6 Easy Ways to Engage Your Kids in Politics
By Niru Kumar
Nov 1, 2013
Several months ago my 7-year old daughter asked me, rather out of the blue, "How come we (in Toronto, Ontario and Canada) don't have any leaders that are girls, Mama?"
I have to admit, I was kind of blown away by her question. Perhaps it was because I had no idea that she had processed the information I'd been sharing with her enough to generate her own insightful observations. You see, I thought we were still at the tabula rasa stage, setting up the building blocks of knowledge for later intellectual reasoning and questioning. We had never talked about politics from the perspectives of gender representation or gender equality. But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at all. After all, my husband and I had set out quite deliberately to educate our children about, and to actively engage them in, the world around us.
Talk About Issues
We talk with them about being kinder and gentler to the environment, so they've learned to turn off faucets and light switches. They understand that there are kids in the world who have so much less than they do. So, this year my son donated some of his birthday gift money to give kids 'needles' (vaccinations) and my daughter donated packs of school supplies. So it seemed a natural next step to talk to them about politics.
Take Them to Vote
During the 2011 federal election, we initiated our children to the concepts of democracy and voting. After explaining the basic concepts, we took our children into the voting booths with us so they could watch us mark the "X". They were curious, fascinated and engaged. And that motivated us to use every chance we got to further sensitize them.
Explain Our Political System
When the last provincial election debates were on, I sat my daughter down with me and explained the multiple party system, why we listen to debates and how we make decisions about who to vote for. She was the only kid in the class who had her class mascot, Réné the Raccoon, watch the three party leaders engage in an election debate.
Explain Different Political Systems
When we took them to Cuba for a family vacation, we talked about different styles of governing and leadership, their virtues and their flaws. The kids wanted to hear about the differences between communism and democracies for weeks afterwards.
Take them to Rallies and Demonstrations
In our midtown Toronto neighbourhood, when a demonstration was being held to protest the closing of a historic building, I took them to participate in the rally so that they could tangibly feel "democracy in action."
Tour Government Buildings (Often for Free!)
And of all the fun activities we did during the Spring break, my daughter's favourite (my son was too young then) by a long shot was the tour of the Ontario legislature at Queen's Park which culminated with the mock passage of the "Four Day School Week/Three Day Weekend" bill into law, with the kids arguing in favour and the parents arguing against. Parents were outnumbered, so the kids won handily by a majority vote. My daughter was riveted, and later asked me how everyone would come to know about this terrific new law.
My goal is to raise my children to think critically about the world around them, and to not just accept the way things are if they're not right. So when my daughter asked me why there were no female political leaders in Toronto, Ontario or Canada, it was a proud moment for me because I realized that she is digesting and processing information, and ultimately thinking for herself about the issues that matter to her. And now, thanks to Kathleen Wynne who became the first female Premier of Ontario earlier this year, I can now show my daughter that there is a female Premier in her province, along with five others in Canada, who stand as role models to all young girls and women who aspire to leadership roles in our collective governance.
Niru Kumar is a lawyer and blogger. She has two children and lives in Toronto. She is Director on the boards of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto and Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, hosts a talk show called "Talk Local," and is Co-Chair of the Multicultural Liaison Committee at her children's elementary school council. She is also a member of Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald (Toronto) and the Customer Liaison Panel, TTC. You can follow her on Twitter @NiruKumar.