Vote! An Introduction to Teaching Children About Elections and Government

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Age Appropriateness: Any
Materials Needed: Something to vote about (such as what's for lunch or an activity), books about voting: V is for Voting, Duck for President, One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote, If I Had Your Vote, If I Ran for President, Grace for President, or head to your local library!
In a Nutshell: This post helps parents explain why voting is so important and how it works for a national election to kids of all ages.

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The election is upon us! Now is a great time to talk about voting! In this post I suggest some great resources for kids of all ages (yes, even toddlers) to introduce them to how voting works and support further exploration.

To start, politics vs. voting: lets try to separate the two.

To this day I still do not know what my father's political preferences are, though I have some guesses. I remember every time I asked as a kid, and certainly as I began learning more about civics and became aware of divisive politics, he would always say, "I am not going to tell you because I want you to make your own decisions."

And that was always the end of that discussion. Looking back, it was one of the best things my dad ever taught me!

I share that anecdote because when teaching kids about government and the election process, it is important to separate your opinion from fact. Any good teacher will do this in the classroom. Our jobs as adults, no matter the role in our kids' lives, is not to influence how they lean politically, but to teach about the election process and to teach them how to find information and decipher the validity of that information properly.

Like my dad, I want my kids to be able to form their own opinions and discuss them respectfully.

When I talk to my oldest son about the election and current events he pieces together bits of what he gathers from the news, with what he hears from adults in his life, and mixes it with his own personal sense of right and wrong. It's fascinating for me to watch his gears turn.

But when he talks, I see his understanding of how things work is still pretty limited. He understands in the United States we have a president and that we have a Senate and Congress, though he has a hard time wrapping his head around the checks and balances of power and what it all really means. He understands that the United States is made up of different states and that each state has a governor, which is sort of like a president for that state. Whether it is my fault, or perhaps attributed to a nearly absent civics curriculum in school, his understanding is limited.

I have set out to change that and I am going to share where our journey took us.

On a side note, my two-year-olds just don't get it at all, but it doesn't mean I'm not trying.

Democracy, voting, and the election is an incredibly abstract concept for kids to try to wrap their heads around.

There are a lot, I really mean A LOT, of great children's books out there about voting and introducing government to kids.

Here are a few we have been reading lately:

We have read V is for Voting by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald. V is for Voting is a rhyming ABC book that introduces government and voting. The images are bold and inclusive. Even though it's the ABC's, this book is a springboard for introducing concepts and a tool for further discussion.

Duck for President by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin is definitely a must have. A great tool for teaching about government and how someone can work his or her way up through the ranks all the way to president. Like the other Click Clack books, you can't go wrong with this one!

Another fun, rhyming read is from the Cat in the Hat himself in One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth and illustrated by Joe Mathieu from the Cat in the Hat's Learning Library. In homage to Dr. Seuss' rhyming style, the Cat in the Hat introduces concepts of voting and democracy. This book also has several activities included to do at home! Another similar book by the Cat in the Hat (Random House) and illustrated by Tom Brannon is If I Had Your Vote, where the Cat in the Hat hilariously campaigns for the White House.

If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier and illustrated by Lynne Avril, as well as Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham are two great choices about real kids running for presidency. Both highlight how it's not so easy and at the same times shows hard work and determination.

Anything you read will be great for expanding your child's understanding of voting and democracy!

Contact your local library or head to a bookstore and see what you can get your hands on! Look for different perspectives, different angles, different pictures, and different stories, the more the merrier!

The Activity: Vote!

Kids love the power of choice.

As my terrible twos squared have classic meltdowns, sometimes alternating, sometimes at the same time (sooooo much fun), I have to remind myself that they are, in their own little irrational ways, advocating for control and choice.

So even though they're two they can still grasp the concept of voting. Here's how to do it. Change your questions to use the word vote.

Simply, start using the word vote!

"Hey kiddos, what do you grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch? Vote!"

"Let's vote, do you want to play kick-the-ball or throw-the-ball?"

