Citizenship ideas for young children: What do my taxes pay for?

Brainstorm with your children about all the things that taxes pay for.

American dollars and the word tax on the American flag.
Photo by Pixabay.

This is the latest Michigan State University Extension article about citizenship activities anyone can conduct with children. This can be done within a family, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group working with young people. Have a robust dialogue about these issues, and encourage young people to find data to back up their opinions. During the discussion, try to limit interjecting your own opinions, and let the youth discuss it among themselves.

Ask your children to brainstorm ideas about all the things their taxes pay for. Ask them to go through their day and think about what they do, and how tax dollars and government programs affect it. Let them come up with as many ideas as they can before adding in your own ideas. 

Here are some brainstorming prompts that might help with conversation.

  1. If they get up in the morning using an alarm clock, does the government have any role in regulating time? There is a U.S. government website that discusses it.  Did the radio come on and talk about the weather? Weather reports use government data to make their predictions.
  2. If they drink water or go to the bathroom, how is that affected by the government? Water might be provided through a municipal water system, and waste through a sewer system. Even if it is private wells and a septic system, how those are installed are regulated by the government.
  3. Did you take any medicine? How is that regulated by the government?
  4. Do you eat breakfast? How is that impacted by government? Many parts of our food system are inspected or regulated by the government. Do any of the agricultural products you eat have subsidies by the government? If you ate at a restaurant, was it inspected by a local health department?
  5. Did you go out on the roads? Who maintains those roads? Who puts up the signs and traffic signals? Who makes sure people driving on the roads are safe? How do you make sure people are properly licensed to drive?
  6. Did you go to a public school? The bus, teachers, building and everything connected to a school is paid for, at least in part, with your tax dollars.
  7. Did you play outside? How is nature and wildlife protected by the government?
  8. Did you visit a business? In Michigan, many businesses and workers, from barbers to hearing aid dealers, and accountants to mechanics, must be licensed.
  9. What about things they may not have encountered such as emergency protection (police, fire, military and disaster relief).
  10. There are many things that are “invisible” government. One example is county clerks, who maintain birth, death and marriage records. Another is the Register of Deeds, who maintains records on people who own a particular piece of property.

Should the government be doing all these things? Would any of these things be better paid for by private companies? Why or why not? How do you decide with limited dollars, what they should be spent on? How do we know we are getting a good value for our money? Is there anything you do that isn’t in some way affected by the government?

Did you find this article useful?