It’s election time in the United States. The election season provides us a wonderful opportunities to educate our children about the importance of voting and the election process.
Why do we vote? How do you pick who to vote for? These or similar questions are faced by many parents during election season. It’s important to explain things to an appropriate age level. It’s also important to encourage critical thinking, rather than thrusting your own specific viewpoints onto your children.
How do you explain the voting and democracy process to a 5 year old? Simplify it as much as possible. An election is a contest in which every citizen can pick who they want to win. The candidate with the most votes wins. So many adults are clueless about the issues. While this isn’t always true, now’s obviously not the time to confuse a young child with discussions about the Electoral College and its role. You can demonstrate this process by having your family members participate in a vote.
Have everyone write down their favorite food or ice cream flavor out of 3 or 4 choices. The papers are folded and placed into a box. When everyone has cast their “ballot,” show the kids how the votes are counted to determine a winner.
There are a lot of other great ideas that you can find to teach kids of varying age groups about the voting process, campaigns, and parties. We have compiled some great products as well as fun ideas for encouraging voting and teaching about our government:
Here are some tips a mom suggests for teaching your kids about voting:
1. TEACH KIDS HOW ELECTIONS WORK.
Print colorful electoral-college maps from the Internet, as election day neared, to show which states were leaning toward which candidates. Watched the presidential debates together and huddle around the television on election night.
2. TAKE KIDS TO THE POLLS.
The most important thing you can do to help generate your kids’ interest in the public process is to take them to vote with you.
3. FOLLOW LOCAL POLITICS.
Kids need to know that their mayor, city council and school board make decisions that affect their lives.
4. SING AMERICA’S SONGS.
CDs of classic American songs are available at your local library. Visit www.scoutsongs.com for lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “This Land is Your Land” and many other traditional American songs.
5. VISIT AMERICA’S HISTORIC SITES.
“Washington D.C. is ‘our city,’ and we need to make sure our kids get there when they are at the right age to absorb the enormity of the greatness of our nation,” says Joy Hall, the mother of two. “I think the war memorials and the Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial and the Capitol building are all really awe-inspiring to kids.”
6. TALK WITH A VETERAN.
A visit to a veterans’ hospital, whether as a family or as part of a school, Scouting or church group, was particularly meaningful for their family. Interviewing a veteran is a great way for kids to learn about our country’s history and to show appreciation for those who have sacrificed for our freedom.
7. SET AN EXAMPLE.
Kids watch what we do, and our actions tell them what we value
Websites & Tools
Here are some Elections related web sites, guides and tools to help you as you talk with your children about the upcoming elections
Kids Voting USA
Kids Voting USA operates through a national network of community-based affiliates that partner with schools and election officials to offer students in Kindergarten through high school a combination of classroom instruction, family dialogue and an authentic voting experiences.
The Electoral Challenge
An educational website from Scholastic Classroom Magazines to help your children follow the race for the White House from the primaries to Election Day. Kids can cast their vote for the US President.
PBS Kids: The Democracy Project
The Democracy Project Voting Booth provides an interactive voting guide for kids. It’s from 2008, but a lot of the information is still the same. Kids can “Step Inside the Voting Booth” to voting on issues that are important to them. They can also learn how to get involved in elections before they’re old enough to vote. The site lets you explore how government affects your daily life, see political buttons created by kids across the country and more.
MommyNoire has provided some excellent ideas that parents can use to get your kids interested in the political process:
KIDDIE-SIZE THE VOTER REGISTRATION DRIVE.
Rene Syler of TLC’s “Parentables” website, suggests getting your kids to create a voter’s registration campaign right in your front yard, at your local community center or at your neighborhood grocery store. It’s simple. Just make voter registration forms available and have your kids create colorful signs to publicize the event. Most state voter’s registration deadlines have closed for the current presidential election, there’s no reason why you can’t use this idea for future state or local elections.
MAKE DEBATE NIGHT A FAMILY AFFAIR.
Most kids get excited about family movie night. We’ll you can bring the same excitement to the televised debates. Gather up the kids, pop the popcorn, order that pizza and watch the debates. You’ll be surprised how much your kids understand, and this will encourage your own lively family debate about the issues.
CREATE A VIRTUAL CAMPAIGN.
If your child is old enough to use social media (with your permission of course), then they are probably old enough to have selected their favorite candidate. Talk with them about why they favor one candidate over the other. Encourage them to voice their thoughts to their friends through social media outlets. They can even upload videos and photos of their favorite candidate. Warn them that their friends may not share their thoughts, but help them understand that open dialogue is critical to democracy.
GET OUT THE VOTE – WITH YOUR KIDS.
There are hundreds of registered voters who don’t make it to the polls on Election Day. You can work with your kids to spearhead a “Get Out The Vote” campaign. Have them call family members and family friends several days before the election to remind them to vote. Go with them door to door reminding neighbors as well. You and your kids can even use your car to take senior citizens or friends without cars to the polls.
As your child gets older, you can begin discussing some of the issues. Do tell them your thoughts, but don’t discourage your kids from expressing a different viewpoint or asking questions that challenge you. Defend what you believe, but also give credibility to alternate opinions.
Your child might grow up to share your opinions on political issues, but they might night not. That’s ok, too. The important thing to encourage in your little ones is critical thinking and research, rather than voting based on advertisements and age based popularity.
It is so important to encourage independent political thought. From an early age, your kids are taught to obey you. They are also inclined to agree with you and defend your ideas out of respect and adoration for you. For these reasons, prod them to think for themselves, discussing social and economic issues openly.
Politics do not need to be a topic off limits to dinnertime conversation. Exercise respect and understanding as your child develops his or her own principles and ideas about life and government.
Toys & Games
There are a few educational toys and games that are excellent tools for helping parents teach kids about the election process.