‘This applies to me and my life.’

Children voting in their classroom

It starts with the personal…

Ten year olds live in a world in which their passion for freedom and justice (the promise of democracy) is starting to drive them. A decade in, children start to also see that they have rights, responsibilities and privileges in their communities. Yet they also perceive unfair constrictions and age discrimination, contradictions and rules. Especially children who are ‘different’ from their peers (i.e., in color, ability or physicality). To develop emotionally and get the reward that the promise offers, they must learn: Nuance. Balance. Perspective. Perseverance. In other words, during their pre teen age reality must start to be reckoned with.

Within this complexity a child’s character, brain and body are changing, developing. And we can only hope and pray they will emerge as active democratic civic thinkers and doers.

In class fifth graders might study different forms of government but the curriculum doesn’t necessarily delve into what it means to be in a representative democracy - as it relates to their 10 year old lives.

Relevance – the ‘I care about this’ revelation – captures a child’s interest at any age as their universe is in the slow process of expansion. But it’s especially pronounced at the 8-10 age. And learning happens differently when it’s about something that affects you: When you see the impact of thoughtful action or careless inaction, for instance. For a 10 year old this can be as simple as insuring that they have the right not to be interrupted by their teacher. Or that an adult does not have the right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched.

Democratic civil rights, responsibilities and privileges are in everything, all the time. So when it comes to civics how do we nurture the child’s natural instincts in a relevant, age-appropriate way? Right in their backyard, in their classrooms? Slowly, over time, the mind-boggling aspects of our complex local and federal governmental structure may start to make sense. But it starts with the personal: How does this apply to me and my life?


– DK Holland

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AuthorDK Holland