"Ok, vote on what we do next, should we use the Play-Doh or color with our crayons?"

On a very, very basic level simply switching your vocabulary introduces kids to the power of choice and their voice.

Older kids can certainly participate in the family meeting, consensus-style vote, but the older and more independent they are the resources to engage with civics are plentiful!

For starters, iCivics is a tremendous resource founded by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Not just a resource for educators, there is a Remote Learning Toolkit for Families with all sorts of free activities and games!

Relevant for this post are the Win the White House and Cast Your Vote online games, also available as an app, that will take your child right through the election process! (There is also NewsFeed Defenders, which plays around with digital deception, certainly a hot topic in this day and age.)

Just stop whatever you're doing right now, including reading this post and play around on iCivics. You will be hooked!

Beyond the Basics:

So when we talk about the 2020 election and how the Democratic nominee Joe Biden, along with fellow third party and independent candidates, are challenging Republican President Trump, he thinks whoever gets the most votes will win. The concept of a swing state or a blue versus red state is really abstract for a young kid. Lets be honest, the electoral college is somewhat confusing and a hotly debated topic. How can someone win the popular vote but lose the general election? That is confusing to a lot of people, let alone someone learning about the national election for the first time!

Social studies curriculum for younger kiddos tends to focus on understanding what a community is and what their role is within that community. So how do we help kids expand their knowledge of the world and help them comprehend things on a much greater scale?

My vote is for exposure and discussion, and of course, creating avenues for learning!

Books are great and all but there's something to be said for videos and documentaries. Use them!

So how does something complicated like the electoral college work? Who remembers School House Rock? Anyone? For whatever reason, this explanation still sticks out to me. Clearly its dated, but it is a quick, lyrical way to show kids about how voting works:

More updated and always an excellent source, TedEd also explains the electoral college:

There are a lot of people and teachers out there creating and sharing digital content.

Another great way to talk specifically about the electoral college is to help kids think of it like a game. If you can somehow get your hands on the 1971 game Landslide, which I hunted down years ago on eBay in a lot of vintage games, you will see exactly what I am talking about.

Granted it's outdated, but it is really fun and helps show how different states are worth different amounts of electoral votes. You have to be strategic, there is an economic component, and there is an element of chance.

Unfortunately, Landslide is no longer being manufactured, so perhaps the best way to tackle this is to pull up a map of the red and blue states as they are called on election day and talk about how each state is worth a different amount of "points" or electoral votes and how each candidate has to "win" those points. Whoever gets to 270 first wins and becomes president.

1971 Landslide from Parker Brothers, No Longer in Production

There seems to be a somewhat similar game called Election Night, which has won all sorts of awards. I have yet to try it out so I cannot officially recommend it, but it does pique my interest!

What else can I do to teach my kids about the election and civics?

One great thing you can do is to read and watch the news together. A quick Google search for "News for Kids" offers a lot of results in kid-friendly and age-appropriate language. Schools or your local library should also be able to provide you with free subscriptions to high-quality media outlets designed specifically for kids like News ELA or Scholastic.

Speaking of Scholastic, they have a free election resource for older kids!

We the People, by Scholastic, offers free reading and resources for children in grades 4-6 and grades 7-10.

Another really interesting resource, more appropriate for middle and high schoolers and beyond, is The Living Room Candidate, which offers a collection of over 300 commercials from every presidential candidate since 1952.

Lastly, teacher friends, as well as families and caregivers looking for a little extra, besides iCivics, here are two quality resources with a ton of ways to teach your kids about elections and the US Government. if you don't know about Teaching Tolerance, check out their website for an amazing collection of lesson plans and other resources. The Anti-Defamation League also offers a tremendous collection of lessons, tools, strategies, and resources for talking about and Teaching about Elections.

I hope this makes your child HUNGRY for more books!

Happy voting!

Comment and share on social media! I'd love to know how it went and any modifications you might have made. We're all here to learn from each other, not reinvent the wheel!




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