On July 16, Minnesota Civic Youth partnered with the Minnesota Children’s Museum to host “Civics Saturday,” an event designed to introduce young people to the importance of civic participation. Throughout the day, kids stopped by our table to learn about the importance of voting and were even able to cast a ballot of their own by voting for their favorite part of the museum!
It was a beautiful summer day and the crowds at the museum were smaller than usual. This allowed us to spend a few minutes talking with each child who stopped by. It was fun to watch kids think through which area they wanted to vote for: “Well, I really like the giant ant at the Ant Hill but my favorite thing to do is play in the water so I’m voting for The Factory” was a sentiment expressed by more than one child.
Another child listed all of the reasons he liked each area followed by all of the reasons he didn’t like each area. You could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he weighed the pros and cons of voting for one area over another. Finally he made his choice, received his “I Voted” sticker and ran back toward his mom shouting, “I did it!”
Imagine if every adult followed that thoughtful process and felt that excitement on Election Day.
The truth is, kids at the museum demonstrated some very important civic skills — observation and reasoning, as well as critical thinking and analysis of multiple alternatives. Kudos to the adults in their lives who likely demonstrated and encouraged these behaviors.
Unfortunately, people are not born with civic skills. They must be learned, practiced and reinforced, starting at a young age and continuing through adulthood. Kids used to learn civic skills in school, but over the years, the time and resources dedicated to civic education have been reduced as schools increase their focus on literacy and math and “teaching to the test.” The danger in this trend is that we are raising more and more young people who do not know how their local, state and federal government works, how they can participate in shaping our collective future – or why it’s important to do so.
Minnesota Civic Youth is dedicated to helping kids and young adults develop the civic knowledge, skills, and confidence that will allow them to be engaged participants in our democracy as adults. We believe that the best training to prepare young people for their roles as citizens and community leaders begins by extending an invitation to participate in activities that address the issues that affect their lives. On Civics Saturday, that meant participating in a voting process to collectively choose their favorite area of the museum. Is it possible that engaging in that thoughtful deliberation and feeling the sense of pride that comes from taking part in a community activity can spark a passion for civic involvement going forward? You better believe it.