We are living history every day. All we have to do is watch the news on any given night to see how our country is going through a lot of changes. And regardless of whether your kids are in public school, private school or being homeschooled, the upcoming presidential election is one of those very valuable teachable moments that parents should take advantage of at home.
I grew up in a very opinionated household, as far as politics go. And I can remember the first time I voted, how excited and proud I was to be able to exercise my right as a citizen, and to know that my voice was counted, helping to shape the future of our country. “I’m not going to vote, because we all know who’s going to win” was NOT a phrase that was ever heard (or allowed!) in my home.
Here are some ideas and resources for teaching your children about democracy, using the upcoming presidential election as a conversation starter.
TALK ABOUT IT
Don’t hesitate to talk about the election in front of your child. Even better, take the opportunity to explain what is a democracy and how the president gets elected. I like to emphasize to my children why it is important for everyone to be informed. My kids recently read about the birth of democracy in our history studies of ancient Greece. We read about how the famous Athenian philosopher, Plato, insisted that people in a democracy must be educated or be ruled by tyrants. My favorite line is, “If you don’t know what the law is, anyone can tell you what to do.”
Also, don’t just tell them who you’re voting for. Explain why you’ve chosen to vote for that candidate. A good activity would be to make a list of major issues that are important to you for the upcoming election. Next, sit down with your child and explain why you chose those topics and then come up with descriptions of what your family thinks about each one together. Finally, compare your views with those of the candidates. But, especially, look at a candidate’s record and how he or she voted on those issues!
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Introduce your children to the subject with books. Young children in 1st through 3rd grade may enjoy the book, If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier, in which six children describe how they would run for president.
She also wrote the book, If I Were President, which describes the president’s job using a multicultural cast of children who imagine what it would be like to be the leader of the United States.
America Votes: How Our President Is Elected by Linda Granfield and Steve Bjorkman is another good book explaining the whole electoral process. This book is best suited for kids in 4th grade and up.
Scholastic has a good activity book called The Election Activity Book: Dozens of Activities That Help Kids Learn About Voting, Campaigns, Our Government, Presidents, and More. These make great weekend projects for kids and help to reinforce the concept associated with this subject.
If you don’t have a clue as to how to explain the process of how the president gets elected, try looking it up on the Internet. Enchanted Learning has a good description, as does the website Social Studies for Kids.
Gallopade International is a fun and informative site that features Elections for Kids. Not only does it explain a lot of the terms used during the elections, but it also has lesson plans and free downloads for kids. For example, you can print up a Voter Registration Application for your kids to fill out and see if they are eligible to vote. Or you can print up a campaign button template and let your kids design their own buttons. There is one problem with this site, though: That they have the candidates from the LAST election still up!
Although no longer on Saturday morning television, School House Rock is still relevant to kids as it was when it aired on and off in the 70s, 80s and 90s. You can introduce your children to the animated musical shorts, which offered generations of kids lessons on everything from grammar and mathematics to history and government, on YouTube. Check out these School House Rock videos: America Rocks—Presidential Minute (an updated version courtesy of Disney, now the parent company of School House Rock) or the old-school I’m Going to Send Your Vote to College. School House Rock even features a video on the National Debt, titled Tyrannosaurus Debt that ends with the line, “Feeding time is all the time.” And be sure to check out the classic How a Bill Becomes Law.
Your kids can also watch the excellent video Electing a US President in Plain English on YouTube and see a really great visual explanation of the difference between popular votes and electoral votes and how they affect the presidential election. Even if you’re little ones aren’t old enough to vote, they will be before you know it. And chances are that your election-related lessons will stick with them into voting age.