Patriot. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot lately. And misused a lot, in my opinion. Yes, here in America you can publicly disagree with your leaders and your government. But, the mere act of disagreeing does not make you a patriot.
I don’t think that hate is a part of patriotism. Working the elections, working the polls, campaigning, contacting my legislators…those are some things that are patriotic. I am trying to instill patriotism in my kids. I want them to appreciate what we have as a country and not to take it for granted.
Because, well, I’m worried. Lately, we are being run like more of an oligarchy than a democracy. Americans have long taken democracy for granted and it is catching up with us. In a recent state primary in Pennsylvania, only 12% of registered voters showed up to vote. Ouch! Here are a few things I am doing with my kids, or planning to do, to get them to appreciate our country and democracy.
Teaching Kids to be Patriotic
- Explaining our system of government at their level: Another thing I’m upset about is how the main focus of schools these days is tests and those tests only have reading and math on them. Goodbye social studies, government, civics and everything else! More and more this task will fall on parents, and those kids who don’t have parents to teach them simply won’t learn. So whether it be introducing a new concept to them or reinforcing and expanding on what they are learning at school, I think it’s important to talk about it. Explain how it works, what it means to vote, what it means to be a politician or legislator. There are many different activities and lesson plans that you can do for fun at home for every age group.
- Have them meet their legislator: Or two or three. You can go as far as your state’s capitol or to Washington, DC or it can be a local person. Have that person explain their job and how it works. Tour the building.
- Take them with you to vote, every time!: I don’t think that my son has missed an election yet. So far I have taken him with me each and every time, and I’m a super voter or power voter (I vote EVERY fall and EVERY spring). It instills better habits in you and in them. Just think when, years from now, they’ll be saying, “I remember my mom and dad, every time they’d vote, they’d take me….” I have these memories from my grandmother, she rarely missed an election. And of course, explain that not every country gets to vote.
- Have them talk to a soldier who has been in battle and someone who has fought for something: This can be a relative, a holiday visit to thank veterans at a nursing home, or call your local VFW or American Legion and ask. Soldiers are so unappreciated, many would love a visit from a kid to talk about what freedom means and what it meant to them to fight for this country. We also have a whole generation of people who have fought for civil rights for minorities, LGBT, disabilities and more. Have them talk about their struggles and what they are doing to try to create change. Why doesn’t America feel “free” for them?
- Organize a thank you project or have them volunteer: For Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day, organize a big thank you. Have a group of kids make cards, put flags on graves, hand out flags at parades, visit aging vets at the VA or a nursing home. The possibilities are endless…be creative!
- Explain a democratic loss to them: Whether it’s an election and someone you wanted did not win, or a Supreme Court decision you did not agree with….own it, explain it and learn from it. Help kids learn that this is the way our system works, even if we don’t always get our desired outcome.
- Have a debate: This is probably best for older kids, but have a democratic debate in your home. Pick a household issue and list all the pros and cons. Talk about how you can disagree with someone’s decision (NO! you are NOT getting a kitten!) but that doesn’t mean that you dislike the person, just unhappy with the decision.
- Visit historic places: Ok, I’m sitting here about 30 miles away from Independence Hall…so that’s easy for me to say. But, history is everywhere! There are many places, off the beaten path, in every state that are a part of our nation’s history and path to democracy. Kids love learning, you might be surprised. I’ve taken my boys to some places that I thought for sure would bore them, and they had a great time and still talk about those adventures and outings. And, if you see a rally or public event being held, consider going. There was just an education rally at our State Capitol last week and in July we have a Disabilities Rights rally to go to….go and explain “the freedom to assemble.”
- Celebrate or discuss every holiday: Take it beyond July 4 and Memorial Day. Veterans’ Day, Flag Day, D-Day, Pearl Harbor Day, 9/11-we have many other important days throughout the year to talk about patriotism and why that date is significant to Americans.
- Read!: Much like the lesson plans I linked to above, there are so many children’s books about this for every age group. We have several about Philadelphia, DC, the Presidents and much more.