Kids and the Election: Teaching Your Children About Voting

With just a few weeks until the election and politics all over the news, voter fatigue may have started to set in. It’s at this point many of us are thinking, “I can’t wait until this election is over.” I’m definitely there. But it’s important to remember what’s at the core of all this political ping pong (or maybe dodge ball): our vote. Whether you look at selecting our country’s leaders as a right, privilege, duty, or obligation, it is an opportunity to have our voices heard. It is also a teachable moment for our kids. For tips and resources for teaching your kids (even the youngest of the crew) about citizenship and the importance of being informed and involved, read on. We have a rundown of ideas, interactive websites, books, and crafts for you to share with toddlers to teens.

Talk About It

Talk with your kids about the election. To help, Common Sense Media has 17 Tips to Steer Kids of All Ages Through the Political Season. Those ubiquitous signs, commercials, news spots, and social media posts provide good springboards for conversation. You can talk about the party system and have your kids try to identify which party the candidates on the signs and commercials represent. The most important message to convey, however, is that we have choices, and we should take advantage of the opportunity to have our voices heard. Explain how in some other countries citizens do not get to vote for their leaders. Depending on your kids’ ages and your comfort level with the subject, talk about how certain groups of people in our country were excluded from voting in the past, and what they had to overcome to be allowed to vote. 

For some help explaining the election process in the United States, there are plenty of resources out there. Watch “Electing a US President in Plain English” or "How to Become President of the United States" on YouTube with your older school-age kids for a clear breakdown of the ins and outs of the electoral college system.

Younger kids (ages 4-8) may enjoy these picture books, which can spark interesting discussions:

  • Grace for President by Kelly Dipucchio
  • Otto Runs For President by Rosemary Wells
  • Vote for ME! by Ben Clanton
  • Letters from the Campaign Trail: LaRue for Mayor by Mark Teague
  • If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier
  • Vote! by Eileen Christelow

Scholastic also has a list of books for teaching kids in grades 3-5 about elections.

Get Your Kids Actively Involved in a Campaign

If you are passionate about a candidate, talk about your reasons for supporting that person. Take your kids with you when you canvass your neighborhood. Bring them to rallies. (Obviously, you should use common sense about safety when thinking about bringing kids along.) They can get in on the action by making signs and buttons or baking goodies for campaign volunteers. My kids have done all these things with me, and although they were too young to understand the specifics of the campaigns, they experienced the energy and passion of a community working toward a common goal.

Even if you aren’t especially political, your children can get involved in election-related activities just for kids. They may want to create online stickers on PBS Kids to show their support for a presidential candidate, a particular issue, or just the importance of voting. The sticker activity is part of a larger program, The Democracy Project, which provides parents and teachers with lesson plans and activities to get older kids really thinking about topics like active citizenship, how voting impacts local resources, and which qualities their ideal president would possess.

Right now (until October 28), kids can visit Nickelodeon to make their choice for President of the United States. The site also offers information about the candidates and the process in a fun, interactive way. Scholastic also gave kids the opportunity to vote on its website. The ballots are already in, but the site is still a great place to visit for an election Q&A, as well as maps and games for kids.

Younger children can learn about how voting works, deciding between two or more choices, and advocating for their picks by doing what they do best: playing. Together, you can make a ballot box out of a shoebox and decide on something to vote about. It could be whether to have mac n’ cheese or sushi for dinner, or which family member gets to choose the family-time activities for the weekend. Then hold an election, letting your kids experience the power of having a say. 

Lead by Example

Vote. In elections big and small, be sure to vote. Bring your child to the polls with you. Even when they are very young, you can start to explain what you are doing (and why) to your kids when you go to the polls. And when you get home, help your children make a pretend voting booth so they can have their turn. If your kids learn from you early on that voting is just what you do as a citizen (and as a family), chances are that they will follow your lead when they are old enough to vote. 

Photo by Shira Kronzon.

Post originally published Oct 2012.

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