10 civic engagement opportunities for youth during summer

Ideas to help you plan a civically engaged summer for youth.

Summer time is a great break for youth to regenerate and reenergize before another year of structured learning. However, too often youth experience the dreaded summer slide where they have forgotten some of the things they learned during the previous school year. Teachers will often send home packets for youth to work on over summer, but it’s hard to find time to fit these things in, and let’s be honest, parents don’t want to fight with their children and make them sit down to do school work during summer any more than the youth want to do the work. Another approach could be to organize some civic engagement course work through learning by doing opportunities. Listed below are 10 ideas to help plan a civically engaged summer.

1. Visit the state Capitol

Take a day to visit the state Capitol building. The Capitol building is open to the public, free and can be a great place to take a summer field trip. If you plan appropriately and the House and Senate are in session, it is always fun to go to the visitors viewing area on the third floor to see your legislators in action. Visitors can go to the second floor, just outside the entrance to the House or Senate floor, and fill out a notice to let their representative or senator know they are visiting. If time allows, the legislator will often recognize the group from the floor, making it an enjoyable experience for the youth. The Capitol is closed for most holidays and on Sundays. Visit the Michigan State Capitol website for Michigan’s Capitol building hours. If you want to take full advantage of a guided or self-guided tour, get more information at the Capitol Tours section of the website.

2. Visit the Hall of Justice

Guests can visit the Hall of Justice and Learning Center in Lansing, Michigan, for free. Groups will experience interactive displays and learning opportunities in the learning center. Groups of 10 or more can arrange an organized tour; be sure to request to see the Supreme Court courtroom when you book your tour as it is by request only. Groups with less than 10 can arrange a self-guided tour of the learning center only. Call 517-373-7171 to find out the best time to visit.

3. Visit representatives and senators

It is possible to visit your state representative and senator in Lansing, as well as your US representative and senator in DC, but it may be more convenient to visit them right at home. Often, the legislators have office hours in their district when they are home. Sometimes these are in a more relaxed setting and set up as ice cream socials, coffee hours and more. Call your legislators office to find out if they have any local events coming up and schedule some time for your youth to meet with them.

4. Have youth write a letter about an issue they are passionate about

Brainstorm with your child about issues they are passionate about. Once you are able to help them narrow it down to one topic, encourage them to write a letter to the appropriate person about the issue. This letter could be a letter of support, concern or just their opinion about a topic. Help them to decide who the most appropriate person is to send it to depending on the topic (i.e., school board, county commissioner, state or US legislator).

5. Visit a campaign event

Although some years have more of these events than others, a quick search in your local papers will usually help you find one. It is important youth understand they do not have to necessarily support a candidate to learn from this experience. Attending one of these events will help them to understand the candidate’s campaign platform and ideas for moving forward if elected.

6. Visit a campaign office

It can be very educational to visit a campaign office for an individual running for office or a political party office. Youth may never have a chance to meet a presidential candidate, but they can learn a lot from the campaign office and the staff within those offices. If they are in support of a candidate, they can even volunteer their time. This may be as simple as handing out fliers in a local parade or going door to door.

7. Visit a school board meeting

Often, we forget to educate youth about the group that can have the most immediate effect on them: the school board. Youth can visit a school board meeting just to listen or wait until the call to the public section and address the board if they have something to share. It can be as simple as, “I would like to thank the school board for all their hard work this past year and helping my school year to be successful.”

8. Visit a local township, county commissioner or city/village meeting

Before visiting one of these meetings, take the opportunity to ask youth to explain how the local, county, state and federal government all work together to create and uphold our rules and laws. Make sure you do your homework too in case they need some guidance. These meeting are another great opportunity to address the board during the call to the public section. Youth may also want to stay after the meeting and meet the board members.

9. Look for opportunities while on vacation

If you are going on vacation, look for opportunities everywhere you go. Look for historic sites, museums, the county seat of the area, a Capitol building outside of our state, etc. If time allows and you can stop at one of these locations, it can be a very rewarding experience. If time does not allow, then use it as a scavenger hunt and have the youth look for places like this along your planned route and record all the things they find.

10. Visit Washington, D.C.

Visiting our nation’s Capital in Washington, D.C. can open up an unbelievable amount of opportunities and can be a wonderful family vacation. There are so many different opportunities your trip can be catered to your groups’ interests and calendar without ever having a shortage of things to do. The National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, Holocaust Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, National Monuments, White House, and the Capitol building are just a few of the wonderful, educational sights Washington, D.C. has to offer. For more on visiting Washington, D.C., read "10 civic engagement opportunities in Washington, D.C."

If visiting these places doesn’t fit into your schedule this summer, consider sending your youth to 4-H Capitol Experience or Citizenship Washington Focus. These opportunities are part of the planned programming that the Michigan State University Extension 4-H leadership/civic engagement work team offers every year. To find out more about the organized trips, contact the team at 4-HLeadership@anr.msu.edu

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