Getting Your Kids Involved in the Presidential Campaign

By Tracey Dowdy

Kids and presidential politics may seem to go together like peanut butter and sand, but if we want to raise our kids to be informed and educated global citizens, it’s important to start early, especially as civics education in the classroom is declining.

Two researchers from Baylor University’s School of Education, Brooke Blevins, Ph.D. and Karon LeCompte, Ph.D., see the need for more involvement and recently offered parents some simple tips on how to explain the presidential election process to kids.

Obviously each of us have our own biases and beliefs when it comes to politics, but there are ways to teach our kids about the election process that are engaging and that can lay the groundwork for their future interest and involvement in the political process.

Use political campaigns and presidential debates to spark dialogue.

I talk a lot about teaching our kids to be critical thinkers. Instead of tuning out when a campaign commercial comes on, watch it together and then talk about what you just saw. Ask open ended questions like: What did the candidate say about themselves? What did he or she say about the other party or candidate? Do you agree with the message? Why? Why not? Do you find the candidate trustworthy?

Try online video games.

Blevins and LeCompte recommend parents and kids take advantage of iCivics, a free web-based resource founded and led by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that encourages younger individuals to become educated and informed citizens. Along with lesson plans for teachers and other digital resources, kids can play engaging video games like “Executive Command,” where they get to be president for a day, or “Crisis of Nations,” where they take the lead and work to solve international problems.

In “Cast Your Vote” kids can ask the candidates questions, rate responses and ultimately vote for the candidate of their choice. “Win the White House” has kids manage their own presidential campaign. They must raise their own campaign funds, poll voters, run a media campaign, and make personal appearances. They even have to keep an eye on the electoral map and manage the popular vote.

Turn civics education into civic engagement—let students put into action what they learned.

Take all that information and skills they learned with iCivics and the probing questions you’ve asked when watching those campaign commercials and put them into action. They can help distribute campaign materials or posters or spread the word via their social media accounts.

Even better, take that new-found activism and encourage them to make an immediate difference in their community by helping with recycling, cleaning up a local park or volunteering at a local shelter. Obviously the age of the child will determine what that social activism will look like, but even our youngest can stand up to a social injustice like bullying.

Plug into already established enrichment programs.

You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. There are many community and school-based initiatives with a mandate of connecting kids with civic minded role models and programs. Check out your city or state’s website or talk to your child’s school to see what programs and resources are available.

If there aren’t programs that meet your needs, consider getting involved yourself. Think what an example that is to your child. Remember – the family that campaigns together changes the world together!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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