Developing citizens – age appropriate citizenship education for children ages 5 to 8

Knowing some characteristics of child and youth development can help adults to provide meaningful experiences related to citizenship education.

Participating in citizenship activities can provide opportunity for youth ages 5 to 8 to make a difference in an issue they care about. According to Michigan State University Extension, these activities can also increase children’s sense of self-worth by providing an opportunity to apply their talents.  In 4-H, citizenship is defined as, “the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and motivation that give youth the capacity to move beyond one’s individual self-interest and to be committed to the well-being of some larger group.” Through their participation in 4-H programs and projects, and other experiences, youth begin to develop the competencies of citizenship. Citizenship allows youth to begin to act as active members of clubs, groups, communities, the country and the world.

Children can begin to develop citizenship knowledge, skills and attitudes at any age.  Parents and other adults who are familiar with the stages of child and youth development can help to provide age appropriate opportunities for children and youth to develop and apply citizenship competencies.  Ages and Stages of Child and Youth Development: A Guide for 4-H Leaders, is an excellent resource for parents and other adults that provides an overview of the physical, mental, social and emotional growth that occurs at different stages of child and youth development.

According to Ages and Stages of Youth Development, children ages 5 to 8 experience a variety of developmental changes that should be taken into account when planning citizenship education activities:

  • In terms of physical development, children in this age group are generally working on learning mastery of physical abilities.
  • Children in this age group are generally more interested in being involved in the process of doing the project, rather than finishing project and having a “final product.” 
  • Children in this age group are learning how to categorize and enjoy making collections. 
  • Socially, many children in this age group are making new friends and may be forming relationships with adults other than their parents for the first time. 
  • Emotionally, children ages 5- to 8-years-old are generally “caught up in themselves” and they are unable to see things from someone else’s perspective. 
  • Children in this age group enjoy game playing, rules and rituals, but competitive games or activities with “winners” and “losers” are not appropriate because “the children are not yet ready to accept losing.” Therefore, cooperative games and activities should be encouraged. 

With these characteristics in mind, activities to help 5- to 8-year-old children develop citizenship skills should be active, cooperative and fun!  Children in this age group can help to decide what type of citizenship activity they would like to participate in, although adults or older youth may need to handle most of the logistics of preparing for the activity.  Visiting a long term care facility and completing a community service project is an example of a project that can be age appropriate and fun for children.  Children and facility residents could play games, read books or construct pine cone bird feeders together.  Some other examples  of age appropriate citizenship activities for children in this age group include planning community puppet shows, painting trash barrels or benches at community parks or fairgrounds, and planting flowers and trees in community parks or gardens.

Service and Cloverbuds – A Great Fit,” provided by Michigan 4-H also includes additional activities that groups of children ages 5 to 8 can do together to engage in and learn about community service.   This guide also provides activity ideas for adults to use to help children reflect on the learning that has occurred through their participation in citizenship activities; an important step in any learning process.

Did you find this article useful?