By Marcy Troy, Retired Educator
This powerful question surfaced during a conversation with my thirty-something niece. Her littles are 6, 3, and 1½, and I called to tell her about the DuPage Children’s Museum exhibit I recently visited: The Questioneers: Read. Question. Think. PLAY! She and her children have read all of the Andrea Beaty books featured in The Questioneers exhibit, and we launched into an animated conversation about so many topics related to Iggy, Rosie, and Sofia. If you can’t get to DCM to see this exhibit before it leaves at the end of August, you can get the books from your local library and read about these delightful characters.
How can I raise kids who care? This is what my niece and her friends were discussing recently. What do you do to foster the kind of caring and sense of civic responsibility shown by Sofia Valdez?
Model behavior you wish to instill in your children. Our children look at us for guidance. We are the first role models they encounter. Volunteering at your child’s school shows you care about that community. This could be as a room parent, library helper, a member of the home and school board, or in various other capacities.
Your town or city also has many boards and committees which need community engagement. When parents go to meetings to address community issues, they model for their children a sense of civic responsibility. My niece recalled that when she was growing up her mother served on the park board. This is now a source of pride as she thinks back on her mother’s commitment. Modeling civic engagement sets a good example for children.
Take your child with you when you vote! What better way to model civic engagement than to show your child the polling place, the check-in process when you go to vote, the poll booth, and all the other equipment in place on an election day. Show your child how a responsible citizen takes part in our democracy.
Talk to your children. Tell them what is going on in their world, your world, and the world in general, as appropriate. Talk about things. Let your child know the events for the day that will impact him/her, and what you and others important in his/her life will be doing. Point out and explain what you see as you go through the day with your child. Research shows that young children need to hear about 21,000 words per day. Letting them know about what is in the world around them (as appropriate) opens the door for what comes next…QUESTIONS!!!
Be open to questions! Encourage them. When we do this we are telling children we value what they wonder. We are encouraging curiosity. Answer the questions? Perhaps, or perhaps not. I have been known to respond to a child’s question by asking, “What do you think?” This is often a springboard for a delightful conversation, and allows you to figure out what the child knows, and build on that, or clear up any misunderstanding. Sometimes, the answer to the question is, “I don’t know, let’s find out.”
But, as my niece pointed out, questions can be exhausting, especially at the end of a long day of work when you still have dinner, baths, and bedtime routines to manage. Here’s an idea that we brainstormed, in order to honor a child’s curiosity. Keep a list of your child’s questions, perhaps on a whiteboard in a prominent place (kitchen, child’s bedroom, family room, etc.).
Agree on a time when you will take one of the questions and explore it together. Perhaps this is a weekly or monthly activity. Perhaps this involves a trip to the library or someplace else. Perhaps this will require a phone call to a relative or an organization. Who knows, right? Kids come up with all sorts of wonders. And when you give the wonders an audience, you are fostering curiosity and engagement with the world around your child. You are taking steps toward raising kids who care.
Marcy Troy is a retired educator in Naperville District 203. She volunteers with the DuPage County Forest Preserve and is a member of the League of Women Voters in Naperville. She is currently learning how to be a beekeeper. The experience that she most values and cherishes is her role (past and present) as the mother of two adult sons.