Citizenship ideas for young children: Citizenship while driving

Transportation is vital to our lives, and we often take it for granted. A trip in the car can be used to teach citizenship.

I like to call many government functions “invisible government.” These are the services provided that many citizens take for granted, especially when they work well. Our network of roads, the laws that govern them and signs and lines communicating messages are a very important part of the function of government. Next time you take a trip with the kids in your life, ponder the following questions with them to teach them about citizenship – they can even be fun to ask adults!

  • Who built the road? Who makes sure it is working the way it should be?
  • Do you think it costs money to build and maintain roads? Who do you think pays for it?
  • Why are there potholes in some of the roads? Why do some roads have more potholes than others?
  • Why do we have speed limits? Why are speed limits different in different places? Wouldn’t it be more fun to go fast all the time?
  • Why do some places have stoplights and some places have stop signs? Who decides which gets put up? Why are there four-way stop signs versus two-way stop signs?
  • Are there many tree branches hanging over the road? Why or why not?
  • Do you run into traffic on your trip? Do you think adding more lanes to the road would reduce traffic? How do you think homes and businesses along the route would feel about their front yards being reduced to make room for a road?
  • Is there a bike lane on the road? Should there be? Why or why not?
  • Why are there sidewalks some places, but not everywhere? Should every kid have a sidewalk in front of their house so they can walk and ride their bikes? Why or why not?
  • If you don’t own a car, is it still important to have roads?
  • Do you think we should have toll roads, where only the people who drive on the road pay for it?

The answer to these questions can be complicated. The “I”, “US” and “M” roads are under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Transportation. The County Road Commission has jurisdiction for roads within townships and most of the major roads in a county that are not state roads. Cities and villages control smaller roads within their community borders. Roads are funded by federal income taxes, gas taxes, special millages and other sources.

If the child you are engaging feels things should be changed to make their roads better or safer, have them contact elected officials to share their concerns. If they think the roads are good, they can share that too. (Elected officials are almost never contacted when the roads are working well!)

Enjoy your roads and appreciate all the work that goes into building, maintaining and keeping them safe.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global and cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.

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