Among the core courses for your homeschool—English language arts, math, science, and social studies—you may have heard that you also need to include civics. Civics is an often-overlooked component of a student’s formative education. A lot of kids have grown up only learning civic principles from media, friends, or family. Unregulated civic education can lead to students not learning why those principles are important. Homeschooling civics isn’t just about understanding economics or the way governments work. It’s a broader area of study that teaches children how to be good citizens of their country.
Because citizenship and the laws that affect citizenship differ from country to country, it’s important to look at the citizenship of your own country. BJU Press offers civics courses that are specific to American citizenship, but we may not be able to comment on how citizenship is different in other countries. For many states in the U.S., having courses that specifically cover civics is a requirement for high school graduates. Often this requirement can be covered with semester-long government and economics courses in the senior year. However, it can be very valuable for young children to develop citizenship early in their education. Keep reading to learn more about homeschooling civics.
What is civics?
Broadly speaking, civics teaches students about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of their country. Civics is a social science that encompasses government studies, economics structures, human rights, social categories, societal roles, and laws. The goal of civics education is to help students understand their role in society. Students should see themselves not just as students, but also as future parents and employees. They should consider what opportunities are available to them to improve their lives and the society around them. The more they understand the structure of the world around them, the better equipped students will be to fulfill God’s command—to spread the name of Jesus to all corners of the world. Respectful citizens who honor the government in appropriate ways may be more successful in reaching others with the gospel.
Is civics the same as government studies?
Civics can encompass studies of the government, but the goal of civics education is both more specific and broader than general government studies. Government studies, and specifically American government, focus on the structure, roles, and expectations of the branches of government. Understanding these roles has value to a civics student, but not as much value as, for example, a political science or law student. Civics students’ interest in the role of the government is their role as citizens within that government. In civics, students consider the impact and purpose of taxation, the value of voting in a constitutional republic, and how they can use their rights as citizens to lead decisions in the government.
How Elementary Civics Fits into My Child’s Education
Teaching your children to be good citizens isn’t something you can cram into the last year of high school. Because of that, for years, American schools cover civic responsibility in history courses. Students learn about the U. S. Constitution and other founding documents that help children understand what was intended for them as citizens from the founding of the United States.
However, it can sometimes be difficult for students to relate to history or to learn from founding documents through history. A new approach to civic education prepares students to better understand and develop a perspective for the founding documents by first helping them to understand their role in society. This process often begins early. With BJU Press, first-grade students begin learning about their roles in their families and their communities. Starting by grounding their perspective around what they know and experience gives them a more solid understanding for how founding documents and historical perspectives apply to us today. You can expand their civic education by using dedicated civics courses like BJU Press’s heritage studies courses for Grades 1–2.
Check out the BJU Press courses for first and second grade to learn how they help students become good citizens!
5 Tips to Be a Good Citizen
A dedicated curriculum won’t guarantee that your children will be good citizens. Civic education helps students understand what citizenship means and how their behavior can affect their society. You can support your curriculum by encouraging the behaviors of good citizenship in your children.
1. Be active and aware.
One of the most important rights of American citizenship is the right to vote. Voting in a constitutional republic like the United States allows average citizens to have a voice in larger local concerns as well as national issues. By being active and aware in your community, you have say in the issues that matter to you, and can contribute to their resolution.
2. Uphold godly virtues.
People who hold values of kindness, honesty, and accountability support their communities by providing safe and reliable environments for continual growth. Those communities encourage other families to have children, emulate the kindness they receive, and be helpful to others.
3. Support your community.
To further improve your citizenship, you can find and support volunteer efforts in your community. Volunteer efforts allow you to support less fortunate members of your community by providing food, shelter, and other necessities. Volunteer efforts don’t have to be limited to monetary donations or donations with monetary value, though. You can serve by transporting the elderly when they can’t drive. You can pick up trash along the roads or in neighborhoods, or support animal rescue organizations to protect wildlife populations and address concerns of overpopulation.
4. Do your role.
Everyone in a community has a role. You may have several roles as parent, spouse, sibling, child, friend, employee, church member, or civil servant. Each of these roles is integral to the running of a smooth society. For example, by diligently raising children who love the Lord and have a commitment to good citizenship ensures you’ll be adding more people who use their voice to uphold their values and who support the community and fulfill their roles.
5. Appropriately honor your government.
When the Pharisees questioned Jesus on giving money to Caesar, Jesus told them to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). While this verse is specific to whether Christians should pay taxes—or tribute—to their governments, it does establish that, so long as it does not go against any other commandments or Christian principles, we should follow and obey our governments. We can do this by paying taxes, obeying the law, respecting elected officials, and using appropriate channels to make our voices heard about the decisions that matter to us.
Homeschool Civics Activities
Civic education should start early and continue throughout your children’s education. Even if you’re not using a dedicated civics course, you can use activities to instill civic principles and civic learning in your children to help them understand their role as citizens of their country.
- Volunteer programs. Volunteer programs and volunteer efforts are great opportunities to instill civic responsibility in your children’s minds and hearts. Look for efforts that require time and effort rather than monetary or physical donations, and you can teach your children how to work for those in need.
- Mock elections. Holding a low-key mock election in your home, neighborhood, or co-op can help your students come to understand the value of voting and their role in making their voices heard for decisions that matter. You can also use democratic processes for low impact decisions around your home, like who does which chore and what games to play on game night.
- Political cartoons. Political cartoons have a long history of teaching about current events with light-hearted, witty comments. Your artistic—or non-artistic—students can try their hands at their own cartoons to help them express current events or political situations in their own words.
- Write letters or emails. Sending letters or emails to local representatives has long been an important method for voicing local concerns to city and state officials. Encourage your children to observe problems in their community and possible solutions that they can send to your local representative.
- Role play. Help your children to understand the role everybody plays in their communities by having them role play as adults in different roles. What are the duties and responsibilities that a police officer should observe? What are the duties and responsibilities that a doctor should observe? What are the duties and responsibilities that a pastor should observe? How are they different, and how do they complement each other?
- Use make-believe. Have your children practice imagining their own countries. What would the government look like? What would the people’s responsibilities under that government be? How would the country’s climate and available food sources affect the roles that the people would have? For instance, an agrarian society would be more heavily reliant on farmers, whereas a country that imports a large amount of their food would be more heavily reliant on people to transport goods and people who manage trades.