“For me, civic education is the key to inspiring kids to want to stay involved in making a difference.” - Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court
Civic engagement and education have always been important, and never more so than right now. Election season is prime time to engage your kiddos in political discussions and explain civic duty, democracy, and the power of voting. It’s our responsibility as parents to raise good, conscious citizens that understand how we are all connected.
A great initial resource is iCivics, which offers free lesson plans and games for learning civics (it’s a non-profit organization founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor).
Here are a few tips to navigate voting season and engage in civics with your children:
Discuss Politics Positively
Politics should hold an air of positivity! Help your children to see it as so, that politics influence the movements that shape our daily lives from the roads we drive on, to the schools we attend, to the county fair that comes to town. Often children recognize most closely what is in their immediate environment, so be sure to discuss local government and policies. And that our voices as citizens matter! We can change things by speaking up and speaking out.
Offer Role Models
Remind your children that those in government are regular people, just like us. But they work really hard as public servants for the greater good of our nation. Representation matters, so seek out strong, brave, kind folks in government who your children can admire and learn from. It can be life-changing for your children to see someone who looks like them in positions of power—the good kind, who enact good change for the people.
Make Time For Current Events
The presidential election notwithstanding, there is always the opportunity to discuss current events with your children and what is happening in our country. What issues do people care about? What policies are elected officials challenging/accepting/voting on? Use dinner-table conversations to engage in age appropriate conversations. Giving them a bigger picture of the world will help children to see beyond themselves, and that they are systems and structures in place that not only affect them, but children and people all over the country.
Most often we’re peppering kids with our thoughts and opinions. But make sure you give them space to ask questions about voting systems, laws that protect them (or the absence of such), how laws are made, how we are governed. And if you are met with the usual blank stare, trying posing questions yourself: If you could create a law, what would it be? If you were running for president, what would be your platform? How could we create governmental systems to make the world a better place? You may just discover the kids are alright!
Research & Vote Together
Certainly there is the immediate lesson right now in voting, why it matters, and how to use your voice during an election. If you are voting at home, let your children sit with you as you dissect the ballot and make your choices. If you are voting in person, consider bringing them to experience the process (as always, use safe distancing and mask protocols). Also think about including them in your research process. You can use this tool to build your ballot, and it would be an easy foray into discussing down-ballot local races.
And here are a few book suggestions to help further civics lessons with your children:
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
Amelia Bedelia 4 Mayor! by Herman Parish
Vote for Our Future! by Margaret McNamara
One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth
V is for Voting by Kate Farrell
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
Democracy for Dinosaurs: A Guide for Young Citizens by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America by Deborah Diesen
Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter
What is the Constitution? by Patricia Brennan Demuth
What is a Presidential Election? by Douglas Yacka