Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, most of us agree that encouraging our kids to vote and to be engaged citizens is good for our city and our country. As I watched former President Barack Obama’s farewell speech on TV, I felt challenged by his call for all people to step up as citizens. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you fall on, it is never too early to show your children how to be a good windy citizens here in Chicago, so here are a few ideas to get started.
Introduce your little ones to local politics
Talk to your kids about who is representing the area that you live in at the local level. With 50 wards across Chicago, this could be a great opportunity to introduce your kids to some city geography as well. You can easily find information about your ward and alderman by popping in your address here. Now, if you really want to go wild, why not connect with your alderman before you are angry about that pothole on your block? You could drop by a local event that your alderman will attend, or if you are really brave, pack up your crew and drop by during open office hours to introduce yourself.
Make voting a family affair
It’s cold outside. There will be long lines. I want to watch “Downton Abbey,” again. I could find a million reasons not to vote, and I am sure you could, too. I recently wrote a daily women’s history calendar that gave me an opportunity to learn more about the fight for women to get the vote. If you are a woman or if you just love one, try to imagine that women in this country have not even had the right to vote for a full century. In that light, all excuses not to vote are quickly put to shame.
I encourage you to not only to get it done, but also to make it a family event. Put those adorable little ones in a stroller, carrier, wagon or whatever, and head out to cast your vote. If your schedule is too tight for a family trip to the polls, vote by mail. This could give you an opportunity to research the ballot at home and discuss the pros and cons of candidates with your children.
Teach your little one about giving back
Does your family donate money to charities? Challenge older kids to find an organization that they believe deserves a family donation, or encourage kiddos to give from their own hard-earned allowance dollars. Drop off food or other donations as a family and explain why you are choosing to give the goods to a certain organization. There are many worthy food banks in Chicagoland. My husband and I had an opportunity to produce this video that highlights the evolution of Hillside Food Pantry in Evanston, a bustling organization that serves the community by collecting “rescued food” and distributing it to people in need. We returned to drop off a donation with our little guy and were excited to see the pantry in action with cars streaming through the donation line.
Blast into the past at the Chicago History Museum
If kids start to know our history, then perhaps they will want to get more involved in our future. In recent years, The Chicago History Museum has become one of my favorite outings with my dad, a man who knows the city’s grid system like the back of his hand. He and I ventured out recently with my sister and my son, Isaiah. The Kids Museum Passport, available through the Chicago Public Library, covered the entire cost of admission!
At the museum’s Sensing Chicago exhibit, we showed my son a hot dog bigger than him. The Lincoln’s Undying Words exhibit is a great way to introduce kids to our 16th president and features the impressive Lincoln family carriage. I don’t think reading Isaiah the 13th amendment registered just yet but baby steps, right?
Cast your votes
The Fifth Star Challenge, an interactive exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, features a wall-to-wall map of Chicagoland. The map was fun for our whole multi-generational crew. My sister and I snapped pictures standing on our respective ‘hoods, we chatted about the meaning behind the fours stars of the Chicago flag (They might surprise you!) and voted for the fifth star. Be sure to stop by to cast your vote too!
Inspired by the Chicago History Museum’s fifth star challenge, it’s your turn to cast a final vote. Nominate your favorite way to train up mini citizens in Chicago! Live in the ‘burbs? How can your family get engaged in your neck of the woods? Share it with the Chicago Parent community in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!