Citizenship ideas for young children: Citizenship in parks and playgrounds

Kids love playing on playgrounds, but who put them there?

Young children may not be able to vote, but learning about their government and community and how to improve it, leadership, making decisions and service can help them understand the world around them. These skills are not only useful in the future, but can help them now. When they understand the role government makes in their community, they can work to improve their quality of life.

I like to refer to many of the functions of government as “invisible government.” These are the services provided many citizens take for granted, especially when they work well. Examples include wastewater systems, clerks that keep birth, death and court records, and community planning and zoning. Parks and playgrounds are important community resources, but their value often goes unnoticed.

Next time you take a trip to a playground or park with the kids in your life, consider these questions to ponder with them. It can even be fun to ask adults, too.

  • Why are parks important? Are parks important even if you don’t visit them?
  • Who built the playground or set aside land for this park? Who makes sure it is working the way it should be?
    • Parks can be federal, state, regional, county or municipal. Some parks are set aside for recreation. Others are set aside to protect habitat for plants, wildlife and fish, or important historical or cultural resources.
  • Who pays to fix the equipment in the park when it breaks down? Who mows the lawn? Where does the money come from?
  • Do you have to pay to get into the park? Why do you think we have to pay for some parks and not for others?
  • What could make this park even better? Who could you talk to and share your idea?
  • If playgrounds are fun, wouldn’t an amusement park like Cedar Point or Disney World be even more fun? Why doesn’t the government pay to build a park like that?
  • Is the park busy? Can there be too many people in a park? If a park isn’t used very often, should it be closed down?
  • Is the park clean or messy? Why? Why do some people throw their trash on the ground instead of putting it in a trash can? Why do some people write graffiti? Is there anything you could do to make the park look nicer? Could you pick up trash or plant flowers?
  • Would you like to live next to a park? What would be good and bad about living next to a park?
  • Do you have enough parks? Would you like more? How might a new park be created? Would you like to give up where you live to build a new park?

Most elected officials appreciate ideas on how to make their parks safer, better and enjoyed by more people. If the children like and appreciate their park, they can send a thank-you card to their elected officials and government workers who set aside funds for the park and keep it neat and clean. Some youth might consider a social media post or a video about a local park. (Elected officials are almost never contacted about things that are going well!)

Enjoy your parks and appreciate all the work that goes into building, maintaining and keeping them safe. Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

This is the latest article about citizenship activities that anyone can conduct with children. This can be done within a family, daycare setting, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group working with young children.  For more citizenship ideas for young children, read the following articles:

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