Teaching Children About Politics
Children Should Learn About Politics
Statistics show that the number of young adults who vote in America is embarrassingly low. Is it because of apathy, or because they don't understand the system or know the candidates and/or issues? It could be a combination of all of the above. From a very young age, children can and should be taught about our political system: how it works, who is elected, and the identity of key leaders from their local area, up to the president and vice-president. They should also learn how America is positioned in the world and what makes this country's political system different than others.
As a parent or care-giver, you need not purchase instruction books or set up an entire curriculum for your child. But, at the same time, your child may not be getting the education they need in this area at school. Recently, I worked with a group of 4th grade cub scout boys, earning their Citizenship badges. I made a poster with photos of the President, Vice-President, Governor of Oregon, and our local Mayor. I also scrambled in photos of Hollywood celebrities (Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney). Then, I asked the boys to identify our political leaders. It was shocking the number of errors they made! We worked for half an hour, learning the leaders' names, spelling of their names, when they were elected, and when their terms would end. This led to fascinating discussions of why we have term limits, and what qualifications you need to have in order to run for president versus governor of a state (they are different!)
If your child asks questions to which you don't have the answer, take time to look up the information together on the internet, or go to the library to do some research. Elementary school-aged kids are naturally curious. You can capitalize on this time in their life to build a solid base of knowledge of how our political system works. You'll probably learn something yourself, as well!
Speaker Nancy Pelosi Pictured with Children
Find Out What Your Child is Learning in School
If your child is not forthcoming with the information, ask at parent-teacher conferences, or contact the district. It is your responsibility as the caregiver to determine if your child's education is thorough enough to meet the standards you believe will set your child up for success in life.
If you do not believe the instruction is adequate, ask that more be covered. You have that right! But in the end, it may just be easier to teach your children by having discussions, or by taking field trips (to City Council meetings, or State Capitols) yourself. Getting more actively involved in local politics as a family allows your children to see first hand how issues are brought forth, discussed and then acted on. It can seem a bit removed at the state and national level. Consider attending a council meeting with your children at which a new neighborhood park is being discussed, for example. You'll be able to find agendas on-line in advance on your local municipality's website.
Actively Watch News Programs and/or Subscribe to Children's News Magazines
When your child is in at least the 3rd grade, or you believe he or she to be ready, you may want to consider watching national news programs together. There are many stories that relate to politics that can deepen a child's understanding of U.S. relations with foreign countries, and the political systems of other countries in the world. In election years, of course, there is much to be learned. Delegate counts, political parties, National conventions, and primaries versus caucuses. It can be overwhelming (even for you), so see if there are additional resources that can help explain some of the key components of the race.
Time Magazine has an edition especially for children, Time for Kids. Check out the link to the right. You may wish to go to your local library to peruse a few back issues. A subscription could be a fun gift to a child that is eager to learn, not only about politics, but other exciting science and nature facts.
Politics are at play at all levels of our lives, from the smallest neighborhood organizations, to multi-national groups. We may think our children are too innocent to have to learn about the nastiness of the games and negotiations, but at the same time, there can be order and harmony - particularly if they know the rules. Don't let your kids fall through the cracks and be ignorant about the world in which they live. Give them a little edge with a political rule book!
© 2008 Stephanie Marshall