February 13, 2005

Lessons in Citizenship

I firmly believe that often it is the completely unplanned lessons that spur from real life events and conversations that stick with our children the most. This weekend Rhiannon, Sirah and I went to the library and then it was nice enough that we took a walk to some nearby stores from the library. As we were walking out of one of the stores Rhiannon noticed a security guard and asked why he was there. My brain starting scanning through all the possible answers trying to make a split second decision about what lessons I did not want to bring up yet and what I could lead the discussion towards.

I said that he was there to be sure that people did not take anything without paying among other things. This satisfied her for about 30 seconds and she piped up well we always pay don't we? I assured her that yes, we do always pay and that is the right and expected thing to do. I said some people make bad choices but we follow the laws. Then I asked her if she knew what a law was and she said "Yes it is a rule we need to follow" I asked her if she knew any laws and she said "Well I know some of God's laws, do not steal, honor your mother and father, do not kill, love God." I said yes those are some laws and there are many others that we must follow as citizens.

Rhia: What's a citizen, mommy?
Mom: To be a good citizen means a lot of things and there are many responsibilities to be a citizen.
Rhia: Like taking care of things we are given. Like stewardship
Mom: Yes like stewardship, what does that mean (me impressed she used the word)
Rhia: When we need to take care of the things God gives us and the world around us. As she says this she sees a plastic cup in the bushes along the sidewalk we are walking along and stops to pick it up. Like picking up this cup people left. They should not pollute.
Mom: Yes you are right that is a good example of taking responsibility for and caring for the world around you. Yes pollution is not being a good steward.
Rhia: Looking all around, there is lots of pollution around, why?
Mom: Again some people make bad choices, maybe we can come back here with a trash bag and clean up some of this mess.
Rhia: Yes that would be good to do, keeps picking up as much trash as she can hold in her arms and continues to carry it until we find a recycling and garbage bin, properly puts the plastic in the recycling and the rest in the trash.
Mom: Do you know why pollution is bad?
Rhia: Because some animals like birds could eat it and get hurt
Mom: That is one reason, do you know another?
Rhia: Because it makes the ground messy and hard to grow things in
Mom: Another good reason. It can also affect the air and water and environment all around us.

We continue along on our walk back towards our car and she continues the discussion. Rhia: What else does it mean to be a citizen?
Mom: Well citizens vote, do you remember what that is?
Rhia: Yes, when we elect the president by ballot.
Mom: Yes in this country we elect our president by voting, but we vote for other people (other leaders) and laws as well. Remember when we went to the capitol to visit our representative, he was elected. Mommy and Daddy voted for him on election day when we voted for the president.
Rhia: Oh so a citizen votes and is a good steward and stuff like following rules.
Mom: Yes those are good ways to be a good citizen and they are things you should learn to do yourself. Do you think you understand more about being a citizen now?
Rhia: Yes but I still don't understand why there is so much pollution and she throws away the last of the trash she had picked up along our walk.

Those are moments you can not create, but wow what a teachable moment it was and what an impact it will continue to have on her. I was able to draw from other lessons we have done in the past and things she has learned about and talk about things with a certain common knowledge in place due to her experience set (going to vote with me, having a voting activity and lesson, visiting her representative at the state capitol, science lessons on pollution and caring for earth, reading Miss rumphius and other books that make her appreciate and love making the world a better and more beautiful place, bible study, a thorough understanding of stewardship as being required to care for those things placed in front of and around us, lessons in half-stepping, and the list goes on and on). Yet these lessons buried somewhere within her all came together today in a grand and easy lesson on being a citizen, all because we walked past a security guard as we walked out of a store!

Embrace those teachable moments, enjoy them and take time to answer the questions. Sometimes I love to answer a question with a question and make her think about it more. This tactic works well with her. I know there is much more we could have talked about being a good citizen and why the security guard was there - but she does not need to know it all today, we are planting seeds and giving her signposts to hang the material on later in life. Now we are answering her questions but not worrying that the answer is complete. For right now I think for Rhiannon to understand citizenship as: following rules, voting to elect leaders, being good stewards of what we have and the earth around us, making the world around us more beautiful by cleaning it up, and making good choices even when others do not is sufficient. After all she is only 5!


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