The Kids Count

Voting 315

The presidential election has lots of people talking, including children. With the abundance of political ads on TV peppered between football games and the nightly news, children are getting an earful about politics.

Winston-Salem mom Shannon Koontz was a bit thrown off when her 7-year-old son asked her whom she was going to vote for. “I was taken off guard by his question, and then realized that it came from all the political ads that were popping up,” says Koontz. She was mildly amused, and then mildly disturbed when she asked whom he thought she should vote for, and he essentially repeated exactly what he heard in the ads. Koontz admits that her attempt to avoid coloring her son’s future decisions seems to have left him at the mercy of other sources.

Generation Nation

Many parents find themselves uncertain how to discuss politics and the political process with their children. Generation Nation is helping Charlotte students and their parents understand the value of elections through its Kids Voting Election.

Each general election in October and November, kindergarteners to high school students are invited to vote via age-appropriate ballots, either through mock elections set up at schools that partner with Generation Nation or online at In 2008, 100,000 students in the greater Charlotte region participated in the Kids Voting Election, and the student turnout percentage for local elections in 2011 was higher than the adult turnout.

Amy Farrell, executive director of Generation Nation, says the mock elections are not just about allowing kids to click a button, they are opportunities to encourage kids to become interested in civic engagement, community involvement and understanding what it takes to be a good leader. Teachers also are using the Kids Voting as a tool with the Common Core Curriculum to teach students about different levels of government, democracy and citizenship.

After the election, Generation Nation calculates overall winners via the Kids Voting Election, and individual schools can tally and report schoolwide results. Farrell says students get a kick out of comparing results with the adult vote and seeing where their views differ. “They like to show that they don’t always do what their parents do,” she says.

Parents to Kids

For parents unclear on how to start a conversation about politics and the political process, Farrell recommends a discussion that emphasizes the importance of gathering facts and basing decisions on facts. This applies to all ages, including young children.

Ask them to decide between two things – it could be whether they like vanilla or chocolate ice cream – and then ask them why they like vanilla or chocolate ice cream, she says.

“As they get older, encourage kids to pick an issue and research news, and find where candidates stand,” says Farrell.

Through Nov. 6, children in grades K-12 can cast their ballots at

Election Day Book Picks

“Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts,” by Syl Sobel (Barron’s, $6.99), is a kid-friendly guide to how U.S. presidents are elected, who is eligible to run, who is eligible to vote, new electoral totals from the 2010 U.S. Census and facts about U.S. presidents. The book is a helpful resource for children – and adults – who want to better understand the U.S. presidential election process. Paperback. Ages 9 and up.

“Woodrow, the White House Mouse,” by Peter Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes (Little Patriot Press, $16.95), is a fun book to help explain the role of the president to young children. The story highlights life in the White House, the duties and responsibilities of the president, and why the elected office is important to Americans. Ages 7 and up.

“Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote,” by Kerrie Logan Hollihan (Chicago Review Press, $16.95), highlights women who fought for the 19th Amendment, which guarantees all American women the right to vote. The book also features archival photos, a women’s suffrage timeline and 21 related activities, such as making a protest banner, constructing an oil lamp and hosting a Victorian tea. Paperback. Ages 9 and up.

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> Teach Kids the Value of Voting