As we like to say at the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, we harness sports as a vehicle to capture kids’ attention and provide a concrete way to teach them life’s lessons. Right now, you can’t turn on a television or open up a social media site without being bombarded by news, opinions, and speculation about the men and women currently seeking public office. Why not harness that?
As partners in youth development, our goal is to help kids see beyond their circumstances to see what is possible and to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives. So it also crucial that we teach kids how to make informed choices, how to use the voices they have, and how to use responsibly the platforms available to them—whether it’s their ability to be a positive influence on their peers or the rights they have as citizens.
While most of the attention has been on the upcoming presidential election, there are important elections at all levels of government. Important because we are voting for the people who represent us in our city/town, in our state, and as a nation. Although the kids we work with are not yet old enough to vote, it’s never too early to begin helping kids understand how our government works and what we, as engaged citizens, can do at any age to make things better in our communities, states, and country.
Wait, I’m not a social studies teacher. You don’t have to know a lot about politics. This can be a good opportunity for you and the kids to explore and learn together. Start with your own community. Ask your kids what makes them proud of their community. What are things they’d like to improve?
Where do I begin? The activities and discussion questions in the Healthy Choices, Healthy Children: Civics and Leadership Edition can be a great starting point.
What if conversations get heated? If you care about something, it’s easy to get passionate about it. This is a great opportunity to model and have kids practice respectful debate, to show them the importance of being informed on the issues they care about, and to teach kids how to use empathy to find common ground. These are essential skills for everyone—at school, at home, at work, and in life. It doesn’t matter who “wins” or who is “right.” It’s about helping kids build those skills.
The goal isn’t about a specific agenda. As a kid, it can be easy to feel powerless. It can seem like things happen in your community or that’s just the way it is and that you have no ability to make them better. This serves none of us—least of all the kids who grow up and still feel like they have no voice. Let’s find ways to show kids they can do, explain how they can work with others to make things better, and encourage them to pay attention, educate themselves, and speak up about the things that matter to them.