by Madison Van West, Democracy Talks Coordinator
It’s never too early to know your rights and become involved in Canada’s democracy - certainly not according to the staff of North York Community House’s After School Programs (ASP) and Summer Camps who facilitate a broad range of activities for children aged 8-12 years old.
While NYCH has been working for a few years to embed democratic engagement across the agency through their partnership with Samara and the Democracy Talks program, most workshops focused on older youth and adults. Because of this, we welcomed the opportunity to work with ASP staff and our Community Engagement Coordinator to develop new activities that would meet the needs of some of our youngest community members.
We first tested these democratic engagement activities last year at our Summer Camp for kids living in the Lotherton area of northwest Toronto. We talked about the difference between wants and needs, and connected those ideas to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We challenged the kids to think about which rights are most important to them, and had them make a “Chain of Rights” – based on a Mayor’s Chain of Office, but decorated with symbols representing their rights as young people.
In the fall, we expanded these activities into the After School Programs. ASP staff integrated what we learned during Summer Camp into their own knowledge and experience to develop comprehensive workshops about rights, responsibilities, and democracy that were a perfect fit for their young audiences. In the end, they used videos, games, group discussion, candy, debates, and more to hear from the kids about issues they face and to bring home ideas about what it means to be a part of our political system.
I asked ASP staff Christy and Casey to share a bit more about their approach to Democracy Talks and civic engagement for kids, and why it is important for kids to start thinking about their rights as Canadians and how they can help to build a strong community and country:
How did you feel about bringing Democracy Talks to the kids you work with?
“It’s very useful, valuable, and essential for elementary school-aged kids to do Democracy Talks.” - Christy
“I think it is very important to bring Democracy Talks to the after school program and summer camp because it is a discussion that is needed for the kids. Most of our participants are newcomers to Canada and their beliefs and experiences are different. So, having the discussion enables them to not only see a different perspective but to talk about it and understand it better.” - Casey
How did the kids respond?
“Impressed, excited, interested! All kids were very excited to have Democracy Talks activities, as these are very fresh ideas for them. The kids thoroughly realized their rights and democracy are all based on considering and respecting others and taking on their own responsibilities and roles. A very good educational lesson.” - Christy
“They were very enthusiastic and had a lot of suggestions.” - Casey
Why do you think it is important for kids to learn about their rights and Canada’s democracy?
“Kids can better protect themselves, make their own choices, voice out their concerns and opinions if they understand their rights and Canada’s democracy. Meanwhile, it’s also essential for them to know that great power also comes with a lot of responsibilities for their actions, there is no democracy without including differences.” -Christy
“For the kids I work with, because they live in a marginalized community it is important for them so that no matter what situation they are in they will be able to know, understand, and explain their rights to anyone they feel might be violating them.” - Casey
And what did the kids have to say?
"Democracy is listening to each others' needs."
“Democracy is a freedom of speech; you have the right to voice out if you have any concerns."
“You can not have democracy without tolerance!"
Thank you to the ASP Team for bringing Democracy Talks to kids at NYCH!
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