with the rules of the classroom and the school. How are they the same? How are they different?
  • Active Participation – Have students identify what responsibilities each has to help at home – cleaning, food preparation, clearing the table. Point out that these actions help the family as a group, making life better for each member. next step – extrapolate this discussion to the classroom level. How do we help each other at school? What else could we do to make the school a better place?

Young students need to self – identify as members of a community. This sets the stage for later development of a larger sense of responsibility with which to balance the privileges of being a citizen. Appropriate actions and activities for older students will be discussed in the next post.

Video: Character Traits – Citizenship


Susan Ward

Susan Ward

Retired elementary school principal. Currently a part-time instructor at Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. I work with teacher candidates placing them in schools and evaluating their teaching skills. I also teach a 20 hour course in social studies curriculum to teacher candidates. I have been an educator for over 35 years and am committed to having the best prepared new teachers we can develop, coming into the field.

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