Two days ago I took my kids on their first trip on a city bus. The "malfunction indicator" light had come on in our car and I had to take it to the dealership to find out what was up. I thought the kids would enjoy taking the bus home; it would be a bit of an adventure. It had been raining earlier in the day and the kids were up early and nap-less, so it could have been all kinds of wrong, but everything worked out fine and the kids thought it was pretty fun.
My son on the bus
Part of my reasoning for taking two small children on the bus by myself in the rain was - not because I am crazy - but because I want them to think of public transit as a valid transportation choice. This will be necessary when they're older and have places to go; I'm their mother, not a chauffeur, and may not be able to drive them everywhere they need to go. I believe that if I start this behaviour now, they will be more likely to view it that way when they're older.
I also think that this attitude is essential when it comes to raising good citizens in general. The younger they are when they start giving back, the more likely they are to do it when they're older. This is true from my own experience of being raised by parents who were always involved in the community and who repeatedly emphasized its importance to me and my siblings.
Lots of Moms with young children use their kids as an excuse to not get involved. And I get that. Life is busy and it's better to do what you can well than do a lot of things half-assed. But there are some very easy ways that you can do stuff with your kids that will show them how easy it is to help other people out and build community. Here are a few that I've come up with:
1. Take your kids with you to vote - You're going anyway (right?) and it usually takes just a few minutes to mark your ballot. As your kids get older you can talk to them about what voting means and what some of the important issues are.
2. Help them write a letter to an elected official (or authority figure) about something important to them - Every day our office gets letters from kids who have noticed a problem in their community and have a question about it that they want answered. Maybe your son or daughter wants to know why they had to wait so long at the doctor's office, or would like to see a crosswalk in their neighbourhood.
3. Participate in a neighbourhood clean-up - Most of the neighbourhoods in our area have a designated day when everyone meets at the community centre and then sets off to pick up all the litter left after the spring thaw. Check with your local community association to see if there's something like this where you live. If not, it's pretty easy to take a garbage bag with you on a walk and pick up any litter you see.
4. Participate in a family fun run for charity - It seems like every weekend there are several of these types of events going on in every city across the country. Small children can ride along in a stroller if they can't walk the entire way (most routes for the family walks are about 1km). As your kids get older you can involve them with choosing which race they'd like to participate in and asking their friends and family for donations.
5. Donate toys/clothes to kids in need - I don't know about you, but my kids have way more toys than they will ever use. Ask them to choose one of their toys that they would be willing to donate to a child who might not have any. Giving up a toy can be tough, but I think that most kids are more generous than we give them credit for. If you're donating their old clothes and toys to a local charity, take your kids along and explain what it is you're doing and why.
6. Be an example of the type of citizen you want your children to become - As I said before, my own parents took an active role at school, church, town council, and other groups in the community. I grew up believing that this type of involvement was just something that everyone did; I didn't know any different. So whether you sit on the board of your son's preschool or coach your son's soccer team or make a point to cut an elderly neighbour's lawn, know that your children are watching. If they pick up your swear words, they'll pick this up too.
What ideas do you have for raising good citizens?