Teach Kids the Value of Voting

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With teachable moments occurring every election, Election Day is the perfect time to make democracy come to life — in your community and in the home.

Explaining the Voting Process
 

Explaining the voting process to young children can seem daunting, so Christine Girouard, a kindergarten teacher at Sharon Elementary and parent of two, likes to explain the voting process through participation.

“Typically I have the students cast a ballot by writing down their favorite ice cream flavors, although pizza toppings are also good,” says Girouard. “As a class, we tally all the votes and then, naturally, the flavor with the most votes is the winner and becomes the flavor that we eat. Although some students might be upset with the outcome, this allows me to begin a basic overview of the voting process.” 

A Party Overview
 

Explain to your children that government is all around us and that decisions made by the government affect us every day. People who hold opinions in common with one another form a group that elects leaders who best represent their ideas. These groups are called political parties.

Let Them Get in on the Action
 

One way to get kids involved in the voting process is to run a mock election in your home. Here are some tips on how to begin campaigning:

• Distribute hats and party favors to your kids and explain that each of them will form their own political party. Have them choose a name for their party and design an animal symbol. Begin by sharing pictures of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant. Share why these symbols were chosen and what quality each animal possesses. Encourage your kids to develop a name and animal symbol connected in some way to a quality they want their government to posses. Discourage the use of names of sports teams or other unrelated names. 

• Next, give each child a piece of paper. Have them design a political poster incorporating their party’s name and animal mascot. Have your child explain their poster to you as a means of interaction.

• After their explanation, ask your kids to think about important issues happening at home. What are the best things happening in your home? What are some problems that your family is having? Keep it simple. (e.g., “Should we buy Scooby-Doo push-up pops?” “Should we watch Nickelodeon for an extra half an hour?” etc.) Have them create a list of the most important issues.

• After they’ve developed their list, explain to your kids that political parties use conventions as a way to publicize the party’s platform and choose candidates. To illustrate the idea of a platform, lay out sentence strips using one of the family-related issues from your list on each strip. Explain that political parties build an “idea platform” for their conventions. This platform of ideas is the stand that the parties take on certain issues. Give each kid 10 sentence strips. On each of the strips have them write their party’s position on each issue.

• Raid your crafts closet and have your kids design a campaign hat, pin, button or pennant. Have each child prepare a simple convention speech based on their party’s platform. It can be as simple as “Hi, I deserve to be president of the Jones house because …” When your children give their speeches, have them wear the campaign items they made.

• At the conclusion of the mock convention, have your children talk about what they liked best in each other’s speeches and the good points each made. Explain to them that the election process they just underwent to find the president of their home is very similar to the real presidential election process happening now to find the president of the country. Continue your explanation by explaining that in some states, voters must choose or “declare” a particular party that they like when they register to vote.

Head to the Polls

Are your kids interested in participating in their own day at the polls? The nonprofit organization Kids Voting Mecklenburg is a yearlong program that works with schools, youth programs, parents and students themselves to help kids learn about the big picture of active civic engagement.

“Kids Voting provides a unique and effective authentic election experience where kids can visit voting sites and cast Kids Voting ballots in local, state and national races,” says Amy Farrell, executive director of Kids Voting Mecklenburg. “Parents can involve their students in three ways — first, communicate with the “Kids Voting School Representative” at their child’s school to see what the school is doing as part of Kids Voting; second, consider being involved in community service-learning with Kids Voting and staffing a Kids Voting booth; and third, taking their kids to vote.”
For more information, visit www.kidsvoting.org.

Donkeys and Elephants and Voting, oh my!
Suggested reading from Kids Vote USA to make democracy less intimidating

D is For Democracy: A Citizen’s Alphabet, by Eliza Grodin
Sleeping Bear Press, 2004
Summary: Each letter from the alphabet introduces a person, place, thing or concept about the United States and its government

Vote!, by Eileen Christelow
Clarion Books, 2003
Summary: This book was written as a resource to discuss voting with children through a narrative

America Votes: How Our President is Elected, by Linda and Steve Bjorkman
Kids Can Press, 2003
Summary: A perfect voting primer for young focusing on the election of president.

Landslide! A Kid’s Guide to the U.S. Elections, by Dan Gutman
Aladdin, 2000
Summary: This is the 2000 edition but still very applicable. In a fun and snappy question-and-answer format, this book explains our democratic process in action

The Kid Who Ran for President, by Dan Gutman
Scholastic, 1996
Summary: A 12-year-old runs for president in 2000. This is an entertaining introduction to the election process.