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Election Education for Kids? Check Yes

No matter how you look at it, this year’s election will make history. Not because of hanging chads. Not because the man who won the popular vote didn’t win the Electoral College vote. No, the results of this year’s election will be recorded in the history books like none other in recent times. This November, we will either elect the first black man or the first female vice-president.

What an exciting time to be a voter. And what an exciting time to be a parent. We have an opportunity to help our kids understand what history really means. History is not about obscure dates and facts, but about important or memorable moments in people’s lives. We also have the opportunity to teach our children what it means to be an American. We are a free people with the right to choose our government and it is our responsibility to choose wisely. By not exercising the right to vote, we are accepting the status quo. By not participating, we are really voting for whomever everyone else chooses.

It’s crucial that we bring our children, no matter their ages, into our political discussions and bring them along as we perform our civic duties such as when we go to speak to the City Council for or against an upcoming issue. Research shows that children whose parents “socialized” them to the political process tend to be a more involved and active citizens.

This election year is the perfect time to put these sentiments into practice. Here are some ways to make this year’s election more understandable and fun for your children:

Get to know the candidates. The more your children know about John McCain and Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, the more they’ll be interested in the election and the political process. Luckily there are a number of online resources out there to help. At the Time for Kids Election Connection 2008 webpage (http://www.timeforkids.com/TFK/election08/) you and your kids can read about both of the presidential candidates, read the latest election news, get inside the issues, review a glossary of election terms, learn about the path to the presidency and discover how Congress fits into picture. And to make it more fun, your kids can play “Be the Nominee” and the “Electoral College Craze.”

Explain the different phases of the political process. Talk about presidential primaries and what role they play in deciding who the candidates will be. Don’t forget to include a discussion on the Electoral College and how its vote may differ from the popular vote. Scholastic News Online Countdown to Election 2008 (http://teacher.scholastic.com/scholasticnews/indepth/election2008.htm) is a site designed for teachers, but it can help you, too. Here you and your children can read campaign news, explore the election and learn about the electoral college, campaigning, candidates and the issues, political parties, tips from the pros, and how government works. Have fun with the games and quizzes- create a campaign poster, take an election quiz, and play “You’re the Candidate” and “You’re the President.”

Electing a President is another great site geared especially for younger kids, was created by an elementary school teacher for the 2000 election. It has been recently updated. Here you can read all about electing a president, find a glossary of election terms and have lots of fun. Click on activities and you’ll find riddles, election word searches, mazes, and puzzles to print out, quizzes to test your knowledge of the election process, weekly reader election games and more fun for kids of all ages.

Arm yourself with knowledge. Kids ask hard questions. You don’t have to have all the
answers. Admit when you’re in over your head then look it up. Scholastic’s Parent Guide to the 2008 Election is a good place to start. Articles includeTalking to Your Kids about the News: Government & Community,Parent Primer: Democracy and Government, andParent Primer: American History. You’ll also find a number of election-related activities you can do with your kids including “If You Were President,” and “Match the Presidents.”

Actually watch some of those political ads that are polluting the airwaves. Dissect them as you do other commercials. What are they really saying? What does it really mean? Decide together which slogans and messages the candidates are communicating in their advertising. Ask your kids whether the message is a positive one or a negative one. Don’t overlook local candidates and issues. PBS’ website, The 30 Second Candidate, gives you and your kids a look inside the world of political advertising. You can learn how some ads twist the truth to sway voters.

Talk about why you vote and why it’s important to vote. Ask your children about opportunities where they’ve had a chance to vote such as in a school election. PBS’s POV has a Web site dedicated to answering the question of “why vote?” The page “explores attitudes about voting and the issues that are important to Americans.”

Help your children recognize that our freedom to vote, to choose, was bought with a price and that men and women have fought and died to protect that right. But other heroes live among us today. Talk with your kids about who in your family served in the Armed Forces? Did anyone in your family die fighting for our country?

Remind your children that there was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote. Talk about Women’s Suffrage. Check out About.com’s Women’s History page. Print and read aloud Susan B. Anthony’s speech on the women’s right to vote.

Revisit the Civil Rights Movement. Although black men theoretically won the right to vote with the end of the Civil War, white men passed laws that, in reality, prevented them from exercising that right. Read all about it at ThinkQuest’s The Right to Vote page.

Peruse your local television guide and watch educational programs on the election, the United States presidents, election history and presidential history. Tie in to classroom lessons by finding out what your kids are learning about the election in school and expanding on those lessons at home.

Discuss who you are going to vote for and why. If you and your spouse each support a different ticket, talk about why and explain that here, in America, we have the right and the freedom to disagree.

Bring the election home to your state. Talk about the difference between red states and blue states. What color is your state? Take the discussion further by coloring in the states on a map according to whether they are red or blue or purple. You’ll find a map to color. Print another one and let your kids color it in on election night as the results come in. Warn them that all the results may not be in by bedtime — remember the 2004 results debacle!

Discuss local issues. Check out your League of Women Voters Web site. Share your sample ballot that comes in the mail with your children. Talk about the local voting process and if possible, take your kids to vote with you.

Have fun experiencing history in the making!