So your little human beings are headed back to school. Besides learning their ABCs and their 123s, what can parents do to help them grow into full citizens and well-rounded adults?
Here’s an idea. Let them see firsthand the gears of this great nation, the men and women who make it run every day. Seeing the action firsthand impacts young minds more than a thousand books or lectures. Put away their phone and help them build a bulwark against the cynicism of the Internet. Here are a few ideas. Better yet, they’re free!
1. Tour a Farm
Food does not come from the grocery store. It comes from the earth, with a lot of sweat, worry, and planning from farmers. Visit a local farm, but take the time to get beyond the postcard image and into the economics of the matter. Ask the farmer to show your children how he increases his yield and decreases his costs. You will be amazed at the amount of science that goes into something as seemingly simple as feed. Plus, if you tour a dairy farm, there will be baby calves to feed!
2. Attend a Local Government Meeting
Sure, they can be as slow as molasses, but your local city council or county board of supervisors handle the nitty gritty of community affairs. Forget Donald, Jeb, Hillary, and Joe. Petitions to waive zoning ordinances and neighbors complaining about noise are self-governance at its most nitty-gritty. Most of all, you will see people who care, deeply care, about their community and are trying to make it better. That’s a good antidote for cynicism.
3. Tour a Factory
As with the food on their table, let your kids see that their toys and clothes do not come from the store. Give the kids an idea of what goes into the objects they may take for granted. Chances are a factory near you gives tours, making anything from candy to helicopters to pencils (which are works of staggering wonder, as this classic essay explains). Some even give free samples (probably not of the helicopters). Start your search here.
4. Visit a Different House of Worship
Protestant? Take them to Catholic Mass. Agnostic? Sit in on your local megachurch. Go to a synagogue or a mosque. Even attending a service of the same faith but different variety can be eye-opening. Maybe a Korean Presbyterian worship service or a congregation of African immigrants? If you have a Syrian Orthodox Church near you, the stories in the news will seem much more real. You’ll look at your own faith with new eyes and understand your neighbor a bit better.
If you do not practice a faith, it doesn’t hurt to walk a bit in the shoes of those who do. Wear nice clothes and be respectful, and you’ll be fine. If the leap seems too big, call ahead and explain you’re trying to help your children be better Americans. Most clergy will eagerly help and explain the goings-on. No conversion required.
5. Witness a Trial
Your district court hosts all the drama of Shakespeare, and most of them are wide open to the public. People come to have wrongs righted, the guilty punished, and innocent freed. Marriages are started and ended, disabled adults are appointed to guardians, elderly are protected. It’s the human condition within four walls. Look up the schedule on the website, wear business casual, slip into the back row, and watch lawyers bring their cases to the jury or the judge. Explain to your children that Americans stand equal before the law, and that is not always the case elsewhere.
6. Do a Ride-Along
The police stand between citizens and chaos. Experiencing the reality of law enforcement will show young people that choices matter, that people live differently, and that brave men and women help us live peacefully.
7. Visit a Military Base
We all know freedom is not free, but we are not all lucky enough to know soldiers. Take the kids to see a glimpse of the effort and care that goes into protecting this nation.
Got ideas to add? Share them in the comments section.