As the world becomes increasingly connected, knowledge of ourselves as individual learners and as members of a community becomes more important. When children begin their schooling with support for thinking, feeling, and acting in groups, they are more likely to participate in and practice democracy as informed and caring citizens. The Children Are Citizens project is grounded in the belief that children are not just future citizens but are citizens of the city in the here and now, with the right to express their opinions and participate in the civic and cultural life of Washington, DC. The project began in October 2014 when educators from across the city gathered for a professional development seminar to learn from and with one another about creating a compelling curriculum that connects children with their city. Throughout the fall and winter, teachers helped the children discover and research places that interested them, including the Metro, monuments, museums, Union Station, natural spaces, public sculptures, and playgrounds. The children talked, wrote, drew, played, improvised, and created three-dimensional models about their ideas, and they shared their work across neighborhoods and schools. This research was supported by field trips to the National Gallery of Art and Imagination Stage and arts educators visits from these institutions to the schools, while professional development seminars for the teachers introduced new ways to support children’s inquiry into the city.

What is the Children Are Citizens Project?


Children Are Citizens Book 2015

Published: 2015
From the Introduction: People from all around the world know about Washington, DC. They talk about it, write about it, draw it, and make movies and TV shows about it. But... Read more

Boston Early Civics Curriculum

Published: 2014
Blog describing curriculum developed by Mardell and others in the Boston Public School kindergartens that recognizes children are citizens. And, examples from BPS K2:... Read more

Kid Nation

Usable Knowledge IconAre children citizens? Well, yes, but we don’t often think of them as having the capacities we expect of citizens, and we don’t often include their voices in civic conversations. But what if we changed that framework? Instead of viewing them as junior, cuter, future versions of citizens, what if we saw them as citizens now, capable of making meaningful contributions to their communities? View the full post on the Usable Knowledge blog

Spreading Happiness: A Preschool Classroom in Washington, DC, Investigates Citizenship and Makes a Statement—“Be Happy!”

Spreading Happiness: A Preschool Classroom in Washington, DC, Investigates Citizenship and Makes a Statement—“Be Happy!”

In winter 2016, I began a long-term project to engage the 16 three-year-olds in my Title I Head Start class at J.O. Wilson Elementary School, in the District of Columbia Public Schools, in an exploration of citizenship. The idea sprouted from the Children Are Citizens (CAC) project in Washington, DC. The CAC project coordinates collaboration between schools (public, private, and charter) and three civic or cultural centers to connect children to the city.
The CAC project is premised on the belief that young children are not just future citizens but present-day citizens with the right to express their opinions and engage in the cultural and civic activities of their city (Project Zero 2016). They have a right to understand their roles as “citizens of their classroom, their schools, and of the larger community” (Mardell 2011, video). While previous CAC work focused on 4- and 5-year-olds, I wondered how I could help my 3-year-olds develop a better understanding of citizenship and meaningfully connect them with our city.